Is jet-setting Minister Zikalala confused about which Portfolio he heads?

Issued by Madeleine Hicklin MP – DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure
11 May 2023 in News

Note to editors: Please find attached soundbite by Madeleine Hicklin MP.

Once again, Minister Sihle Zikalala did not appear at the Portfolio Committee Meeting for the Department Of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) this week – because he was in the Netherlands to propagate Infrastructure South Africa’s (ISA) efforts to get hydrogen projects off the ground. While this might be a noble effort, it demonstrates just how out of touch the Minister is with what is happening in the Portfolio Committee, and in the emerging construction and built environment arena in South Africa.

It also follows hot on the heels of his announcement, reported in a myriad of media reports, of ‘economic lifelines being thrown to small fishing harbours in the Western Cape’.

Saturday’s Weekend Argus ran a story with a misleading headline of ‘Harbour’s Thrown An Economic Lifeline’, detailing an influx of R500-million into the Hout Bay and Saldanha Bay Harbours, among the 13 small harbours which will benefit from the revamp budget following recent complaints from the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee. Until one realises that this is not a new allocation of money at all.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) can reveal that in her 2020 Budget Vote Speech, former DPWI Minister Patricia de Lille spoke about the Small Harbours Repair and Maintenance Programme which was gazetted as a Strategic Integrated Project (SIP) as part of the Infrastructure Investment Plan in May 2020.

In the 2022/23 Budget Vote, Minister de Lille announced that R501-million was allocated to the Small Harbours Repairs and Maintenance Programme – the very same money Minister Zikalala miraculously allocated last week – to be spent on the 13 Proclaimed Fishing Harbours. This money, which is hopelessly too little for what it is intended to achieve, must be used for the removal of sunken vessels, repair slipways, shore crane replacement, security upgrades, and civil and electrical upgrades.

The DA believes that this jet-setting Minister seems totally unaware that this money was already allocated last year, and he also believes it to be sufficient to meet the needs of all the work to be done.

But it comes as no surprise to the DA. Minister Zikalala started his tenure without ever having met the Portfolio Committee and has not come to a single meeting to date. If he had, we could have updated him comprehensively on the challenges faced by the construction and the professional built environment arenas. Instead, he seems content to visit sites after the Committee has done its oversight, like a benevolent uncle, handing out old allocations as new gifts to needy children who have been waiting for the DPWI to listen to their challenges and respond positively for years. It’s sneaky, and cheeky, at best.

The Minister must attend the meetings of the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure so that he can become appraised of the budgetary allocations and challenges within the portfolio he heads. Instead, he seems happy to either trail in its shadow or not bother to put in an appearance at all. Rather to travel overseas or engage with dignitaries from China and abroad.

It would be wiser if he stayed closer to home, engaged with the needs of the emerging construction and professional built environment contractors in South Africa … and attended to his job of leading his Department.