South Africa

News24.com | 'A national embarrassment' - Naledi Pandor on Dirco's botched multimillion-rand New York project

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor says the botched R118 million New York project, in which government paid for land that did not exist, is a national embarrassment.

The matter was raised on Wednesday, during a session in the National Assembly where Pandor answered questions with other ministers in the security cluster.

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Pandor said government took several steps to rectify the matter.

She said:

"This is an embarrassment for our country. This is why we are in court to recover the R118 million. The R188 million did not buy anything and therefore we have investigations. You would not be doing all these things if you believed everything was correct. We would not act in the way we acted were it not true that in fact public resources of South Africa have not been utilised properly."

In October, News24 reported that a fact-finding mission to New York, carried out by MPs in December 2019, found the piece of land meant to house South Africa's diplomats did not exist.

The report concluded R118 million was paid on the basis of a misrepresentation to the department the estate agent had bought land to build a suitable and sustainable office building.

The supply chain management challenge associated with the New York pilot project is a source of diplomatic embarrassment and posed a reputational risk to the image of the country.

Pandor placed the department's director-general Kgabo Mahoai on precautionary suspension.  

At a committee meeting last month, it was disputed his suspension came in the wake of the failed New York project.

EFF MP Thembi Msane told Pandor that there ought to be resignations on a mass scale.

"This New York project is an embarrassment to the nation whichever way you look at it. There ought to be political causalities for this. It's not probable that only officials were involved here. Who must ultimately take political responsibility for this embarrassment? When will we see resignations?"

DA MP Mergan Chetty asked Pandor what her department had to show for paying the service provider R118 million.

"Is there a title deed, is there a vacant piece of land or is there a dilapidated burned down abandoned building? Your suspension of the director-general [Kgabo Mahoai] is seen as a smokescreen covering for other officials closely linked to senior ANC leaders," he said.

READ ALSO | More heads should roll in R118m New York land scandal, says the DA

Pandor said the department opened a review application on 10 March 2018 to have it reviewed and set aside.

"The High Court review application also requested recovery of the money that was paid to the service provider by the department. The hearing on the matter took place on 12 October last year. We are still awaiting judgment," she said.

Asked about the suspension of the involved officials, Pandor said: "I cannot deal with the suspension of officials since that is dealt with by the Public Service Act. All who are implicated in terms of the need to pursue measures against them given their actions in this matter will be undertaken. We are proceeding with this matter as we see best as the ministry and the department."

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