DA KZN: Service delivery suffering while departments play the ‘blame game’

Democratic Alliance KZN 2015/16 Public Works Budget Debate by Rafeek Shah, MPL, DA KZN Spokesperson on Public Works:

A core function of KZN’s Department of Public Works, amongst others, is the acquisition, construction, repair, renovation and maintenance of public buildings and infrastructure to ensure that the required level of operation is maintained.

Due to time constraints, I will focus on just two areas of the Department’s mandate.

Government office rentals

The first relates to Programme 2, which deals with the provision and facilitation of accommodation and integrated property management services to client departments, which also includes the leasing of buildings.

A staggering R280 million is being spent on leasing of provincial government office space each year. This ought to be of great concern.  In response to a question by my DA colleague, Francois Rogers, MEC Ravi Pillay indicated that there are currently 179 leases signed, with a monthly rental tab of R23 million. The KZN Department of Health tops the list with a monthly bill of R5.1 million, followed by the Department of Education with a monthly figure of R4.8 million.

It must be recalled that the substantial increase in sub-Programme dealing with Hiring for the year 2012/13 was caused by unanticipated pressures in operating leases for the rental of buildings. Furthermore, the increase in the 2014/15 Adjusted Appropriation was to cater for the high costs in the leasing of Fedsure House building in Pietermaritzburg.

Currently, the costs involved in the leasing of buildings consume almost half of the amount dedicated to this programme, the Adjusted Appropriation for which is R615,691 million, which in turn forms a large chunk of the total Operational Budget of the Department which is around R1.388 billion.

It is time that the provincial government seriously considered the gradual purchase of buildings outright, instead of leasing them.

Not only will this reduce the Government’s office rental Bill, but will also help free up much needed funds for this department to meet its stated objectives and challenges, which are too numerous to mention here.

The DA believes that the department should conduct a full Audit of all these leases to determine whether the rentals charged are reasonably market-related, as well to establish whether rented offices are being put to efficient and optimum use and that provincial government – and by extension tax-payers – are getting good value for money.

We also call for a full audit of all existing state properties in KZN to determine whether they are being fully utilized and maintained, if at all.  A classic example of neglect is that of the St Anne’s building right here in Pietermaritzburg which has fallen into total disrepair and is being vandalised and occupied by vagrants.


Infrastructure Programme

The second area I wish to discuss is that of the department’s mandate to deliver on the Infrastructure Programme through which it satisfies its client needs. Failure to service the infrastructure needs of client departments retards service delivery respectively.  In fact the very goals of the PGDP will not be realised without the effective support of the Department of Public Works.

The very purpose and efficacy of budgets, policies, and strategic plans are best evaluated within the crucible of effective service delivery.

Just some examples of how inefficiencies in the delivery of such infrastructure, particularly in the critical areas of Education and Health, are affecting much needed service delivery to our people are as follows;

  • Following a series of school oversight visits by Members early this year, a School Opening Functionality Report 2015 was submitted to this House.  A study of the damning findings shows that, among others, there is a shortage of classrooms, ailing school infrastructure and unhygienic ablution and toilet facilities which were a common problem at many of the schools visited
  • In January, my DA colleague, Hlanganani Gumbi conducted an oversight visit to Mlokhotwa High School, a school in his constituency. What he found was shocking to say the least.  Learners are learning and living in disgusting and inhumane conditions with windows broken, ceiling boards in danger of collapsing, live electricity wires left dangling and clogged up toilets, which are clearly a health hazard.  Of greater concern were the living conditions of boarders, especially young women, who live in sections of the boarding house without doors leaving them extremely vulnerable.
  • Yet another example is that of Nqabeni Primary School, between Port Shepstone and Harding. My colleague, Dr Rishigen Viranna visited this school, which falls within his constituency, during April after receiving numerous complaints about poor conditions from community members.  There he found that 530 learners have to share seven long-drop pit toilets. One had even collapsed while a person was inside. Fortunately the person was an adult and could be rescued. What if it were a child?  The school was found to have crumbling wooden floors and a dilapidated roof. Limited infrastructure development had been done over the past 20 odd years, despite the school being almost 100 years old.  The only recorded work done at the school by the Department of Public Works during this entire period of 20 years was some painting.

On the Health front, the DA has encountered the following in KZN;

  • In October last year, Members conducted oversight visits to various KZN hospitals which included Prince Mshiyeni, Osindisweni, Mahatma Gandhi, and King Edward Hospitals. The visits revealed serious infrastructure problems. In short most hospital designs did not comply with current norms and standards.
  • At Prince Mshiyeni, among other things, the infrastructure was found to be old.  The water supply system burst quite frequently, creating more costs and service interruptions. The facility was not user-friendly to people with physical disabilities due to a lack of ramps, lifts and toilets. The roof is made of asbestos, which presents a health hazard to staff and patients.

The ‘blame game’

The DA has found that, at basic institution level, the simple task getting roofs fixed or floors repaired, there is a veritable maze of hurdles to overcome to get the job done.

Public Works management, on numerous occasions, have argued that the fault lies with the client departments themselves. Although these client departments have improved their respective timelines around planning, the administrative log-jams still prevail.

The fact is that the levels of synergy and the gap between public works as implementing agent and client department needs to bridged as a matter of urgency. Whether the problems end-users encounter has its source within Public Works or the client departments, the fact is that the present system is not working effectively and loss of time and resources because of this impediment is unacceptable.

The joint committee or task team established between various client departments and Public Works must up its ante because people are very frustrated.

At the end of the day, teachers and health workers are not interested in the inter-departmental squabbles and blame games— they simply want to be able to do their jobs and see repairs and renovations are done effectively and on time.

The citizens of our province deserve better.