Home South African Public Works dept not paying legal cost of ministerial adviser’s disciplinary hearing

Public Works dept not paying legal cost of ministerial adviser’s disciplinary hearing

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Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille said her department was not paying the legal costs for her special adviser Melissa Whitehead in the disciplinary hearing she is facing over her role in the procurement of the controversial Beitbridge border fence.

Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

PUBLIC Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille said her department was not paying the legal costs for her special adviser Melissa Whitehead in the disciplinary hearing she is facing over her role in the procurement of the controversial Beitbridge border fence.

DA MP Samantha Graham asked whether the department was covering the legal costs with regard to Whitehead’s disciplinary hearing.

Graham also asked whether an agreement has been entered into with Whitehead in the event of her losing the matter and what is the total amount in legal costs the department has paid to date in this matter.

Melissa Whitehead

In her written reply, De Lille said her department has not paid any legal cost on behalf of her special adviser.

“The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure is not covering the legal costs with regard to the disciplinary process of the minister’s special adviser since public service prescripts do not provide for such payment to be made,” she said.

The minister also said there was also no agreement in place between the department, the state attorney, and Whitehead to pay the legal cost for her disciplinary hearing.

“The department has not paid any legal cost on behalf of the special adviser.”

The department instituted disciplinary action against Whitehead, director-general Sam Vukela, three senior officials and eight members of the national bid adjudication committee.

The cases for the officials are at different stages.

In the case of Whitehead, De Lille received legal advice to push ahead with the disciplinary hearing and has requested the state attorney to appoint the initiator and chairperson for the ensuing disciplinary process.

“An initiator and chairperson have been appointed by the state attorney. The initiator has prepared draft charges against Ms Melissa Whitehead,” she said.

The minister said she interacted with the initiator on December 9, 2020, February 27, 2021, and April 1, 2021.

She also said she has met with both the initiator and the state attorney in December 2021 to finalise the charge sheet.

“To this end, charges have been finalised and will be presented to Ms Whitehead in due course.”

In March 2020, De Lille issued a directive to the department to appoint a service provider to use an emergency procurement process to erect the border fence on the Beitbridge border post.

An investigation found that the fence cost R40.4 million – which consisted of R37.1m payment to the contractor and R3.25m to a professional agent – overpriced by R14m.

It also revealed a series of procurement and other irregularities, including R21.8m upfront payment to the contractor and R1.8m to the principal-agent when construction had not started.

The department was found to have failed to test the market to determine the reasonable contractor and pricing.

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