Heads must roll and money must be recovered.
That’s the word from Parliament’s portfolio committee on arts and culture which has ordered a probe into an unfinished cultural village being built at Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini’s Enyokeni Palace.
The king’s pet project has been plagued by cost overruns that would have ended up with a R1-billion price tag if completed.
The committee recommended that law enforcement agencies use a report by Gobodo Forensic and Investigative Accounting to launch an extensive investigation into the project which was suspended in 2016.
Enyokeni Palace hosts the annual reed dance in September and Umkhosi Wokweshwama (first fruits ceremony) in early December. But the venue is largely unused throughout the year.
King Zwelithini requested construction of the cultural precinct in 2013 but Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa halted work in 2016 and appointed the auditing company to probe allegations of wrongdoing and overcharging.
At the time the department had already spent R129m but the Gobodo investigation revealed that the project could cost R1bn‚ about eight times more than the R129m approved for the first phase of the project.
The report found prices had been inflated and consultants had charged up to 200% more than standard industry rates. It also found that:
– One contractor received R11m for items that had nothing to do with the project;
– A consultant inflated a statutory fee by R3m;
– A construction monitoring fee was inflated by R450‚000; and
– An engineering fee was overstated by R5m.
In total R20m had been paid to consultants by the time Mthethwa halted the project. The department said recently that the project remains on hold pending a decision on the “best implementation approach”.
It emerged recently that the department was toying with the idea of either completing the Enyokeni Cultural Precinct or demolishing the work done and restoring the site to its original site. The department said it had budgeted R55.6m for the project in 2018-19 but would not be not be able to estimate the total required until “a sound financial plan” was devised.
The committee recently recommended the probe and believes that the investigation should include efforts to recover undue money paid to contractors who did not charge the Department of Arts and Culture market-related tariffs‚ resulting in R28.6m in fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
The committee has also recommended that service providers that did substandard work be directed to correct defects that it observed during its visit to Enyokeni last year.
The committee found that there were no maintenance plans.
This was evident in leaks in the 2.5 megalitre water tank‚ cracks in walls and an ablution facility with no roof. Remaining work includes infrastructure to accommodate young women attending the reed dance‚ ablution facilities‚ five catering facilities and equipment‚ a 17‚000m² “royal square”‚ widened walkways and upgrading the access road. The existing pavilion would also be refurbished.
Chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on arts and culture Xoliswa Tom said the initial phase was not budgeted for and the committee raised strong objections to the implementation of a project that was not budgeted for.
“The committee recommended that the department could utilise the budget that it attached towards finishing some work and spend no amount further‚” said Tom.
“The portfolio committee recommended that law enforcement agencies must look into the matter and use the forensic report as a basis from which an extensive investigation must begin. This would include efforts to recover undue money paid to contractors.”
The committee has also recommended that internal disciplinary measures be instituted by the department against officials found to be in the wrong.
“The principled stance taken by the committee was that it is inconceivable that the department would spend more money on the project‚ especially in the context that it was not budgeted for to start with and there are no clear mandates that compel the department to implement the project‚” said Tom.
The committee has recommended that the department approach the provincial department of arts and culture and private businesses to solicit partnerships aimed at completion of some of the work.
“This is because money has been spent already‚ thus leaving the project as is‚ is tantamount to wasteful expenditure. Private-public partnerships will be central if the project is to be completed‚” said the committee.
Bongani Mthethwa – TimesLIVE