Since this journalist made the enquiry, the only response received from legislature spokesperson, Zamagambu Memela-Gamede, was an acknowledgement email.
“This E-mail serves to acknowledge receipt of your two media enquiries. Kindly note that I have been held up in the Youth Parliament and could not give attention to this matter as a result I am in no position to respond to it. I will attend to it in due course,” said Memela-Gamede in June.
Two months later, Memela-Gamede has still not responded to our enquiry on the contracts, however, this journalist has seen two appointment letters addressed to BBC Projects & Fencing and VMT Civils on 28 May 2018.
“It is my pleasure to inform you that your company has been appointed to conduct internal alterations and partitioning of offices at the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature amounting to R10 525 744.54” reads the letter signed by legislature secretary, Linda Mwale, addressed to Desmond Thwala, one of the directors of BBC Projects & Fencing.
A similar letter addressed to Sfiso Magagula, the director of VMT Civils shows that Mwale appointed the company for the “refurbishment of the legislature committee rooms” for R4 892 270.56.
Memela-Gamede also failed to confirm or deny if the contracts were advertised as required by the legislature’s supply chain management policy which requires all contracts above R500 000 to be advertised on open tender.
An expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to professional reasons told Ziwaphi that the amount of money in the contract could build mansions.
“R10 million for drywall is a lot of money,” he said.
Drywall is the board-like material used in the partitioning.
Earlier this month, the Economic Freedom Fighters leader in the Mpumalanga provincial legislature, Collen Sedibe, opened a criminal case against Mwale and former speaker of the legislature, Thandi Shongwe, after the auditor-general found that the legislature had irregularly issued tenders to companies that did not meet the tender requirements.
Shongwe was removed as speaker of the legislature earlier this year and has since been appointed as MEC for culture, sports and recreation in the provincial government.
Since Mwale’s appointment as the secretary of the legislature in 2015 the institution has been dogged by financial and sexual harassment scandals and according to the auditor-general report, the legislature failed to submit tender files for auditing in the 2016/17 financial year.
The auditor general identified the legislature as one of the provincial government institutions which have regressed from a clean audit in 2015/16 to an unqualified audit opinion in 2016/17.
Mwale was recruited to the legislature after the failure of his travel agency business, and has yet to achieve his first clean audit as the accounting officer since joining the legislature more than three years ago.
If the recent AG findings are anything to go by, it would be three years under Mwale’s watch that the legislature fails to get a clean audit.
Meanwhile, the department of public works, roads and transport (PWRT), which is the custodian of all provincial government immovable assets including the government complex offices, which also houses the legislature, refused to respond to questions about the partitioning project in the legislature, but instead directed all the questions to the legislature.
In terms of the government policy on the maintenance of immovable assets, the department is responsible for all the maintenance of government buildings, even though “user departments” are required to budget for the maintenance of the buildings that they occupy.
The policy defines maintenance as “any work on immovable assets”.
The legislature, though independent of the government, does not own the legislature building and is classified as a “user department” instead.
“The Mpumalanga Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport is the custodian of all provincial immovable assets. It manages a complex property portfolio comprising inter alia the legislature, ministerial, official residencies, office complexes, hospitals, clinics, workshops, traffic stations, and weighbridges and vacant land,” reads the policy.
The Government Immovable Asset Management Act of 2007 makes it a punishable offence for an accounting officer who contravenes the Act.
“An accounting officer is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years if that accounting officer wilfully or negligently contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of this Act,” reads the Act.
The PWRT department failed to disclose if they were aware of the legislature’s plans, but an official in the department of PWRT who spoke on condition of anonymity told Ziwaphi that the department only discovered that the legislature was doing the alterations to the building after the Ziwaphi enquiry, but also accused the department of trying to cover up.
“The senior management of the department was unaware of this until they received a media enquiry. At first, they were outraged, but then a general manager in the department stopped the communications section from responding to your enquiry, saying the response was irresponsible, but failed to bring an alternative response. His modus operandi is to use such incidents to blackmail heads of departments in return for kickbacks,” said the source.
The name of the general manager is known to Ziwaphi.
PWRT spokesperson, Cyril Damini denied the allegations.
The Maintenance of Immovable Assets policy, which PWRT department crafted and adopted in 2010 requires the department’s Infrastructure Maintenance section to monitor the implementation of the policy and report deviations to the Head of Department.
When asked whether the PWRT department would take any action against the legislature’s deviation, their response was “N/A”.
“It would be premature at this stage to respond on the issues of GIAMA and its alleged contraventions as the matter will still be under discussion with the legislature to gather the facts,” said Dlamini.