South Africa News

SAPS & public works dept called to Parliament over Telkom Towers debacle

Police top brass and Public Works department officials will have to account before Members of Parliament this week. This follows the bungle at the SAPS headquarters at the Telkom Towers complex in Pretoria in which staff were evacuated and the building was declared uninhabitable.

The only building that had been used by South African Police Service (SAPS) at Telkom Towers was evacuated on 26 February following an inspection by labour department officials who were accompanied by police management and the Solidarity trade union.

On Friday, GroundUp reported that the complex was also flagged by the Auditor General. It was among 12 material irregularities identified in its report to Parliament. The Telkom Towers complex was purchased by Public Works for SAPS in April 2016 for nearly R700-million, according to the office of the Auditor General.

The Auditor General’s office also found that only one of the nine buildings in the complex had ever been used by SAPS. Eight of the buildings have been vacant, costing the government at least R592-million.

SAPS had said that Public Works never handed over the other buildings.

Letters between Public Works and SAPS, some as far back as 2018, show how the move to the Telkom Towers was meant to alleviate pressure on the lease budget. Issues such as health and safety and lifts not working at the building were also raised then.

A letter by the acting director general of Public Works to SAPS on 21 September 2021, stated: “As confirmed by your department, the termination of leases will be done in a phased approach. However, Presldia, La Rochelle, Opera Plaza and Opera Plaza Annex will be prioritised and terminated as part of the cost reduction initiative in line with SAPS migration plan to Telkom Towers.”

On Monday, sources confirmed that senior SAPS members and Public Works officials will be briefing MPs on the Public Works portfolio committee on Tuesday and the portfolio committee on Police on Wednesday over issues with the Telkom Tower matter.

According to a Solidarity letter sent to SAPS in November 2023, issues at the building include that there are sewage leaks from the roof of the basement, most toilets are not working and the overall bathroom hygiene is in a poor state. Lifts are regularly out of order and there is only one fire extinguisher for each floor which reportedly were last serviced in July 2022.

National SAPS spokesperson Athlenda Mathe, on Monday told GroundUp: “The National Commissioner and the DG of Public Works met with senior officials from each department to find solutions and get a timeline of when the identified deficiencies will be attended to.”

Mathe confirmed that Minister of Police Bheki Cele met Public Works Minister Sihle Zikalala on Monday morning to discuss the matter.

Renate Pieterse of Solidarity said it was unfortunate that the union as a last resort had to take the matter to the media before the government took action.

“The reputational damage… could have been prevented. We are really glad that steps are being taken because our goal is for people to work in a safe environment.”

Pieterse said that it was a wasteful expenditure for police to be renting office space from a private company. She added that this was unfortunately not an isolated case and that “more government buildings are experiencing similar issues”.

GroundUp sent questions to the Department of Public Works on Friday. The questions were acknowledged but not answered. The article will be updated if we receive a response.

-EWN

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