The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) briefed the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure yesterday on the government-owned properties earmarked as quarantine facilities for Covid-19 patients. The department also reported on the Beit Bridge fence erection project and the role of Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) beneficiaries during the pandemic.

According to the department’s Director-General, Mr Sam Vukela, the department depends on the compliance measures approved by the Department of Health. He conceded that “there are challenges regarding repair and renovation, procurement of beds and catering services in some sites”. In addition, the process of quarantine began without a standard operating procedure, but Mr Vukela added that “that process is almost finalised now”.

Another challenge is hotel rate payments because, he said, some hotels demand payment for the entire hotel in advance, regardless of required occupancy. He told the committee that the National Treasury approved this, stating that “it would not make sense for the hotel to open only to be paid half of the occupancy rate”.

 Furthermore, he said there are cases where people have been released from quarantine prematurely, before the required 14 days. “Now we have ensured that when we sign a contract it stipulates the period of stay. If not, that would create problems,” he reported.

Members of the committees told the department to look at the high costs charged by hotels for quarantine sites. They believe that private businesses should control the need to make maximum profit, especially during times of human suffering.

On the Expanded Public Works Covid-19 response interventions, the department reported that to date, 22 000 employees have been paid over R100 per day. The department also provides EPWP employees with personal protective equipment and screening, and work under the supervision of a medical practitioner to ensure their safety.

In addition, the committee heard that initial problems with the deployment plan have now been resolved with the Department of Health and the plan is ready to be implemented.

Some committee members were critical of the R100-a-day wage, considering the risk the virus poses to these workers. However, they were pleased to hear from the Minister of DPWI, Ms Patricia de Lille, that during the Covid-19 lockdown period all EPWP beneficiaries under contract will remain as beneficiaries, and will be able to draw from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) once their contracts expire.

Concerning the Beit Bridge Border post, the public works team reported that it is busy with the upkeep of the fence and have asked the defence force to patrol it regularly to assist in managing the illegal crossing and safe-keeping of the border against the unnecessary risks of infection.

When members were critical of the amount of money spent on the erection of the border fence at Beit Bridge over years and its current upgrade, the Minister of Public Works, Ms Patricia de Lille promised that she will investigate the matter, alleging that “there has been an act of corruption or illegality in how this fence has been erected and continually replaced over time. I will ask the Auditor-General to furnish me with figures and see what steps can be taken to sort this out once and for all.” 

The committees resolved to visit the Beit Bridge Border Fence Erection Project site as soon as possible. They have requested an updated presentation from the department on the project, and on other maintenance work on land ports of entry.

Abel Mputing
5 May 2020