On Wednesday, officials of the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) unveiled plans to address the shocking state of our land borders between South Africa and Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini and Zimbabwe. The Portfolio Committee of Public Works and Infrastructure was presented with a proposal for a state of the art fence with electronic detection mechanisms based on best practice as determined by the Department. The price tag for this? A staggering R5 billion. And that is only for the basic infrastructure, based on estimates from 2 years ago. And that is only for a portion of our borders
The Democratic Alliance (DA) does not dispute the absolute necessity of addressing border security. But recent oversights have revealed that the DPWI has been involved in two different “emergency” border fencing projects which have both deviated from normal procurement processes and which have both carried a hefty price tag borne by the South African public. We cannot endorse a new border security proposal that is extremely vague on the proposed costs but which has already been lodged with the Infrastructure Investment Office for future financing at a cost of R5 billion.
Of greater concern is that the DPWI have drafted the proposal (and corresponding cost analysis) in isolation. The recent enactment of the Border Management Act will create a Border Management Agency (BMA) which will be a multi-department organisation responsible for the functioning and protection of our borders. It is concerning that the DPWI, as the custodian of all state infrastructure, is not statutorily mandated to serve on the BMA but that does not preclude the DPWI from consulting with the relevant stakeholders in order to ensure that the final product meets the needs of the clients. The washing line at Beit Bridge is a prime example of the DPWI acting in isolation and delivering an overpriced and completely unsuitable end product.
A border fence is not the only mechanism required to deal with illegal crossings of people, cars and livestock. The costs for border security should possibly not be borne by South Africa alone. Political and economic solutions need to be sought by this government in conjunction with a border fence because without those issues being addressed, no fence will be effective. This is the role of government and goes far beyond a mere border barrier solution.
Minister De Lille is behaving as if she is the ultimate arbiter of all things infrastructure and can act alone on developments within this sector. This behavior has already cost this country R40 million. She needs to understand the mandate of her Department, as well as her role therein and act in accordance with this. Until the Department has received sign off from the BMA, it is far too premature to be asking for a R5 billion pledge from government.