Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille has ordered a complete overhaul of the government’s shambolic property management system after learning that government officials are manipulating it to steal millions of rand.
These officials are reportedly working with crime syndicates to make money off of government properties, including the following examples uncovered by the Sunday Times:
- A former Johannesburg office clerk rented out seven state-owned properties and pocketed the R70,000 rental.
- An Eastern Cape employee accepted two down payments of R20,000 for state-owned houses in King William’s Town.
- A KwaZulu-Natal official sold state land in the upper-class suburb of Glenashley, Durban.
“The minister is demanding answers as to what the hell is going on,” a senior official in the Public Works and Infrastructure department told the Sunday Times.
How the scam works
The Special Investigating Unit and the department’s anti-corruption unit are reportedly looking into as many as 2,162 building leases that could possibly be fraudulent.
A senior department official explained to the Sunday Times how corrupt officials and crime syndicates manipulate the poorly-managed system to make money.
“One knows there is a piece of land in a particular place owned by the state. Other than that you know nothing about the property,” said the official.
“There is a huge problem of misclassification. You find properties listed as vacant when in fact there are buildings and houses on them. You have properties, including vast tracts of land, whose values and status are completely unknown.”
The official said that corrupt officials work with criminals to identify vulnerable properties.
“They transfer these to third parties and then sell or lease them, earning themselves millions of rands.”
A system in ruin
De Lille confirmed to the Sunday Times that the register is in ruin, and that it needs to be fixed urgently.
“We are the custodians of 30,495 pieces of land and 81,575 buildings, yet little is known about these, including their values and status. The auditor-general has raised issues about this register, especially around the correct classification of the assets.”
“He is perturbed by the lack of property values and correct addresses.”
She added that she had informed department officials three months ago that the information in the property management system was unreliable and requested that this was addressed.
DA Public Works spokesperson Patricia Kopane said the register is a disaster.
“Property assets should earn the country revenue, yet we have a situation where the illegal renting and sale of state-owned land is rife,” she said.