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What The Fog? Gauteng govt blows R117m on unnecessary and potentially dangerous Covid-19 fumigation

Six contracts awarded for fogging, despite the World Health Organisation’s advice against this practice as it’s considered to do more harm than good.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Six companies, some of which only came into existence recently, pocketed at least R117-million in 11 months between March 2020 and January 2021 for “fumigation services” and sanitising buildings for the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development (GDID), ostensibly to prevent the spread of Covid-19. According to the GDID, this contributes to a total amount of R190-million spent on acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE).

This is in stark contrast to both the Western Cape, which spent R36-million in the 2020/21 financial year and mostly used an internal team, and KwaZulu-Natal, which spent just more than R5-million and also used internal cleaning experts. This took place even though, since May last year, fumigation has not been recommended by the World Health Organisation for Covid-19 and has been rejected by SA’s own world-renowned scientists and infectious diseases specialists.

“In indoor spaces, routine application of disinfectants to environmental surfaces via spraying or fogging (also known as fumigation or misting) is not recommended. Spraying environmental surfaces in both healthcare and non-healthcare settings (such as patient households) with disinfectants will not be effective and may pose harm to individuals,” said WHO Situation Report 115.

The Scientists Collective series published in Daily Maverick/Maverick Citizen also stated in August 2020: “There is NO role for ‘fogging’, ‘disinfection tunnels’, spraying or ‘deep cleaning’ for Covid-19. These are heavyweight options we occasionally use for other bugs (we don’t use tunnels anywhere!), and in very specific situations, but not for this virus.”

In June 2020, the Covid-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee also categorically advised against fogging.

On its dashboard, which it says is up to date, the National Treasury records that sanitising buildings is the fifth-highest item of expenditure, with payments totalling R510-million to date.

But, large as that may seem, it is important to note that this figure does not include payments for “hand sanitisers and disinfectants”, on which the Treasury records payments of an enormous R1.2-billion.

We contacted five of the six companies that were given tenders by the GDID were contacted by DM168 with questions about the best practices they adhere to for Covid-19-related cleaning, deep fumigation or fogging; industry accreditation that may apply; how their staff are trained and protected; their rates and details of the jobs completed for the GDID.

Only one, the KEO Group, replied. Questions were also sent to the National Contract Cleaning Association (NCCA), which did not respond by deadline.

This is what we know about five of the six companies awarded the fogging contracts:

KEO Group – paid R39.9-million

KEO Group’s website bills the company as “an electrical mechanical and civil engineering also in the business of cleaning and hygiene services as well as smart technology sensitizer dispenser supplies and installation. We also offer services in project management, technical advisory and tender document management.”

The website details offering “microbial fogs”. Among the claims are that these “prevent the build-up of pathogens … All have been tested and documented by the South African Bureau of Standards.” [There is no list or reference for this claim.]

In correspondence with DM168, KEO project manager Geoffrey Nyathi said the company charged R10.25 per metre and did work for GDID over 27 weeks. The company’s current sole director is registered as 25-year-old Phetogo Molefe. Her name, however, doesn’t appear on the employee list Nyathi provided. The business address is listed as 87 Booysens Road, Booysens, in Johannesburg, and also indicates its address as unit numbers in an “Xspace” storage facility on the same street.

DM168 reporter visited both sites; one appeared to be a tyre workshop and the other a storage unit warehouse. The KEO Group website gallery shows uncaptioned photographs of what it states are examples of its projects. There is only one captioned picture on the website, of a person in a hazmat suit appearing to fog an office. It states “Kempton Park Department of Social Development” and is dated 23 June 2020.

Industry sources contacted by DM168 say the KEO Group does not have a track record in the office cleaning industry, that it has a very small number of employees and does not contract out its work, raising questions about it’s ability to have carried out the work for which it received the tender. The sources also allege that KEO has several outstanding compliance issues, including paying legislated pay rates, statutory contributions to the SARS skills levy and provident fund contributions. KEO was asked to submit supporting documents to DM168.

Cocase South Africa – paid R33.7-million

Cocase South Africa is registered to Carol Cebile Blake and the business address is a house on Ivan Street in Kempton Park.

The company’s online profile is a Facebook page. Its most recent post was a recruitment advertisement on 27 May 2020 for two environmental project managers. The page includes a link to a company website but this link is broken. The cellphone number given for business trading was answered by a personal user when DM168 called. Questions were emailed to the address given on the Facebook page, but no response was received at the time of deadline.

Ambroser Solutions – paid R28.8-million

The sole director of the company is listed as 32-year-old Simtholile Ambitious Ndlovu. The company was registered in February 2015 to an address in Highveld Park, Emalahleni, Mpumalanga.

Ambroser Solutions’s only web presence turns out to be a listing with the National Contract Cleaning Association. It appears under “cleaner” with a physical address stated as Waterfront Blue Gill, 12 Dabchick Close, Kempton Park. The address doesn’t show up on a location map.

