by Samantha Graham-Maré
The devastating fire that ripped through the Parliamentary precinct on Sunday was the second one in Parliament in the last 10 months – both of which appear to have originated in the Old Assembly building.
While it is too early to speculate whether the cause of the fire could have been prevented, we need to question whether the extent of the damage could have been limited.
Following the fire in March last year, a report was concluded by the Parliament Fire Incident restoration team in August. The report identified several issues pertaining to the fire warning systems, as well as the firefighting Equipment – both of which fall under the auspices of the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure.
In particular, two shocking revelations were the lack of smoke detectors in the roof area of the Old Assembly Building and that the existing smoke detectors in the building were practically obsolete.
There are clear recommendations in the report to address some of the failings identified.
Subsequent to that fire, I was alerted to an independent report by an external auditing company, Binder Dijker Otte (BDO), titled “Review of Parliament’s Prestige Construction Projects”, which was completed in September 2020.
Following a written question that I submitted to the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Patricia de Lille, she requested the report and received same on September 17, last year – almost a full year after it was finalised.
The minister accused her department of withholding the report from her – a shocking indictment on her relationship with the officials in the department for which she is responsible. And also a dangerous situation if it has resulted in a lack of implementation of the recommendations made in the BDO Report.
In response to my request for a copy of the report, the minister advised that she had submitted it to the Speaker of Parliament and that they would be completing an internal consultative process by the end of September 2021.
This report allegedly had at least 30 findings that pointed to risks associated with the precinct, including a finding that the fire protection systems were inadequate for a heritage building.
I have requested a copy of this report through various channels to no avail, which is a direct infringement of my right to perform oversight over Minister De Lille and her department.
It is now time for the BDO report to be made available to the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure and for Minister De Lille and her department to account, first, for the reasons behind the delay in tabling their report, and second, for their failure to address the findings in both reports and the implementation of the treatment plan proposed in the BDO report.
While the cause of the fire is yet to be determined, the idea that the extent of the damage it caused could have been mitigated had the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure implemented the recommendations in the various reports is a bitter pill to swallow.
Fortunately, there has been no loss of life. We might not be so lucky next time.
* Samantha Graham-Maré, MP, DA Shadow Minister for Public Works and Infrastructure.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.