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by Emma Louise Powell MP - DA Shadow Deputy Minister Water and Sanitation and Human Settlements
 
This week, the Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements and Water and Sanitation received a briefing on the Auditor General’s First Special Report on the financial management of Government's Covid-19 initiatives. Human Settlements Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, was joined in the meeting by not one but three Director General’s (DG) – all of whom are “Acting”.

During the meeting, DG Mbulelo Tshangana admitted to the over-all failure of the Human Settlements Command Centre (HSCC) to effectively coordinate the Department’s response to the crisis, acknowledging that national housing standards and policy had been widely flouted in the provision of emergency housing.

The HSCC was established by Minister Sisulu in March to oversee an urgent national de-densification programme, for which hundreds of millions of rands were re-allocated.

The DG further admitted that many senior officials employed in Provincial and Municipal Housing Departments were not even aware of the existence of such norms and standards, as evidenced by numerous emergency housing tenders awarded during the crisis.

This revelatory briefing follows on from a spate of embarrassing Covid-19 related scandals in which Sisulu’s Department has been embroiled in recent weeks. Notwithstanding, was this week’s revelation that corruption embroiled tendreprenuer, Edwin Sodi is alleged to hold a 50% share in the company recently awarded the R75 million Duncan Village Temporary de-densification tender by the Housing Development Agency.

The AG’s report, which analyzed 17 projects across 8 Provinces, made a number of scathing observations of Sisulu’s Department, including:

  •     The Human Settlements Command Centre (HSCC) did not ensure that Provincial and Local Government were deliberate in ensuring that residents in informal settlements are resettled in areas where social distancing can be observed.
  •     The speed at which the implementation of the (dedensification) initiative progressed did not seem to have taken the requisite urgency into account.
  •     Coordination processes did not ensure that plans for projects that are meant to respond to an emergency were in line with the overall plan that was designed.

    In some instances, contrary to the housing code, the occupants of the completed TRU’s were families whose names did not appear on the approved list per the Housing Subsidies System.

    The sector may have been spending funds on beneficiaries who did not meet the criteria for occupying a temporary shelter.

    TRU’s were occupied, prior to the official handover, by people who were not the intended beneficiaries.

    It remains a concern that most of the spending yet to occur is likely to be subjected to the same control environment.

    The HSCC, should collaborate with the National Treasury in tracking the expenditure reported by provincial and local government on a regular basis to ensure that funds earmarked for identified projects are spent for the intended purposes.

    The HSCC, as a MinMec structure, should be strengthened to ensure the overall responsiveness of this initiative to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the litany of damning AG outcomes, Sisulu’s Department was unable to give the National Portfolio Committee any evidence of effective consequence management for what appears to be patent fruitless and wasteful expenditure, irregular supply-chain management processes, and the alleged manipulation of beneficiary lists.

The Democratic Alliance condemns the derelict conduct of the HSCC in failing to adequately address South Africa’s housing crisis at its most critical juncture.

We further call on the Minister to produce evidence of the remedial and legal actions she has taken to deal decisively with her Department's chaotic response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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