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Date: 08 May 2012
Title: Arrests over irregular leases imminent - Nxesi
Cape Town - Arrests of several government officials suspected of defrauding the state of millions of rands through the signing of irregular leases were imminent, the Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi said on Tuesday.
Briefing the media in Parliament, before presenting his Budget Vote speech, Nxesi detailed actions his department had so far taken in the department's turnaround strategy - which include the review of property leases and the asset register, the recruitment of new staff and the setting up of an inter-ministerial committee and support team.
Nxesi said in the Johannesburg region alone, 22 leases involving payments of R64 million had been identified - including leases where the department paid for the duration of the lease without the building being occupied.
He said the department had instructed its lawyers to approach the High Court to nullify these irregular lease agreements and institute civil action against whoever unduly benefited from these.
Criminal cases had been opened against several officials following investigations by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), including some who had since left the department.
About a quarter of the 3 000 leases that the department manages have lapsed and are having to be paid on a month-to-month basis.
Nxesi said he expected the department's review of all leases to be concluded within 12 months.
He said the department's acting director general, Mandisa Fatyela-Lindi, had met with the head of department of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to set up a task team to address issues relating to the 1 277 leases that the department manages on behalf of the police.
Nxesi said it was clear that the department needed to be more responsive to clients' needs and added that single points of contact would be created within the department and greater specialisation and focused responsibility of portfolio managers for specific clients.
He said this would help to lower costs and stabilise the management of leases.
Turning to the cleansing of the immovable assets register, Nxesi said this would take another year to complete, as physical verifications of the 35 000 properties on the register would need to take place.
Officials are working with Ernst & Young, who would help the department to clean up the register and to impart skills to departmental officials.
Nxesi said the department would be employing additional staff to improve the running of the department.
"I am confident that the first positive results of this will be visible by mid-year when the interim audit results are presented by the Auditor-General," he said, adding that it was crucial to have the right people with the necessary expertise in the department.
New appointments and secondments, from entities and other departments, had taken place to provide immediate support in operations, finance, monitoring and evaluation, supply-chain management, property and built environment.
An inter-ministerial committee had also been set up to provide advice and support to the department.
Nxesi said he had invited the Ministers of Home Affairs, Finance, Rural Development and Land Reform and the Minister of Performance Monitoring, Evaluation and Administration to sit on the committee.
He said the department was looking at the experience of the Department of Home Affairs in turning around its department and the experience of the South African Revenue Service (Sars) in becoming a highly respected government agency.
He stressed that his turnaround strategy for the department was a process and not an event.
A support team under the office of the Department of Public Works' director general had also been set up to help oversee the department's turnaround strategy.
A leader had also been appointed while the department had placed an open tender advert recently to recruit other members of the team as well as experts to carry out specific projects.
Turning to the Expanded Public Works Programme, Nxesi said with two million job opportunities already created since 2009, his department was well on its way to meeting the target of creating 4.5 million job opportunities by 2014 through the programme.
He said about 250 capital projects - including the refurbishment of border posts - are expected to be completed in the 2012/13 financial year, creating about 250 000 indirect and direct jobs.
The department would also renovate 70 state buildings, including the fitting of these buildings with water and energy devices.
Over the last year, the department had retrofitted 1 000 public buildings with energy-saving devices and a further 100 buildings would be fitted with water and energy-saving devices this financial year, Nxesi said.
To boost skills, the department would also resuscitate its Departmental Workshops, which would build in-house maintenance capacity and provide training opportunities for professionals, technicians and artisans. - BuaNews