Gauteng finally vows to honour public protector order

The company had been a sub-contractor in a relatively small and simple project to upgrade the water supply to the Suikerbosrand nature reserve outside Johannesburg. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The company had been a sub-contractor in a relatively small and simple project to upgrade the water supply to the Suikerbosrand nature reserve outside Johannesburg. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

For four years and seven months the Gauteng provincial government failed to pay a small, black-owned construction company some R9.6-million it was owed, in defiance of every policy and regulation that seeks to support emergent businesses.

For 17 months of that it failed to pay despite a clear – even harsh – order from the public protector to do so.

For two months of that it failed to pay even though the Constitutional Court had unequivocally ruled that such directives of the public protector had to be implemented, even if they involved the president, even if the president didn’t like it, and even if Parliament believed otherwise.

But on Friday morning Natty Letlape of the Soweto-based company Shatsane received a call from an official at the Gauteng department of infrastructure development (GPDID) inviting the company to attend the budget speech of MEC Jacob Mamabolo as his guests. They went, and sat through a speech focusing heavily on projects to reduce energy usage and plans to protect public infrastructure from protesting residents with arson on their minds.

Then, towards the end of his speech, Mamabolo acknowledged the Shatsane group, and gave them a very early Christmas present.

“I have invited the service provider to the House to formally declare the apology in public,” Mamabolo told the Gauteng legislature in the written version of his speech. “It does not have to take reporting to the public protector to pay service providers. As directed by the public protector, we will settle the payment before the end of June, this year.”

When the Mail & Guardian last reported on the matter on May 20 it had “sought to create an impression that we are defying the public protector”, Mamabolo said, something he disputed. He did not explain how what he called his department’s respect for that office, could co-exist with a flagrant failure to implement its remedial action.

But Letlape did not care much. He had first lodged a complaint with the public protector in October 2011 and, after many false starts, he finally had a commitment that the matter would be resolved.

“We’re just happy that the MEC went on record to say he’ll do it,” Letlape told the M&G shortly after the announcement. “This thing has been consuming our minds all this time, fighting for that money. Now we can start thinking about other things again.”

Some of the things Letlape and his fellow directors have started thinking about is expanding their construction business, perhaps employing many of the almost 200 contract employees it had on its books before the dispute with the Gauteng government brought it to its knees.

His family, in particular, will also be eyeing some of the cash for investment in a platinum-belt land claim, which is being finalised, perhaps something involving services to the mining industry.

Mamabolo did not comment on the other section of the public protector’s findings in the Shatsane case. The company had been a sub-contractor in a relatively small and simple project to upgrade the water supply to the Suikerbosrand nature reserve outside Johannesburg. It was due to be completed by May 2009. In December 2014 public protector Thuli Madonsela directed that it had to be completed within three months, based in part on the GPDID’s assurances that it was close to completion. It remains unfinished.

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet writes about politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide. He has never been anything other than a journalist, though he has been involved in starting new newspapers, magazines and websites, a suspiciously large percentage of which are no longer in business. PGP fingerprint: CF74 7B0F F037 ACB9 779C 902B 793C 8781 4548 D165 Read more from Phillip de Wet

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