Hon. Nj Nkwanyana, IFP MPL
KZN Legislature, 06 July 2023
The IFP notes and welcomes the Report tabled by the Hon. Chairperson. The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure remains the implementing agent for client Departments with regards to construction and maintenance of provincial infrastructure.
It is a fact that schools are among the most important and fundamental institutions in our society. This is where we learn about the world around us and develop the skills we need to succeed in life. That is why, under the leadership of the IFP Founder and IFP President Emeritus, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, more than 6 000 classrooms were built in KwaZulu, and it was done without the massive budget provided by a democratic government.
Hon. Chairperson, I am aware that today the debate is about Siphumelele Primary School, but the IFP is concerned about the issues at Xoloxolo Primary School in Bhongweni, Kokstad. There, despite an investment of R65 million on school upgrades, pupils and teachers have been left without access to running water, among numerous other defects. During a recent oversight conducted by the KwaZulu-Natal Public Works Portfolio Committee, substandard workmanship was evidenced by broken stairs, railings, and downpipes. Expensive imported locks that are costly to replace were also discovered.
Moreover, the installation of three-phase power led to a monthly bill of R15 000, irrespective of usage, burdening the school’s budget. The IFP is also concerned about incompetent contractors who get chosen to benefit corrupt officials within departments. The most important aspect of a quality project is the workmanship; unfortunately, poor quality workmanship can destroy projects already in place. The question remains: How was an incompetent contractor awarded a tender? What action has been taken against the contractor? All these questions must be answered, as public funds have been used.
The IFP demands that greater attention must be given to project supervision by regulators in the construction industry, since poor supervision of work is major cause of poor workmanship. The supervisory team of construction firms, the local authorities, and Public Works should increase their activities for supervising construction workers on-site, to improve workmanship quality. Regular in-service training and workshops should be organised by contractors to help improve the quality and skills of their workers.
Government and contractor’s associations should develop a quality standard for acceptable materials that can be used in the construction industry and ensure full compliance by all contractors. Compromised contractors are given massive budgets and have contributed to poor performance due to their lack of skills in key project management processes. Skilled personnel in their companies and officers of the law must help us to conduct background checks on them.
One of the main policy tasks of government is fighting the scourge of poverty and narrowing the growing inequality gap. We note that during the constriction period, 53 EPWP work opportunities were created. However, it is of great concern that only two people with disabilities were employed. Out of the overall target of 40 youth employed that was set, the project managed to employ 19 youth, which is equivalent to 47%. More opportunities for people with disabilities must be created. Further, only 53 women were employed, while the target was 90.
The Department must refrain from setting targets that it fails to meet. The EPWP is not paying enough to meet the expenses of participants in this programme, who live in abject poverty. We propose that the stipend be increased to consider the inflation rate and the increases in the prices of basic foodstuffs. We believe that people who participate in the EPWP must be empowered to start their own businesses. By doing so, this will assist in creating more job opportunities.
Otherwise, what happens to them after the project is completed? What skills do the EPWP leave participants with? Are they suitably skilled to get employment in other sectors?
Again, people should also be employed directly and permanently by municipalities with benefits, as this will go a long way in addressing the unemployment challenge facing our country.
The IFP further proposes that people who are homeless in urban areas should gain access to job opportunities through the EPWP. This will help reduce the number of beggars. The EPWP is one way of assisting the homeless. It is crucial that those without employment not only gain employment but are also trained in skills that will enable them to remain employed after projects come to an end.
The IFP supports the promotion of economic growth and development through contractor development programmes, as well as infrastructure programmes. We are pleased to note that subcontracting opportunities were created to the value of R30 million. The IFP believes that we must contribute towards transformation in the construction industry and the development of SMME contractors, which have been recognised by the government as crucial for industry development, economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation.
The IFP demands a no-nonsense approach to deal decisively with the so called ‘business forum’ groupings who use criminal tactics, force, and violence to access business opportunities. They are a huge threat to the economic sustainability and future of KZN as has been the case with construction mafia who have blocked the construction project at Menzi High School in uMlazi. We recall that these forums emerged in 2016 in eThekwini, the same year that Hon. Zandile Gumede was elected as eThekwini Mayor. Legitimate businesses were stifled, threatened, and forced to divide up their work with selected subcontractors.
The IFP urges the Department of Public Works to ensure that service providers are paid on time, which is within 30 days. In terms of section 38(1)(f) of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), the accounting officer for a department must settle all contractual obligations and pay all money owing, including intergovernmental claims, within the prescribed or agreed period.
Delayed payments have a profound impact on a small business. Salaries are not paid on time, raw materials cannot be acquired, and existing projects suffer. Small businesses live or die by their cash flow. If the invoices are not paid, the businesses will not survive. The IFP is of the opinion that the topic of payment of suppliers within 30 days must be a standing agenda item at all executive meetings. Disciplinary action should be taken against officials who fail to comply with the requirements to pay invoices within the period.
I thank you.