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By Getrude Makhafola

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De Lille blames defence minister for delays in turning Beitbridge ‘washing line’ into a fence

De Lille is yet to get approval for Beitbridge fence designs submitted to defence department almost two years ago.

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille on Thursday, appealed to members of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to light a fire under Defence Minister Thandi Modise, to expedite the approval of South Africa and Zimbabwe Beitbridge border fence.

The specifications for the fence had been sent to her more than a year ago, yet the project has seen little movement.

De Lille briefed the NCOP select committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings on measures taken since her appearance in Parliament last year, to answer on the R40 million shoddy Beitbridge border fence, which has been dubbed a “washing line”.

The 40km border fence project was initiated by the department in March 2020, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of the closure of borders as part of the Covid-19 nationwide lockdown. The fence became the subject of criticism after photos showed it had been vandalised and the poles holding it up stolen.

ALSO READ: Contractors stripped of profits from R40.4 million Beitbridge tender

According to De Lille, Modise said she needed time to familiarise herself with border control matters. She then requested the MPs to write to the defence minister and assist her department.

“Part of the reasons why we did not finalise specifications with the DOD [Department of Defence] was because of the change of ministers in that department, so we were told that the new minister wanted to familiarise herself with the subject.

“We all know the dire state of our borderline fence, and the sooner we can start fixing and repairing that fence to make it a strategic infrastructure project, the better.”

Defence sitting on proposal for more than a year

The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) put out a request for information on 28 March last year, and received at least 26 proposals from bidders by the April 26 deadline. After evaluations by the bid adjudication committee, only three bids were found to be compliant.

These were submitted to the Department of Defence in July 2021 for the final decision, as the department is constitutionally in charge of the country’s borders, said De Lille.

“The department of defence then indicated on 11 November 2021 that engagements are continuing internally to approve the specifications. To date, the department hasn’t submitted anything to us, owing to their internal processes, we await that.

“Once we receive their approval, we intend to take this project to the Infrastructure Commission Council chaired by the president, to see if we can register it as a strategic project in terms of the Infrastructure Development Act of 2014.”

Fence was not fit for purpose

Speaking at a question-and-answer session in the NCOP in March last year, De Lille said the fence won’t be repaired, as it would amount to irregular expenditure. Her team had discovered that the fence in its current form is not fit for purpose and is non-compliant with specifications.

Investigators found at least 115 breaches that made it easy for migrants to unlawfully enter South Africa from Zimbabwe.

READ MORE: Beitbridge fence fiasco: Govt splashed out R17m more than what it was meant to pay

Contractors Caledon River Properties CC, trading as Magwa Construction and Profteam CC were allegedly paid millions upfront before they could get any work done. The companies were taken to task for the shoddy work by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

In March this year, the Special Tribunal ordered the contractors to pay back the profits earned. They were further ordered to submit their audited financial statements to the Tribunal within 30 days.

In addition, the SIU also made disciplinary referrals to the DPWI against officials who designed, approved and implemented the Beitbridge border fence project. 

‘No more border fence patch work’

De Lille said DPWI has decided to overhaul the country’s border fences covering thousands of kilometres.

“We’ve learnt our lesson with Beitbridge, where we only attended to the hotspots – that there’s a need for complete borderline security in South Africa.

“That is why, after the SIU ruling and everything that went wrong with Beitbridge, we decided we are not just going to do patch-up work only, the solution will be for new border fencing.”

“My request for your help to intervene by writing to the DoD to speed up the conclusion of specifications so we can start. I have a paper trail of meetings I requested, I know the ministry is fairly new but will continue requesting engagements so we can get this done.”

NOW READ: PICS: R37 million SA-Zim border fence vandalised, army deployed to patrol

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