335 28/08/12 Customs House which is under construction on the corner of Market and Fraser Streets. Picture: Ihsaan Haffejee

Johannesburg - The Gauteng government is renting new office premises in the Joburg CBD, but it owns 20 empty properties there.

One of the government properties is being used as taxpayer-funded free parking by the ANC for its Luthuli House headquarters.

The provincial government bought the old Elizabeth Hotel on the corner of Sauer and Pritchard streets in May 2008 for R12 million and demolished it, leaving an empty plot next door to Luthuli House.

The plot is now fenced and the gate padlocked. When The Star tried to park there this week, an ANC official with the key to the gates said the parking was for their visitors.

The property is in the Joburg city centre, where parking is at a premium.

The Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development, which deals with government property, confirmed ownership of the property, but was unaware the ANC had taken it over.

“It was procured as part of the broader precinct identified needs and its use will be determined in line with current reprioritisation processes,” said department spokeswoman Ramona Baijnath.

“The department has not officially allocated the space to anyone,” she said.

“Its future official use will be determined in line with current reprioritisation processes. We will investigate the occupancy and take appropriate action.”

The Star asked ANC spokesman Keith Khoza for comment, but none was received.

The department is now looking for three sets of office space to rent in the CBD, issuing tenders last month.

For one space, the department wants to rent nearly 8 000m2 plus 200 parking bays for five years.

The second space sought is 3 000m2 and 40 parking bays for three years. The third space is for 7 500 to 8 000m2 plus 250 to 300 parking bays to be rented for three years.

This last space must be “ideally spread over 7 to 8 floors”, says the tender. It must include storage for a central registry; asset management, communications and a human resource registry; have three or four elevators; a “spacious” reception area; energy-efficient lighting; male and female restrooms on every floor; a sick bay; a “staff pause area”; and “functional ventilation”.

The department would not say what the spaces were for, beyond that they were “intended for the provision of GPG [Gauteng provincial government] office accommodation needs for specific departments”.

Confirming the department’s ownership of 20 vacant CBD properties, including vacant land, Baijnath said: “The buildings are still under construction and far from completion.

“There are departments which immediately need space since their current leases have expired or are due to expire in the near future and, therefore, need to be accommodated. There are also buildings that have been condemned by the Department of Labour, which, therefore, necessitates urgent procurement of space.”

Baijnath said the department had stopped renovating some of the empty buildings, “due to budget cuts and the provincial reprioritisation processes which necessitated a slowdown in implementation”.

The Star has previously reported on the provincial government’s failed attempts to upgrade some of its inner-city buildings.

In 2009, the department planned to install new lifts or upgrade existing lifts in a number of buildings.

Some projects went ahead, including the Department of Housing building in Sauer Street, which got nine new lifts, and the Premier’s Office building in Simmonds Street, which got six.

But the New Library Hotel at the corner of Commissioner and Fraser streets, due to have two new lifts, got nothing and is now a derelict shell.

The old Customs House building also didn’t get finished.

The City of Joburg’s website lists more than 2 000 vacant or abandoned buildings in the inner city, and includes at least 16 owned by the provincial government and more than 260 owned by the city.

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