Johannesburg - It is “Operation Take Back”!
The Department of Public Works is to swoop and seize, without compensation, properties that belong to the state but were misappropriated by officials who have developed and used them for their private gain.
In the second phase of the state’s immovable assets audit, the government is looking to identify the private individuals who own 79 percent of the country’s land and find the occupiers of missing state land.
Last year, Gugile Nkwinti, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, said 7 percent of the country’s land – 8.36 million hectares – was unaccounted for in the land audit that was initiated in 2010.
It is not clear if this missing land includes state assets that were illegally transferred to individuals.
Jeremy Cronin, the Deputy Minister of Public Works, said “a can of worms across a series of properties” in Waterkloof Ridge, Gauteng, had already been uncovered.
“The state properties disappeared, no doubt with the collaboration of staff within the Department of Public Works plus other departments,” Cronin told Business Report yesterday.
“A couple of years ago we launched an Operation Bring Back,” he said. “The idea was to say, ‘be honest, come forward and then we can work out some arrangements.’”
But Operation Bring Back, which was initiated in 2012, did not yield results. Cronin said the state wanted to accelerate the process of sorting out its immovable asset register, so it was going to “whip on people that stole the property”.
Mduduzi Shabane, the director-general of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, said there had already been some arrests and the investigation was ongoing throughout the country.
Livhuhani Mabija, who previously served on a state asset registry committee in her municipality in Limpopo, said that in her constituency there were several cases of missing records where Public Works employees were alleged to have sold government properties to their families and friends.
“We saw a lot of properties that were said to [belong] to the public being renovated to mansions and guest houses…
“We have to construct the registry on a clean slate. We cannot just write off misdoings of the past,” she said.
Last year a number of high-profile arrests – including that of the former chief registrar of deeds in Pretoria, Pogisa Mesefo – took place after the Hawks uncovered the illegal transfer of 33 properties owned by Johannesburg Property Company in 2010.
The government has been trying to compile a comprehensive register of the state’s immovable assets since 1994, but there is still a lack of clarity on the nature and extent of those assets.
Some of the reasons for this are the loss and misplacement of some land records and the control of some assets being placed in the hands of private parties after 1994. Surveying of state land and confirmation of vesting of all assets had also not been completed.
The government initiated a land audit in 2010 and physical verification was conducted only on state and public land.
The audit was performed on registered land parcels, so surveyed and unregistered state land was not part of it. Assets belonging to municipalities and state-owned firms also did not form part of the audit.
Only desktop analysis was conducted on private land.
A new national surveying programme was initiated in 2011. Vela Mngwengwe, the chief director of the Department of Rural Development, said the programme had “practically” been completed.
As at March 31 last year, the state was found to be the custodian of 184 011 land parcels, representing 14 percent of the country’s land; 85 503 of these parcels were under human settlements.
Only 45 825 of these parcels had been vested under national or provincial government custody by December 31.
At the time of going to print, the Department of Public Works could not provide details about how many of its properties had disappeared or the value of state assets presumed to have been stolen by government employees. - Business Report