Collaborating with communities key in dismantling ‘innovative’ construction mafias

Collaborating with communities key in dismantling ‘innovative’ construction mafias

“Organised crime is innovative and incredibly adaptive; it also needs to be addressed that way.”

This was the view of advocate Hermione Cronje, consultant to the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative, a joint initiative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, as the Mobility Summit came to an end on Wednesday.

Panellists delved into how building and construction service delivery were being impacted by crime syndicates through extortion, theft and vandalism.

According to Cronje, organised crime expanded its market from drugs and other serious crimes into procurement, a development which, he said, should have been foreseen.

“The construction Mafia is not new. It is just that now it has been given a name. It goes as far back as 2010. It should have been foreseen.

Conventional police will not cut it. We are in this mess in South Africa because we cannot talk about intelligence. We need collaborations and (to) involve communities. They have to be part of the solution. We have a crisis and it must be acknowledged. Also, our conventional methods or responses are not working. Unfortunately we have failed. Our police and prosecution services have failed,” she said.

City Infrastructure Project manager Johan Fowler said in addressing the challenges they were trying to close all loopholes, such as the follow-up of information in relation to tenders and contractors.

There have been growing suspicions that some people in the bid committee might be bribed by the alleged Mafia or gang bosses to share information.

The committee is responsible for the evaluation of bids submitted in response to a public invitation.

“In terms of our own supply chain process, we have adopted new protocols to safeguard the projects. This is because we have had cases where these syndicates directly call contractors and CEOs of major construction companies. We have voice notes to prove it.

They inform them that they are aware of the bid they submitted for a tender and where they are ranked. This is how organised they are. We are now monitoring the flow of information and security has been tightened up. This is starting to bear fruit.”

“We have adopted a multi approach and there are still lessons being learnt.

People in organised crime make their calculations about how much they can extort or benefit when we announce a capital project and its costs. We want to announce how much we are investing for infrastructure, but there are now unintended consequences. We are now taking major steps. The preferential procurement act was amended to do away with this notation of local content,” said Fowler.

The City’s Marius Wust said there was a huge impact in delivering projects on the ground timeously and they were not able to spend approved budgets.

“A budget of about R1.9 billion was approved for this financial year, which runs until June 2024. One of the biggest programmes is in the Metro South East BRT system to provide transportation for commuters from Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha and Claremont.

“We cannot avoid delays. In the last financial year that ended in June, we could not spend R60 million due to extortion-related crimes. At one site we lost about six weeks’ of construction work,” said Wust.

He identified challenges in areas that included Delft and Bishop Lavis.

According to Wust, a new trend had been detected where they were receiving fewer bids now from contracts to work in certain areas and prices were also coming at a premium for safety reasons.

Western Cape Police commissioner Tembisile Patekile who was expected to be part of the panel to respond to questions about police action was unable to attend and issued an apology.

Cape Times