The Mpumalanga Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport (DPWRT) blames COVID-19 for a four-year delay in constructing an R1.6 billion mega health facility in the highveld.
Opposition party ActionSA has accused the provincial government leaders of engaging in corrupt activities that resulted in the Middelburg Hospital not being completed in time and the budget overrunning by R200 million from the allocated R1.4 billion.
The department is currently under the political leadership of ANC provincial chairperson Mandla Ndlovu. However, the delays and alleged corruption took place during the tenure of Ndlovu’s predecessors. Ndlovu took over the department after Mpumalanga Premier Refiloe Mtshweni-Tsipane fired Mohita Latchminarain in October 2022.
Latchminarain was appointed Public Works, Roads and Transport MEC in February 2021, replacing Gillion Mashego, who had been in charge since July 2018. The hospital project was announced under Mashego’s predecessor, Sasekani Manzini, currently provincial health MEC.
ActionSA provincial leader Thoko Mashiane has called on the Public Protector’s office in the province to investigate the matter.
“The Mpumalanga Provincial Government commissioned the construction of this hospital in 2017 to replace the provincial hospital, which could no longer meet the demands of the residents in the community. The hospital, which was set to be completed by 2020, is today 58% complete, with continually shifting goalposts at the expense of the taxpayer.
“South Africa’s public infrastructure agenda has been captured almost at all levels, and this cannot be acceptable. Policies have been corrupted, contracts have been given to unqualified politically connected ‘BEE’ contractors while incompetent cadres have been appointed to manage critical assets,” said Mashiane.
According to DPWRT, which is implementing the construction of the hospital on behalf of the Mpumalanga Department of Health, corruption had nothing to do with the delays and cost overrun.
Mpumalanga DPWRT spokesperson Bongani Dhlamini characterized Mashiane’s allegations as “misleading and irrelevant.” In addition to Covid, he said, aggrieved community members and construction mafias who interfered with construction caused the delays.
“As you may be aware, the project was procured using a design and construct method. However, after the contractor was appointed, the project’s site had to be changed by the land donor, necessitating the reprocessing of all relevant town planning processes and environmental impact assessments. As a result, the commencement of construction work on the site was delayed.
“Furthermore, the project has also been subjected to the already widespread problem of site closures by community members and so-called business forums. Similar to most public infrastructure projects awarded prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the contractor has encountered difficulties in making progress following the pandemic period. Crucial materials arrived at the site more slowly after the lockdown,” said Dhlamini.
Dhlamini said the contract amount increased to R1.6 billion mainly due to the significant design change to ensure that the hospital complies with Immediate Use Steam Sterilization (IUSS).
“The said design change resulted in the project floor area increasing from 32 849 m2 to 45 710 m2. That is a 30% increase in size. The cost of price escalations and contractual claims for COVID-related delays and compliance with COVID regulations have also contributed to the above cost increases.
“To the best of my knowledge, the Auditor-General has thoroughly audited the project, including the procurement procedures, and no concerns regarding corruption have been brought up. The project is 90% and planned for completion in March 2024 to allow for delivery of long lead medical equipment items and also finalization of provision of bulk services to the site,” said Dhlamini.