Gauteng takes aim at free riders in its properties

Statement by the head of the department of infrastructure development Bethuel Netshiswinzhe

A few weeks ago (04/03/2013 & 13/03/2013) we announced as a Department, through MEC Mahlangu, our intention to once and for all deal with the issue of the irregular occupation of state residential and commercial properties in Gauteng.

Our records indicate that at least 50 GP DID officials, and hundreds more Gauteng Provincial Government officials are currently freeloading off the Gauteng taxpayer, by living in state properties and paying less than their dues, and in some instances not paying anything at all. In fact, approximately 60% of occupants of state residential properties in Gauteng are government officials. This group includes some senior government officials, some at deputy director, director, and chief director level, who can afford, but choose not to pay their way.

It has long been the contention of many of these illegal occupants that they are entitled to stay in state properties at nominal rentals as a condition of their employment. However, in the court case involving POPCRU in February 2012, the labour court found in favour of the Department’s requirement that all occupants of state properties pay market related rentals. It also found that the relationship between the the Provincial Government (represented by DID) and the occupants was that of lessor (landlord) and lessee (occupant) and not as employer and employee. The court therefore dismissed the trade union’s contention that its members are entitled to pay nominal rentals in state properties as a condition of employment.

Whilst these occupants continue to live rent-free in government properties, the state is compelled to pay municipal rates and taxes in respect of these properties, an expense that the taxpayer must carry. Furthermore, these illegal occupants expect government to not only pay rates and taxes, but also to maintain these properties, again at the expense of tax payers. This situation is untenable. It is our responsibility as custodians of state properties in the province not only to pay municipal rates and taxes, but also to ensure properties are well maintained. This cannot be achieved where properties are occupied illegally, and rental revenue is not generated to cover these costs.

Therefore, after years of trying to negotiate with such occupants, our patience has understandably run out, and our approach henceforth will be one of zero tolerance towards government officials violating the very policies they are charged with upholding. It is for these reasons that we are for the last time offering a grace period for all residential and commercial tenants to come forward and regularize their lease and rental statuses. To reiterate, this grace period commenced on the 1st of April 2013, and will run until the 31st of May 2013.

The regularization process will entail occupants declaring their occupancy status and signing lease agreements with the Department, that include provision for the payment of market related rentals for the state properties they occupy.

In terms of this grace period, we have also made provision and allowance for those tenants whose argument has been to say that their reason for not paying market related rentals is the unsatisfactory quality and state of the properties they reside in. As announced previously, such occupants are encouraged to approach the Department during this grace period, with assessments of scope and costing for the upgrade and refurbishment work they’d like performed on the properties. They would then be allowed to carry out only those upgrades and refurbishments approved by DID technical teams. In lieu of this expenditure, such occupants would then be exempted from paying market related rentals for a period no more than 6 months, after which market related rentals would be enforced.

Tenants, especially DID and GPG officials who fail to take advantage of this final grace period will rue the lost opportunity. The tough measures we will take against such tenants at the end of the grace period will include, but not limited to, publishing the names of the government officials who are swindling the Gauteng taxpayer of millions of Rand every year, by living rent-free in state properties, while using their own income for personal extravagances.

RESIDENTIAL PROPERTIES

We appeal particularly to residential occupants in Randhart and Boksburg, with whom we have had numerous engagements in the past, without success. Our previous and current negotiations with these groups have been undertaken in good faith and we have now reached the point where strong action will be taken in the event that they do not take advantage of this grace period.

Furthermore, we are also in the process of assessing and reclassifying the use of some of our properties to include nature reserves and conservancies under our management.  Should this result in the current use of these properties not complying with the determined use, then the occupants would be given reasonable notice to relocate.

Tenants illegally occupying state residential properties who wish to regularize their situation are urged to contact Thina Mavhungu on the telephone number: 011 355 5674 or on the email: thina.mavhungu@gauteng.gov.za.

COMMERCIAL PROPERTIES

 Commercial property tenants, including and especially those running businesses from hospital premises and nature conservancies such as Roodeplaat Dam are urged to contact Thoko Mngomezulu on the number: 011 355 5138 or on the email: thoko.mngomezulu@gauteng.gov.za.

According to our records, there are at least 18 businesses operating from public hospitals, whose lease and rental status is irregular.

In as much as we are a government that supports and encourages entrepreneurship and small enterprise development, nothing entitles any business entity to rent-free occupation of state commercial space. Government spends millions of Rand a year on rates and taxes, as well as utilities for these public facilities. It is a totally unacceptable situation where entities trade, and make a profit without incurring the cost of rental. In many instances, these business entities do not even hold a valid lease with the Department.

Again, ladies and gentlemen, the message is clear: This far and no further. Come forward, let us talk, and seek common ground on how you can continue to utilize our properties in a manner that benefits both yourselves and the Gauteng taxpayer from whom you’ve been freeloading for far too many years.

CONCLUSION

Failure to take advantage of this latest and final grace period, which runs until the 31st of May 2013 will attract firm action on our part, and no one should complain that they were not warned.

The time has come for the Gauteng taxpayer to get what is rightfully due to them, in return for your continued occupation of their properties.

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