Gwen’s woes mount as Auditor-General details Public Works shambles

By Carien Du Plessis 4 October 2011

After a brave but somewhat unconvincing media campaign that she was doing something about corruption, public works minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde has been told that the department she’s been leading for almost a year now is in disarray. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

It wasn’t a good start to her anniversary month as minister for Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde. On Monday the final Public Works annual report landed on her table with the Auditor-General’s disclaimer in it; the report was also tabled in Parliament.

Because ministers are required to sign annual reports, Mahlangu-Nkabinde would have known about it at least a couple of weeks ago, even before her recent announcement that the Special Investigating Unit had uncovered R3 billion of irregular tenders in her department, and that her staffers were all a bunch of lying, scheming slimeballs. (In fact, so little did she trust her staffers that she paid hundreds of thousands of rands each month for external media agencies to boost her department’s image, despite the department and ministry having a full communications team).

She suspended the department’s director-general in December last year, and then last month also suspended his acting replacement. She had also been blaming her predecessors a lot, saying she had inherited a “poisoned chalice”.

DA spokesman on Public Works, John Steenhuisen, in a statement on Monday summarised all the Auditor-General’s misgivings in point form – and it adds up to more than R2 billion:

  • Unauthorised and irregular expenditure to the tune of R16.5 million;
  • A lack of audit evidence regarding the department’s immovable assets register;
  • The department’s involvement in a public-private partnership for the leasing of vehicles that could not be verified or accounted for;
  • Material underspending of the budget and conditional grants;
  • Material losses of some R54.8 million;
  • An inability to obtain evidence of some R1.3 billion worth of capital transactions reported in the department’s books;
  • An inability to obtain evidence of some R819 million worth of goods and service-related transactions reported in the department’s books;
  • The department’s failure to disclose liabilities relating to claims against it to the tune of R5.09 million; and
  • Operating lease commitments totaling R115 million that were not previously stated, yet are now included even though they cannot be verified or accounted for.

These findings compound the Public Protector’s report into the controversial police leases that found that Mahlangu-Nkabinde had acted in an unlawful and improper manner, and that her actions had amounted to misconduct.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela also complained that Mahlangu-Nkabinde had failed to cooperate with her report. She has now gone to court to have the police leases cancelled, but seeing that she was actually the one who reinstated these shortly after her appointment last year, this has failed to convince some of her critics.

Steenhuisen added his two cents’ worth by repeating what he had often said in the past few weeks: “There is no question that Minister Mahlangu-Nkabinde’s continued presence is preventing her department from undergoing the radical reforms necessary to turn it around. Gwen must go, and an appropriate successor needs to be appointed who can put this department back on track.”

Mahlangu-Nkabinde said in a statement on Monday that she had “anticipated” the outcome in the report. “All I can promise South Africa is that we will sort this mess out and turn the department around. That is my job and I will fulfill it.” DM

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