Auditor General gives damning report on police headquarters

This was just hours after workers at the Telkom Towers office were evacuated after it was declared unfit for human use

By Matthew Hirsch

1 March 2024

This was the state of one of the rooms at the SAPS office inside the Telkom Towers in Pretoria. The offices were evacuated and forcefully closed earlier this week. All photos have been supplied and most were first published on Daily Maverick.

The national headquarters of SAPS in Pretoria have been declared unfit for human use and have also been flagged by the Auditor General this week.

The Telkom Towers complex was purchased by Public Works in April 2016 for nearly R700-million, according to the office of the Auditor General.

But nearly eight years later, the complex has been underutilised and staff were recently evacuated from the premises due to safety concerns.

A presentation to MPs on Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure by the Auditor General on Wednesday revealed that only one of the nine buildings in the complex has ever been used by SAPS.

Eight of the buildings have been vacant, costing the government at least R592-million. This has been flagged by the Auditor General as a material irregularity.

Several MPs voiced concern that the matter had not been resolved despite them raising it on numerous occasions since 2019.

Just hours after the meeting in Parliament, SAPS released a statement confirming that staff had been evacuated from the only building it had been using at the Telkom Towers. The building will remain closed until further notice is given.

One of the many broken bathroom sinks.

Auditor General flagged issues months ago

Meanwhile, in Parliament, the Auditor General noted that 12 material irregularities had been identified in its report. Of these, eleven caused significant financial losses while the 12th was the misuse of public land.

Londoloza Songwevu, a senior audit manager who led the presentation to the committee said that four of these irregularities have been resolved as well as one that wasn’t at Telkom Towers.

According to the Auditor General, the buildings were fully functional at the time of purchase and were meant to become the central headquarters for SAPS in Pretoria. The complex was intended to alleviate the pressure on the budget to lease private buildings.

Songwevu said service delivery had been affected. “Over and above those [financial] losses, service delivery is impacted in the sense that SAPS is unable to conduct their business as they would have envisaged when the move first came about,” he told MPs.

Songwevu said that they flagged the Telkom Towers as a material irregularity late last year but wanted to give the new director-general time to respond to the matter. He told MPs that they were also concerned about the increasing number of material irregularities.

At the end of the presentation, the Auditor General made a few recommendations, which included that the portfolio committee “evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of consequence management [disciplinary] systems employed by the departments and entities to deal with instances of material irregularities”.

Committee chair Nolitha Ntobongwana (ANC) said the information presented by the Auditor General would be included in the committee’s end of term “legacy report”.

Ntobongwana also referred to an oversight visit in 2022. At the time, the committee had raised concerns about officials being “underprepared” during their visit and denied entry into some of the offices.

One room was filled with these containers that appear to be some kind of chemical.

SAPS’s office of horrors

The closure of the police headquarters happened after labour department officials accompanied by police management and Solidarity trade union officials visited the building on Tuesday.

Johan Böning, of Solidarity, in a statement, described the deplorable state of the SAPS office. He said they had received several complaints from police members. Some of the allegations included a lack of clean drinking water, poor and broken air conditioning and ventilation, broken and dirty toilets, closed and unmarked emergency exits, and broken lifts, among other issues.

In the statement after the office’s closure, police management claimed that their primary concern was the “well-being” of employees. And that it was on the instruction of National Commissioner General Fannie Masemola that all of the staff left the premises.

“SAPS is in continuous engagements with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure whose responsibility is the repair and maintenance of state facilities,” Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said.

She said that arrangements are being made for the functions carried out at the building to be performed at alternative premises. She said that “core policing” had not been affected by the “temporary” closure.

In response to questions from GroundUp, Mathe on Friday, said that she was aware of the Auditor General’s findings. “However, the finding was vehemently opposed and rejected. It was not a deliberate act from SAPS to continue using the leased buildings instead of the state building [Telkom Tower],” she said.

“Unfortunately, only Telkom Towers North was said to be ready and a certificate of occupation as well as a certificate of compliance was issued to SAPS which led to the occupation of Telkom Towers North. The other buildings were never handed over to the SAPS,” she said.

She added that SAPS had written to Public Works several times requesting a Project Execution Plan relating to the other buildings. “To date the Project Execution Plan has yet to be received by SAPS from Public Works.”

This meant that the only building that was somewhat functional now has to remain closed until further notice due to it being unfit for purpose.

GroundUp sent questions to Public Works spokesperson Lennox Mabaso on Friday. The article will be updated with the department’s response once it is received.

Ceilings were broken with wires sticking out.