A fire that broke out at The Bank of Lisbon building in central Joburg last year claimed three lives. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)
Johannesburg - The Gauteng  government has spent more than R2.3 million paying the city of Joburg rates and utilities for the vacant Bank of Lisbon (BoL) building.

The building, which used to house three government departments, caught fire a year ago, leading to the evacuation of staff and the death of three firefighters.

Though the building has been stripped of electricity wires, it’s biggest monthly expense is the electricity bill of about R141 000 a month.

The building is being prepared for demolition later this year. Contractors on site use big industrial generators for their power supply but still use the building’s water supply.

In answering questions in the Gauteng Legislature, MEC for Infrastructure Development and Property Management Tasneem Motara broke down the monthly costs for the BoL: R141 000 for electricity, R42 000 for water and R12000 for rates.

Motara said: “We pay rates and taxes because the building is still there. Rates and taxes are for land use and not necessarily utilities.”

She confirmed that the building still had a water source but no electricity.

Motara said the department paid all the bills they received. “We cannot sit and not pay the bills because if we don’t we get charged interest. What we do is we pay and lodge complaints with the city to try and get a refund.”

The city’s finance department could not comment on the billing because they did not have the BoL’s account number.

Motara said the department was on a campaign to challenge municipalities’ billing systems. “We are challenging the billing of some of our buildings. We have selected, together with provincial treasury, five buildings per metro to challenge the bills we are getting.”

She could not reveal the names of the buildings yet, but said they could include schools and hospitals.

Motara, who just celebrated 100 days in office, said that of the 18 buildings the provincial office owned in the city, they only occupied nine because of compliance issues.

She said: “We have issued landlords who own the 13 buildings we are leasing on behalf of Gauteng Provincial Government with the necessary compliance notices in order to improve on the Occupation Health and Safety of all employees in those buildings.”

She confirmed that the Department of Human Settlements would move to 17 Diagonal Street and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to 30 Simmonds Street, the old premier’s office. Employees from the Department of Infrastructure would move back to Corner House.

Motara also said her department had approved R2 billion for the refurbishment of 32 hospitals. 

Earlier this month, Gauteng health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku told the legislature that none of the hospitals in the province full comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, with Bheki Mlangeni in Soweto being the worst. 

At the Far East Rand Hospital there are no emergency exit routes or fire detection systems in most parts of the hospital. Mamelodi Hospital has a dysfunctional ventilation system in the accident and emergency unit.

Motara said: “It is not a one-size-fits-all. Each hospital has different needs. Hospitals differ due to their age and how they have been maintained.

“The project plan will tell us the extent of the plan, but the facility will not be closed.”

The Star