Questions were emailed to Ndlovu but no response was received at the time of deadline.

Lucage Trading and Projects – paid R10.5-million

This company has two directors listed as Magdeline Kagiso Kwele, 33, and Nsizwa Louis Mahlangu, 37, of Hatfield, Pretoria, and Pretoria West respectively. Their business address for Lucage Trading and Projects is listed as Chromeville Street in Mhluzi, Mpumalanga and the business was registered in June 2016.

The email for the pair is registered to a university student number email. There is no web presence for the company though Lucage Trading and Projects appears on a public business listing site. There is no physical or postal address or contact details given here either. Kwele was contacted on a registered phone for comment. She did not return calls at the time of deadline.

TES Cleaning – paid R3.8-million

TES Cleaning was registered in November 2019. Its sole director is named as 38-year-old Kathy Singh of Douglasdale, Johannesburg. There is no web presence for the company and no publicly available contact details. DM168 contacted Singh on her registered cellphone number for comment, but she did not respond at the time of deadline.

The over R190-million spent by the GDID does not include the R431-million spent by the Gauteng Education Department on sanitising schools, which, DM168 confirmed this week, is still being investigated by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

Fumigation of Alexandra’s Madala hostel in april 2020. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla

When asked to explain these costs, Bongiwe Gambu, spokesperson for the GDID, said: “Fumigation in this context refers to a decontamination method involving the spraying of vapour, mist or fog to kill undesirable living organisms on the surface or airborne including microbial. This is commonly referred to as fogging.”

Gambu added that “the process of acquiring PPE … includes buying masks, gloves, sanitisers, dispensers and infrared thermal scanners, fogging or fumigation of our buildings (this includes ALL satellite buildings of the Department)”.

The process of fogging, however, does not appear to have included municipal buildings, for which payments of less than R1-million are recorded in the expenditure disclosure reports.

Gambu provided DM168 with a list of government buildings for which the GDID has responsibility and the amount of space they occupy. It includes hospitals, which, we understand, are also still serviced by other departments. The list is titled “Request for Quotation: Scope of Works and Services” and was supplied to bidders who were asked to “price all the regions”.

The list does not indicate what services were actually provided. Neither does Gambu indicate which buildings ultimately benefited from these services.

Gambu also provided a set of Environmental Health Guidelines produced by the national Department of Health in March 2020, whose relevance is not clear, because the guidelines do not address “fogging” or sanitising buildings.

In response to further enquiries by DM168, Gambu confirmed that contracts were awarded to six companies that were among 14 initially “selected” from the Gauteng Central Supplier Database (CSD) and then invited to submit quotations.

None of the services were acquired based on open tendering, but on quotations (of R8.50 to R13 per square metre) that were submitted to the GDID.

Gambu said: “The criteria was that the service provider should be Central Supplier Database registered and they must be tax compliant, and we do random selection from the same database. The selection was done by a supply chain practitioner within [the] Supply Chain Management [SCM] unit. The decision for contracting the six companies emanates from the SCM processes and was based on the bidder who scored the highest scoring points as per Preferential Procurement Regulations 2017.”

Yet KEO Group was only registered on the CSD in March 2020.

Since September 2020 spending on sanitising buildings and schools has been consistently the number one spend in Gauteng – more than 80% of all expenditure.

Yet, unlike the accoutrements of PPE, which can at least be counted and checked for quality, “fumigation services” are much more foggy, making it difficult to evaluate whether the government is getting any value for the huge amount of money it is spending. It is also not clear what, if any, oversight or monitoring exists of these services.

What’s happening in other provinces?

To try to assess Gauteng’s expenditure against that of other provincial departments, DM168 wrote to the eight other provinces asking for the amounts they had spent.

Only two responded.

Jandre Bakker, head of communication in the Western Cape’s Department of Transport and Public Works (DTPW) reported: “The DTPW will have spent approximately R36-million on cleaning services during the 2020/21 financial year” and that “we did not enter into any specific/additional contracts for Covid sanitising and disinfecting”.

“The DTPW has a dedicated internal Cleaning Services team together with contracted cleaning service providers. The contracted cleaning service providers that were used were in terms of existing contracts procured through an open tender process. No additional cleaning contracts were procured for Covid. The internal team responds to most of the office disinfecting requests following Covid cases in provincially occupied offices in the Cape Town CBD.”

In KZN, DM168 was told by the media spokesperson for the Department of Public Works that “individual departments were responsible for their buildings … and that cleaning and security staff were trained in terms of the regulations”.

A spreadsheet was provided suggesting that in 2020 the total amount spent on sanitising buildings was R5.5-million on 33 companies.

Questions were sent to the national Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, asking whether the provinces were issued with guidelines, but the questions were not answered.

Questions sent to Thabo Masebe, the spokesperson for Gauteng Premier David Makhura, also went unanswered. DM168

Additional reporting by Ayanda Mthethwa.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. 

Original Article: Daily Maverick

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