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Squabbles put army hospital in ICU

The department of public works and the defence department are quarrelling over who is to blame for the stalled R1.5-million bid in 2006 to upgrade the 1  Military Hospital at Thaba Tshwane, the main military area of the SANDF, in Pretoria.

A forensic investigation report might shed light on who is to blame. But neither department provided answers regarding the whereabouts of the report. The defence secretary, Sonto Kudjoe, has not received the full report after committing to share it with parliament. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who was removed last week from her post as defence minister, was contacted about allegations that she was sitting on the report. 

Meanwhile, 14 years of continued rotation of responsibility between the two departments to complete the 2006 refurbishment project has thwarted contractors and consultants working on the project. There is little evidence of work having been done over the years. 

“Since 2011 we have not put down a single brick,” said a source close to the refurbishment project.

The once prestigious 1 Military Hospital is a far cry from delivering its mandate of “providing combat-ready military health forces and an executive military health support service to the president of the Republic of South Africa”.

According to the defence budget for 2021-22, it had a budget R708-million and paid R261.7-million to private hospitals to outsource medical care because 1  Military Hospital could not do so.

Over 14 years, the responsibility of upgrading the facility has been moved from the public works department to the defence department and now to the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). 

The first and second floors of 1  Military Hospital — meant to have an emergency theatre, a pharmacy and a radiology section — stand abandoned because the leaking roof will be prioritised “as soon as the funds are available”, Major General Joseph Ledwaba, of the Defence Works Formation, told parliament two months ago.

In 2006, the repair and maintenance project was launched with the public works department as the implementing agent. The project, according to the department’s responses in May to the portfolio committee, consisted of two contracts — building and civil works for R95-million and electrical and mechanical work for R108.8-million.

SSI Engineers and Environmental Consultants, today called Royal HaskoningDHV, was awarded the contract back in 2006. The company confirmed that the project duration was from 1 November 2006 to 30 November 2010. Riddled with delays, it stretched well into 2012.

According to the public works department, the defence department requested many changes to the scope of work, which could not be accommodated under the contract.

“It was decided that another project be registered and that new consultants be appointed to deal with the new additions and requirements,” the public works department said. It dded that it was during the planning phase for the new project that the defence department was made the custodian of the repairs and maintenance project, and took over in late 2014. 

But the defence department had a different story to tell parliament on 3  June. It said the public works department was “not honouring its contractual terms” and that is why the defence department took over the project. 

It was only in 2016 that the portfolio committee on defence and military veterans requested information on 1 Military Hospital after it noted “areas of concern on the procurement processes that had caused a delay in the hospital meeting [its] targets”. 

This happened after the defence department presented its performance report to parliament where it noted outsourcing at its hospitals, because of inadequate medical capacity, amounted to R450-million in the 2016-17 financial year.

In 2017, Major General Michael Ramantswana, the SANDF chief for military policy, strategy and planning, told the parliament’s joint standing committee on defence that a further R913 730 313 was needed to upgrade and refurbish 1 Military Hospital. Parliament was told that construction was expected to start in September 2017, with a scheduled completion date of February 2019. 

This never happened. 

Then the hospital’s leaking roof, which was one of the disputed consequences of the initial construction, leaked rainwater on the refurbished Covid-19 floor, damaging some of the expensive equipment.

On 3 June it came to light in parliament that during this time the defence department had “conducted an investigation into the construction work at the hospital and the investigation report had been finalised and executed”.

Lieutenant General Jabulani Mbuli, the SANDF’s chief of logistics, told parliament the report had been forwarded to the military police “to address the issues and deal with the implicated individuals”.

Defence secretary Kudjoe added that the report contains “issues” concerning the public works department. She also listed a litany of defects which originated from the initial construction work, and that there were legal issues with the public works department that had to be addressed.

“Specific recommendations were made, including that the report had to be resubmitted for further investigation by the South African Police Services.” 

Kudjoe said the legal issues had to first be resolved before the defence department could continue the work because the majority of the consultants were appointed by the public works department, which was the implementing agent 14 years ago. 

She committed to send the report on the outcome of the forensic investigation with the public works department, but by the end of July neither the department of public works nor the joint standing committee had received the report even after the public works department wrote to the defence department requesting it. 

The Mail & Guardian understands that Kudjoe also said that she has not seen a summary of the report despite asking the now former SANDF chief General Solly Shoke for it. 

Portfolio committee defence member MP Kobus Marais said he is submitting an application through the Promotion of Access to Information Act to gain access to the report.The M&G asked Kudjoe for comment but she had not responded at the time of publication.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a junior daily news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a freelance journalist and a broadcaster at Maroela Media and Smile90.4FM.

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