Public works tables ‘solutions’ to botched Beitbridge border fence tender

The department of public works and infrastructure told the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday that plans were afoot to issue tenders as part of solutions to adequately fence and secure the country’s borders. 

This follows the dismal failure of the 40km razor wire Beitbridge border fence that was erected as a division between South Africa and Zimbabwe at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The fence cost taxpayers R37-million and was described by public works minister Patricia de Lille earlier this year as “not fit for purpose”.  

De Lille told Scopa on Tuesday: “We had received 16 proposals about different solutions for the fence, including ways of how to make use of technology. The evaluation committee is busy looking at those 16 proposals that we have received. They have promised me by the end of June they will recommend three different options.”

She told the watchdog committee that the options would then be presented to the department of defence for specification approval and that a tender process would start  thereafter. 

De Lille reiterated that the department would not be making repairs to the Beitbridge fence. She said the department was looking for permanent solutions for South Africa’s border fences, and fixing Beitbridge’s fence would be “wasteful and fruitless”. 

Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the committee’s key interest was ensuring that consequence management ran its course at public works. “It is clearly dawning on us that you are saddled with a department where consequence management was an exception,” he said.  

Earlier this year, a damning tell-all report was released by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) on corruption and maladministration committed during the coronavirus outbreak that revealed irregularities related to the Beitbridge project.

The SIU made an application on 23 September 2020 to freeze the service provider’s bank accounts, with legal action subsequently being taken against the companies Magwa Construction and Profteam CC. The main purpose of the application was to declare invalid the contract signed between public works and Magwa Construction. 

In a press statement issued on Tuesday following de Lille’s appearance, Scopa said that  it was not pleased with the slow pace adopted by the department in resolving the Beitbridge matter.

“The committee will request a report from the law enforcement agencies on progress regarding this matter. The committee will also request a report from the national treasury on the request sent to it by the department to blacklist and monitor the principal agent and contractor from doing business with the government. We are not pleased with the slow pace of investigations and consequence management looking into this matter,” Scopa said.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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