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The fires could have been avoided

Cape Town - Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure. Photo: Bertram Malgas Picture: David Ritchie

Cape Town - Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure. Photo: Bertram Malgas Picture: David Ritchie

Published Jan 12, 2022


Cape Town - Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure. Photo: Bertram Malgas Picture: David Ritchie

THE fires that ravaged the national assembly this week and left damage estimated to cost R1 billion might be the result of government cost-cutting measures and the failure to implement maintenance recommendations submitted to Parliament from various safety reports.

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DA spokesperson on public works and infrastructure, Samantha Graham-Mare, yesterday put the blame squarely on the government and highlighted that other department buildings could be in a worse condition if the National Assembly has been left in shambles.

“We have been misled about the maintenance of the national assembly.

“We have also found out that issues raised in the report about the fire that happened in Parliament in March last year weren’t even addressed,” Graham-Mare said.

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Graham-Mare said although she didn’t have full knowledge about how the fires started this week in the national assembly, basic safety issues were ignored.

“The fire could have been detected at least three minutes after they started if the sprinklers were maintained and the fire alarm was working.

“So much was wrong and those responsible must face the music.

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“The National Assembly could be a victim of the government’s cost-cutting measures.

“I strongly believe that these fires or the extent of the damage thereof couldn’t have happened if Parliament was properly maintained.

“An independent expert has estimated that we need at least R1bn to rebuild.

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“And the extent of the damage can be way beyond what we can imagine.”

She said Minister of Public Works Patricia De Lille, must take full responsibility for the poor maintenance of the Parliament building under her watch.

A post-incident report submitted by the Cape Town fire department on Friday confirmed that the sprinklers in the Parliament building were last serviced in 2017 and they must be serviced every three years.

The report shows it is unclear if the fire alarm and detection system was operational.

“No fire alarm was received by the Cape Town fire services from the old or new national assembly buildings,” says the report.

Another damning safety, health and environment (SHE) report seen by Sunday Independent wasn’t shared with the National Assembly committee on public works and infrastructure after it was submitted in Parliament in 2018 and it isn’t clear whether any of its recommendations were implemented.

Graham-Mare said she recently became aware of the report although it was submitted to Parliament on May 21, 2018.

De Lille told Sunday Independent on Friday she became aware of the report this week.

“I have been asking for this report, which I am told is damning and gives overhaul safety, health and environmental maintenance plans for the parliament (building), since the fires started and I am still waiting for it,” De Lille said.

The minister maintained that the report was submitted before her time and that “someone in Parliament decided not to share it with me when I was appointed”.

The report paints a worrisome picture of the parliament building’s safety, health and environment policies and procedures and concluded that:

* No emergency drills were conducted in the past 12 months and that personnel are unaware where to go in the event of emergency,

* No proof of any safety, health and environmental audits or inspections,

* No evidence could be provided, showing the existence of a safety management system.

* Lack of maintenance of safety, health and environment equipment remained a high risk.

The minister confirmed that the fires, the first one reported on Sunday, have caused extensive damage.

“We must commend the firefighters for containing the fires, it was going to be a serious disaster.

“We are lucky the old assembly chambers are safe but the new ones aren’t and it is very difficult to do a proper assessment as the National Assembly is still a crime scene.”

The minister said the internal professional engineers and experts gained access to the building and made some recommendations.

“I am happy that the national treasury has approved the appointment of independent engineers to do their own assessments as well.”

The minister couldn’t comment on whether Zandile Christmas Mafe, the man arrested as the alleged arsonist, was behind the fires or a scapegoat as many believe.

“Let the law take its own course and the courts pronounce whether he is an arsonist or a scapegoat.”

Sunday Independent

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