Details of half of government property leases can't be traced

Unfortunate and unforeseen consequences often result ... even from actions that have the best intentions behind them.  South Africa has one of the very best land registration systems in the world and security of title is guaranteed.  As a result, South Africa is one of the very few countries in the world where Title Insurance is not required and is, in fact, therefore unknown here.

However, over the decades, the government (and all its organs of state) has seemingly failed to keep its records updated and it eventually reached a stage where the government could not state with any certainty what land it owned.  It would therefore seem to be logical to do a reconciliation.

However, the unintended consequence is that several senior examiners from the Pretoria Deeds Office have been seconded to this task.  The knock-on effect (together with some other factors) has meant that staff shortages have resulted in a backlog in registrations at the Pretoria Deeds Office of over 4,000 deeds.

To put this in perspective, this only amounts to a couple of days lodgments in the Pretoria Deeds Office (the biggest deeds office in SA) but has pushed back registration times by several days.

Gareth Shepperson

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Details of half of government property leases can't be traced

Fewer than half of the floor plans and contact details of tenants of the Public Works Department's almost 3 000 property leases, worth R3.86 billion last year, are on file.

The rest have been either lost or not collected - meaning that officials are working in the dark when trying to verify that the government is getting what it pays for, or is using it for its intended purpose.

This was one of the challenges outlined by Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi during a preview of his speech for his department's budget vote, which was debated in Parliament yesterday.

In a wry aside, the minister revealed that the runway at Waterkloof air force base, famously used by the Gupta family to land a plane of wedding guests last week, had been upgraded by the department, one of 214 capital infrastructure projects completed in the past financial year. "That's very significant," a deadpan Nxesi added.

He said that investigations by the Special Investigating Unit into irregular leases and projects and findings of the Competition Commission "tell the same story" of overpricing and collusion between some officials and sections of the construction industry.

This was a "reminder that it takes two to tango, that corruption and greed in the private and public sectors are mutually reinforcing".

Of the 40 investigations, 23 had been completed, resulting in the dismissal of six officials - including a deputy directorgeneral - and court action to recover money wrongly paid.

The disciplinary hearings of another deputy directorgeneral and a chief director were continuing.

Nxesi said that the department's "prestige projects" - accommodation for members of the executive - were major areas of "collusion and irregular expenditure".

The SIU had completed the Pretoria leg of its investigation into those projects and was switching its focus to Cape Town, where R100 million had been spent on renovating 11 ministerial houses.

The department was developing guidelines for the projects to ensure that improvements were not at the discretion of the ministers.

In a previous written reply to a parliamentary question, Nxesi had said that the renovations included the enclosing of an outdoor braai, the converting of a room into a gym, and a kitchen revamp.

Yesterday, he said that the completion of a register of government fixed property, expected to be done by March 2015, would be a "gamechanger" because it would allow the state to leverage for economic development its estimated R300bn property portfolio, which was about seven times the value of the largest private portfolio.

Reconciliation of state land with Deeds Office records had been "substantially completed" and physical verification would begin in July.

A project that had taken years to complete and overshot many deadlines, it had involved checking the records of about 180 000 land parcels, ascribing custodianship to the relevant department or sphere of government, and vesting the property, he said.

Daily News


Denny Crane

Denny Crane
It's not me ... yet. Denny Crane from the TV series Boston Legal. Click on picture if you're not sure who he is!