Troubled waters after material for bridges ‘disappears’
Material to build five bridges in the Eastern Cape, where six school children drowned recently, isn''t accounted for
The Eastern Cape government spent R47.1m on material to build five Bailey bridges – but have nothing to show for it.
A Bailey bridge is a portable, prefabricated, truss bridge.
While a sixth bridge had been completed, a seventh one is still incomplete – and smaller than budgeted for.
This was revealed in a letter Eastern Cape treasury head Daluhlanga Majeke wrote to his counterpart in the transport department, Irene Mpolweni.
In the letter, dated January 28, Majeke told Mpolweni a team from the treasury had visited two bridge sites in Nyosana and Matatiele, and that officials from the department of transport had verified material worth R10.7m to build them.
However, in the letter Majeke states that transport officials could not verify material for five other bridges worth R47.1m.
“Documentation provided to us indicates that officials of the transport department have verified materials delivered. These delivery notes are signed at various dates from middle November 2018.
“We caution that the same official, in a report dated 20 December 2018, indicates that material for five other bridges could not be verified but some eight days earlier had recommended/endorsed invoices to the value R47,167,8,77,” Majeke states.
However Pontseng was not among of the five bridges to be built this year by the Eastern Cape provincial government.
Majeke further warned transport that at the two sites visited, there was no independent health and safety officer appointed.
“No environmental management plan for the sites and no independent environmental control officer appointed. No professional certification of the completed Nyosana Bridge,” he said.
Majeke said only one bridge – in King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality – was completed. Construction of a second bridge in Matatiele was changed to a different location 3km away, but was a much smaller structure that originally indicated.
“This proposed bridge is half the size of the original bridge, which has been manufactured and delivered. The army will not proceed until duly instructed by applicable authority. The military have not been paid,” Majeke concluded.
While provincial treasury spokesperson Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha confirmed the authenticity of the letter, he refused to comment as “the contents of the letter were for internal processes and not for public consumption”.
“We have a problem with the leaking of this letter to the media,” Sicwetsha said.
“Any information about the work of the department is released to the public and to the oversight bodies properly and in full context. Our department will not respond to any of the questions you sent to us because the HOD wrote the letter to the HOD of Transport and not to the media.”
He said treasury will communicate the outcomes of its support to provincial departments at the right time.
Transport spokesperson Khuselwa Rantjie was unable to respond to questions sent on Monday as she “hasn’t received the go ahead from Mpolweni”.
Meanwhile, the army has started construction of a steel bridge over the Mgxojeni River in the village of Pontseng in Matatiele, where six children drowned a few weeks ago after being swept away by flash floods while crossing the river on their way from school.
The victims were among 17 children who were caught halfway across the river when floodwaters rapidly rose. Villagers managed to rescue 11 of the children.
Matatiele mayor Momelezi Mbedla this week confirmed that soldiers have arrived in Pontseng to build the bridge.
“They arrived this past weekend and their material has been delivered as well,” Mbedla said.
The children who died were in grade R and grade 2 at Popopo Primary in Popopo village, and were on their way home to Freystata.
Popopo Primary principal Karabo Hantsi fought back tears as he spoke on the deaths. “I am devastated to lose six children at once. This is such a disaster. The entire school community is in shock and mourning.”
He said when the pupils left school at 2pm on that fateful day there was no sign of rain. “About 20 minutes later a heavy storm came from nowhere and took everybody by surprise.
“I was worried with the children going home to Freystata and I was devastated to hear some have been drowned.”
There is no school in Freystata and children have to cross three streams during their 5km walk to Popopo Primary.