Patricia de Lille is a woman on a mission. The recently appointed Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure is no stranger to taking the bull by the horns, and that is exactly what she is doing in her new role at the helm of the department entrusted to be government’s infrastructure custodian.
Barely warm in her seat, De Lille is already knee-deep in her crusade to halt the rot caused by institutionalized corruption at the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI).
Frustrated by the state of affairs, the Minister recently illustrated the lengths of rogue officials in the department have gone to nefariously embezzle funds. Over the years, De Lille said, brazen cover quoting, undeclared conflicts of interests and spiralling expenditure had become the norm, crippling the department. The biggest loser in the end? The infrastructure that is left crumbling and dilapidated.
Having taken the hot seat in May, De Lille conducted an inquest into the condition of the DPWI. The findings laid bare a horrid state of affairs. Now, in conjunction with the country’s law enforcement agencies, the Minister has launched a campaign to redeem the department.
“As we delve down, the major problem here is corruption. We have the budget but you cannot maintain or repair the courts if half your budget gets stolen. And we have been doing work on that,” she said.
During a recent engagement with reporters, a dejected but determined De Lille decried the levels of corruption at the department.
“Unfortunately, we have a bad name but that is what I am trying to change,” she said.
In an effort to turn the tide and bring the implicated to book, the department has forged relations with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DCPI aka the Hawks).
Probes by the SIU, De Lille said, have found that over 300 DPWI officials have companies that were undeclared.
The modus operandi, she illustrated, unfolded with the said officials receiving inside information on a particular project and then proceeding to set up a company. That company then gets the work at what De Lille described as “highly inflated prices”.
“And we [don’t] ever finish projects within the budget. There are always [cost] overruns. If we have to build a school and the Department of [Basic] Education gives us R20 million, by the time the school is finished, we would have paid R100 million.
“This disgraceful practice is coming to an end,” she said.
The SIU has an existing proclamation for the DPWI up until 2020 to investigate allegations relating to the day-to-day maintenance projects in the department. They can also institute civil litigation to recover lost State funds or to prevent future losses.
“We don’t need to go to the President and ask for a proclamation every time we want to investigate,” said De Lille.
Holding officials to account
Additionally, over 3 570 officials have recently been found to be in conflict, as they have companies doing business with the department.
“This is a conflict of interest they have not declared, they have not sought permission from the department. That is at the heart of the corruption – where people working in the department, instead of doing their jobs, which is in their job description, they are here to look for business opportunities through corrupt means.
“We are aware of the 3 570 employees and the SIU has started acting already,” said De Lille.
Adding salt to injury was that because these companies were new and lacked experience, they were producing sub-standard work.
“They cannot deliver quality services because they were corrupt and set up to steal money from the government. They mess up and every job has to be repeated because they are not qualified to do the job in the first place,” said the Minister.
De Lille warned corruption was not worth losing a job for.
“Rather do an honest day’s work to support your family because there are many employees that will soon be out of this department. [And] this will be no doing of the department because the [officials] failed to declare these companies that they have, and now we know who they are. Certainly, we are going to put a stop to it,” she vowed.
Known for her life-long stance on corruption, De Lille said she was determined to clean the department.
“It is very difficult for me as a politician, who has fought corruption all my life, to be associated with a department that is so corrupt,” she said.
Several investigations have been reported to the Hawks and the South African Police Service (SAPS) for criminal prosecution, while several matters were pending for civil litigation.
An earlier proclamation of the SIU investigated fraudulent invoices submitted by suppliers for payment, procurement irregularities in rewarding contracts, irregular awarding of tenders and conflict of interest, amongst others.
The SIU has also investigated allegations of cover quoting, where companies submitted different prices under different company names but ultimately, it is the same company.
“There are also many suppliers that are sharing the same address and the same banking account,” De Lille said.
The SIU has made criminal referrals to the NPA valued at over R71 000.
In a recent statement, the department said the SIU has to finalize 356 cases.
“There are also matters that have been referred for disciplinary action. In many cases, officials who have been found guilty have been dismissed.
“We know a lot more than they think and they will be in court soon — the very same courts that are not being repaired and maintained — so they must stop their shenanigans. We must bring ethical leadership back for the sake of the people we serve,” said De Lille.