Public Works must focus on core mandate – build and maintain critical infrastructure to boost economic development

Leona Kleynhans

DA MPL in the Free State Provincial Legislature:

The below speech was delivered by Leona Kleynhans (MPL) during the debate on the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill 2015/16 in the Free State Provincial Legislature today.

 

20 March 2015
Release: Immediate

 

Honourable Speaker,

 

For the year 2015/2016 the department has been allocated R1,492 billion. This money is to be used “to ensure the provision, promotion and sound management of assets and infrastructure systems which are safe, affordable, reliable, accessible and sustainable.”

 

In her budget speech MEC Rockman stated that, “The National Development Plan identifies infrastructure development as a key trajectory for economic growth and consequently in the creation of decent job opportunities.”

 

Honourable Speaker,

 

There are some positive developments within the department over the past year.

 

The appointments made to critical senior posts, especially in the Finance Division, have greatly improved the department’s financial management and resulted in much improved audit outcomes.

 

We welcome the announcement by the Finance MEC, Ms Rockman, that an increased emphasis is to be placed on the monitoring of planning and implementation of infrastructure projects.

 

There has been a concerted effort on the part of the department to rectify and manage its asset register. In a department such as this, which is mandated to manage about 6 500 properties, the asset register is crucial.

 

The successfully completed Township Revitalisation projects have brought some relief to residents in these areas, where they now can take pride in their town.

 

But Madam Speaker,

 

Here I would like to point out to members that it is the responsibility of opposition members to point out the gaps in the Annual Performance Plans of departments, which could impact on the lives of our people. Not to do so would be unpatriotic.

 

We are still very concerned about some aspects of delivery within the department.

 

The accrued shortfall of the department amounting to R308 million is of grave concern.

 

Although the department said that it will not actually overspend on its budget, it simply means that these debts will be carried over to this year’s budget.

 

The R547 million budgeted for payments to municipalities for services and rates will again be the victim of this situation.

 

Municipalities are already under extreme financial constraints and failure to make these payments will only worsen an already dire situation, negatively impacting on service delivery.

 

The department does not seem to have a coherent strategy to deal with this situation, and have said that ‘salvation depends on Treasury’.

 

Well Madam Speaker,

 

That’s like saying we are waiting for money to fall from heaven.

 

And we all know that is not going happen.

 

The manner in which the department manages its supply chain management still remains a concern.

 

The irregular expenditure incurred during the 2013-2014 financial year of R7,6 million seems to imply that the department may be knowingly contravening supply chain regulations and then trying to justify this through reporting it.

 

The department then applies for condonation of their errors. The trend of appointing contractors to implement a project and then themselves appointing consultants to oversee the work seems to be a glaring example of such a contravention.

 

In researching the performance reports of the department, and the Auditor-General report on performance, it is clear that even the very low performance targets set are not being met.

 

We believe that either the department is not competent in this area of target-setting, or it is not competent in the reporting on its targets.

 

We would far rather see high targets set in the areas of its core functions which would serve as an inspiration and motivation for this to be a department of high performance.

 

Perhaps the fear of not reaching its targets is causing the department to rather set the bar so low that it cannot fail?

 

In its performance reporting the department should also include progress with projects. This is currently not done satisfactorily, if at all.

 

The few maintenance projects included in these reports are usually postponed due to planning changes or lack of funds.

 

MEC Rockman in her budget speech said that, “the quality of planning and implementation of infrastructure remains of critical importance to the economic growth path of the country. The Infrastructure Incentive Grant requires that provinces bid for funding and present best approaches on infrastructure delivery two years in advance.”

 

Madam Speaker,

 

This is certainly going to be a huge challenge for this department. It means that the department will have to plan meticulously, and present its bid to outwit the other provinces in order to get this grant. And when it does receive the grant, it will have to be ready to implement immediately, and report accurately on its implementation. We can only hope that the department is up to this challenge.

 

Another worry is the emphasis placed in the department on its EPWP mandate.

 

The creation of job opportunities is not the core function of the department. It is one of their administrative functions to report on EPWP projects of all departments in the province.

 

While we recognise the temporary relief which such job opportunities bring for desperate unemployed people, this is in no way the solution for unemployment in the Free State.

 

During the past financial year R183 million was spent by the department to create 50 000 ‘job opportunities’- or ‘piece jobs’ which is probably the more accurate term.

 

This translates to roughly R3600 per job. We are absolutely certain that the individuals who benefited from this are extremely grateful for this small income – but what about the other 600 000 unemployed people in the province?

 

Madam Speaker,

 

It is simply not possible for the department to address this huge unemployment figure through ‘job opportunities’. What we need is a vibrant department dedicated to its core mandate – which is to implement infrastructure projects to boost the provincial economy.

 

If we can grow our economy at 5 or 6 percentage points annually, job creation will automatically follow.

 

While the DA welcomes the improvements in the department, especially the improved financial management, we still believe that the department has not yet begun to deliver on its potential to make a difference to the lives of our people.

 

Our people deserve better from the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure. This department could, and should, be the driver of transformation in the lives of the people of the Free State.

Thank you.