Focus on recovering stolen state property

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Thulas Nxesi

Durban - Public Works is moving to recover “stolen state property” from individuals who are claiming buildings, properties and farms as their own without being able to prove acquisition. In some cases this dates back to before 1994.

Among properties under scrutiny was Vlakplaas, the base for the apartheid death squad headed by convicted murderer Eugene de Kock. “Some people are claiming that property,” said Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi during Wednesday’s pre-budget vote briefing.

Other properties Public Works wants to reclaim for the state under Operation Bring Back are scattered across the former homelands of Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana and Venda.

“There were many properties that belonged to government. Now they belong to individuals. They are using them as B&Bs. There are no records (of acquisition),” said Nxesi.

The initiative comes as Public Works has almost completed a national register of assets - 107 000 properties on about 30 000 parcels of land have physically been verified - with the outstanding 5 percent to be completed by early 2016.

Once this process is finalised, the national department will liaise with its provincial counterparts to extend the asset register to provincial and even local government levels.

“This is a game-changer. We now have a much better idea of what we own. And we can start to use this massive property portfolio to leverage economic development and job creation.”

Nxesi was determinedly upbeat on Wednesday about the clean-up in his troubled department, which has received negative audit findings for years.

Likening Public Works to a profusely bleeding patient in intensive care, the minister said enough had been done to discharge the patient on a continuous medication regimen.

Now with a permanently appointed director-general and chief financial officer, Public Works had trawled through 1.5 million transactions linked to irregular expenditure and reviewed 2 162 lease agreements to root out fraud and corruption, costing the department millions every month.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) was probing these to determine the exact losses involved.

Rental payments to unoccupied properties had been stopped, lease agreements had been reviewed and where there were no leases, proper documents had been put in place.

As a result of these anti-fraud and corruption measures, disciplinary action had been taken against 50 public works employees.

Twenty-three resigned before the process got under way and of the remaining 27 five received final written warnings, seven were dismissed, while 15 cases were still pending. Civil action against employees and contractors was under way in eight matters.

Meanwhile, the newly established Public Works Governance Risk and Compliance branch had completed 158 of the 250 cases outstanding since 2009, leading to 93 disciplinary charges and 15 criminal cases reported to police.

The SIU continued to investigate potential corruption in the Public Works’ Prestige Portfolio of presidential, ministerial, senior judges and parliamentarians’ residences, for which R346 million had been set aside over the next three years.

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