Public Protector meets with Premier Magashule and his executive
Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela on Tuesday held a frank and fruitful meeting with Free State Premier, Ace Magashule, who was accompanied by the Deputy Speaker of the Provincial Legislature, MECs, Mayors, several Municipal Speakers and most heads of provincial departments.
The closed meeting was part of the National Public Protector Stakeholder Consultative Dialogue, which focuses on the need to work together to end maladministration and ensure responsive service delivery, with special focus on problems plaguing RDP housing and regulatory gaps regarding alleged illegal conversion of panel vans into taxis.
During the meeting, the Public Protector briefed the provincial leadership on service delivery concerns raised by community members during a stakeholder meeting on Monday and her subsequent visit to Botshabela and the Bloemfontein Taxi Rank on the same day.
Some of the allegations made by community members on Monday were that the provincial government was awarding tenders and using resources on the basis of political allegiance, and that officials were being suspended for refusing to follow instructions that contracts be awarded unlawfully and unprocedurally.
There was also a case of a deceased RDP housing grandmother whose immediate family -of six- was living in a one room shack and still waiting for the delivery of their house. Other complaints included the RDP and infrastructure development aspects of Operation Hlasela, long waiting lists, unmet promises, houses without toilets, incomplete housing projects , houses that were inaccessible to the disabled, a taxi rank that was allegedly not built according to the specifications at the cost of R400m and matters related to taxis.
While Premier Magashule and his team denied any wrong doing, there was a frank admission that there were several weaknesses in the delivery of RDP houses, procurement systems and financial management. Skills gaps, particularly in small municipalities were also identified as key impediments to a responsive service delivery.
Premier Magashule and his team also drew the attention of the Public Protector to challenges they said were inherited from their predecessors, including incomplete houses, fraudulent letters purported to be from “happy” RDP housing beneficiaries, bulk infrastructure supply problems, tempered RDP housing application lists and land shortage.
They also decried the backlash they were facing when exacting accountability from staff and contractors alleged to be responsible for wrongs such as tender irregularities and fraudulent approvals of payment for shoddy and incomplete work.
In response, the Public Protector thanked the provincial leadership for sharing their views, indicating that their explanations would be integrated with everything else that would be discovered during investigation processes.
“We are particularly encouraged by the fact it would appear that a lot of the problems that people are raising are already on the radar of the leadership of the province and there are attempts to resolve those problems,” she said.
The Public Protector also made a request to the leadership of the province to exercise openness and transparency on responses to the investigations, a plea to which there was a commitment to cooperate from the side of the provincial leadership. She told the meeting that her office would also appreciate getting the answers speedily so as to allow the investigations to be concluded expeditiously.
Meanwhile the Public Protector also raised concerns with Premier Magashule about community members, in Botshabela, who seemed to think they needed to be members of the ruling party in order to receive her office’s services.
This came after some community members, who sought an audience with the Public Protector during her inspection of RDP projects in the area on Monday, came clad in ruling party apparel, presenting their membership cards for her attention.
“It worried me that they thought, to be able to be served by the Public Protector, they needed to show us that they are linked to a particular party. What gives them that impression, to think they have to convince and prove to us that they belong to a particular structure.” she said.
The Public Protector also raised issues about two elderly women, who had alleged that they were denied food parcels and blankets on the basis that they were not members of the ruling party. The provincial leadership denied any knowledge of that but undertook to establish what happened, with a view to ensure that the two women also got the benefits.
The Dialogue proceeds to Mphohadi FET College (Constantia Hall no longer the venue) in Kroonstad on Wednesday, where the Public Protector will interface with ordinary members of the public before heading for North West on Thursday and Friday.
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