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Building watchdog on shaky ground


A presidential proclamation allowing the Special Investigating Unit to investigate a construction industry watchdog could open a can of worms.

The proclamation grants the SIU power to investigate government contracts that were awarded to companies that did not comply with the requirements set out in the invitation to tender.

The SIU has been ordered to look into practices at the Construction Industry Development Board, including the awarding of gradings.

The grading a contractor receives from the board determines the maximum value of the project for which it can tender. Grade 9 contractors are able to apply for contracts worth R130-million or more.

The SIU has also been asked to investigate if the process used to appoint “a panel of service providers to conduct investigations for the board” violated Treasury regulations.

According to the proclamation, the SIU should investigate the “validity of construction work contracts awarded by state institutions to contractors, where these institutions relied on the unlawful or invalid registration as contractors in the register of contractors and contractor grading designations awarded by the board to those contractors”.

The unit will also establish if board officials improperly disseminated confidential information.

The board yesterday stated that it welcomed the investigation and had requested it to counter allegations of fraud and corruption.

Charles Wright, Stefauntti Stocks’ enterprise development director, who has assisted the board in awarding gradings, said giving a company a grade beyond its capability had a devastating effect on the country.

“The collapse of service delivery can be seen in every town, from roads falling apart to other vital infrastructure either not working or projects lying incomplete for years.”

Tinus Maritz, a member of the board’s advisory forum and head of Pretoria University’s construction economics department, said the board raised the issue of corruption at a stakeholders’ meeting in Pretoria three weeks ago.

“The board experiences huge difficulties in monitoring the country’s thousands of contractors. It’s a capacity problem.”

Maritz said contractors often acted as fronts and sold off contracts to competent companies at a profit.