Quarantine facilities shrouded in obscurity

People queue at Beitbridge border post in Musina, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu)

The Public Works Department has been criticised for its lack of transparency about the Covid-19 quarantine facilities it has earmarked.

The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure has told the Committee of Public Works and Infrastructure that about R28-million will be paid to 14 hotels across the country that will be used as quarantine facilities.

On Monday 4 May, the department’s presentation listed how many quarantine facilities there are in each province and in each municipality.

A total of 1,407 properties have been identified as quarantine facilities, out of which 612 are state facilities, while 795 are private facilities. The department said it had no say in which properties would be used for quarantine.

Of the 1,407 identified properties, only 318 with a total of 24,101 beds had been assessed and ready by Thursday 30 April.

But a quarantine facility in Mpumalanga has been reported to not be up to standard.

“At Zithabiseni [Resort] we’ve had people do oversight today and what they found there was disturbing,” said Sonja Boshoff, a DA MP.

There have been reported complaints from South Africans who were repatriated from Eswatini and Mozambique that the food and the facilities at Zithabiseni Resort were appalling.

The department’s presentation didn’t include the names and locations of the quarantine facilities it had earmarked, and Boshoff insisted they be provided so that the committee could do oversight visits.

Minister Patricia de Lille emphasised that the role of the department was to identify facilities. 

“The Department of Health has a master list of the facilities they’ve inspected and approved. The procedure is that the Department of Health will [then] ask us to activate a facility,” said De Lille.

Once a facility has been assessed and approved by the Department of Health, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure will issue the facility with a commitment letter, then conduct the necessary repairs to make sure the facility is suitable for isolation.

The Department of Health would then dispatch personal protective gear and other medical personnel to the facility.

The reason the department had not included more information on the quarantine facilities was that the department had asked for people’s privacy to be respected, said De Lille.

“It seems to me as though you’re passing the buck from one minister to another. I urge you to speak to the minister [of health] so we can get that list [of names of quarantine facilities],” said Philip van Staden, a Freedom Front Plus MP.

De Lille was also questioned about the Beitbridge fencing project.

She has been criticised over the project and how the contract was awarded, as pictures of the vandalised fence circulated on social media.

Because of the National State of Disaster, De Lille was able to secure emergency procurement without following the normal procedures which include advertising the tender in the government Tender Bulletin.

The R37-million contract to erect a 40km fence at the South African and Zimbabwe border was awarded to Magwa Construction.

The EFF’s Mgcini Tshwaku asked if there were any quality checks on the fencing. 

“As a committee, we need to go check [the fence] out, we can’t just go by hearsay,” said Tshwaku.

The department’s acting regional manager, Morris Mabinja, said that “on a daily basis there was an inspection, there were regular site meetings and I welcome your suggestion [to see the Beitbridge fence].”

Mabinja and De Lille pointed out that the “tender sum was R37-million, but we’re finalising the final amount, which should be done in the next 14 days”.

“To date, R21-million has been paid,” said Mabinja.

De Lille says she has asked the auditor-general to audit the project “for the sake of transparency after there were a lot of queries raised [about the contract].”

“The auditor-general will investigate whether we got value for money and whether we followed due process.” 

De Lille ended off by reminding the committee that what needs to be condemned is the criminality that took place at the fence. 

“The fence was hardly up for one day [when it was vandalised]. That’s why I wrote to the minister of defence for more SANDF members to patrol the area. But the crooks are always one step ahead of and this is something we’ll have to monitor in future.” DM


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