Public Works responds to Sunday Times article on SA Antarctic Team contract

Contract threat to SA Antarctic Team (Sunday Times 12.05.2019) response from the Department of Public Works

As the Department of Public Works we welcome public and media scrutiny of our projects and finances.

However, the journalist was premature in accusing Public Works of placing the lives of SA scientists at risk without receiving input from the Department. We can assure those scientists, and their families, that the Department has already put in place a Facilities Management Plan to safeguard the equipment referred to in the article.

The Contractor, Nolitha, was also somewhat presumptuous in claiming that only they are qualified to undertake this kind of work. The original refurbishment contract went out on open tender, a process in which other companies were deemed qualified to bid. The Department of Public Works built and maintained the original Antarctic bases and will implement the Facilities Management Plan going forward.

So let’s get to the point of what this article was really about: an attempt by the Contractor and their lawyers to bring pressure to bear on the Department to pay invoices that are currently disputed.

The contract to refurbish SA’s Antarctic base commenced in 2015. All valid invoices received from the Contractor from that time have been honoured. However, by the end of 2018 the work was running into major extensions of scope and price. In the circumstances, the Department took action, sending an in-house multidisciplinary team of engineers to the Antarctic to physically verify the work actually performed on the base.

This exercise discovered numerous discrepancies between the claims made in invoices and the actual work physically verified. These findings were made available to the Contractor on 28th April with the request that they respond with an explanation and supporting documents by May 3rd. To date no response is forthcoming.

In the circumstances, it would be highly irresponsible for the Department to pay against invoices which are disputed, and for which no explanation is offered by the Contractor. Not to do so would amount to financial misconduct in terms of National Treasury prescripts.

We need to address one other misleading allegation in the article: that service providers, particularly BEE companies, are suffering as a result of bureaucratic delays. Nothing could be further from the truth. It should be noted that 95% of valid invoices in March 2019 were paid within 30 days. The verification process involves certification of work done and all valid and relevant accompanying supporting documents.

Source: Government of South Africa