Price tag of Cuban engineers is R75mn thanks to ‘extensive’ fringe benefits, says Solidarity

Solidarity says the hiring of 25 Cuban engineers will cost taxpayers about R75-million because of “extensive fringe benefits” such as furnished accommodation and paid holidays to Cuba.

The trade union held an online press briefing on Tuesday where it disclosed information obtained through it seeking a review application to have the decision by the department of water and sanitation to bring in the Cubans declared invalid.

As reported previously, the department said the rationale behind employing the Cubans “was based on their rare and exclusive expertise in relation to maintaining and prolonging the lifespan of water and sanitation related infrastructure”.

In its reply to Solidarity’s urgent interdict application in May, the department denied the Cuban agreement totalled R64-million. Instead, it said, the three-year contract would cost R18.3-million a year — or a total of R54.9-million. 

But Solidarity’s chief executive, Dirk Hermann, said the department had “misled the public regarding the nature, scope and cost” of the project. 

Solidarity has based its assertions on the bilateral agreement between South Africa and Cuba, as well as the employment contracts of the 25 engineers obtained from the department.  

“Apart from paying their salaries, taxpayers are expected to fund several benefits as well,” Hermann said. 

The benefits included “flights so that they can return to Cuba for holidays, furnished accommodation, food and clothing, transport, internet, cell phones and extra money to make landline calls to Cuba”.

These benefits would bring the price of the deployment to about R75-million, Hermann said. 

The engineers would not “merely act as mentors”, as the department had stated, but would do engineering work despite  not meeting the engineering requirements for South Africa. 

On Monday, department spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said the qualifications held by the Cubans were “on the same standards that we require” and that the department had confirmed this with the Engineering Council of South Africa. 

Solidarity said it had sufficient information to continue with its review application to have water and sanitation minister Linidiwe Sisulu’s decision to employ the engineers declared invalid. Anton van der Bijl, head of labour law services at Solidarity, said the final legal court steps would only be ready early next week, the union was waiting for some “critical” answers from the department.  

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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