Ocean Echo Controversy Grows

Andrew Louw, MPL

DA Provincial Leader

It appears that there is no end to the controversy surrounding Ocean Echo Properties 333 CC and its dubious leases with the provincial government.

In its 2013/14 annual report, the department of Economic Development reveals that it has a lease agreement with Ocean Echo for the use of the Khaya la Bantu building, which houses the department’s head offices. The lease is signed for a duration of 119 months, with a renewal date in October 2020. The department currently pays R214 000 each month for 2 000 square meters, which means it will pay rent of R2.568 million this year alone. The rent is set to increase by 8% each year. Next year, the department will pay R2.7 million and so it will increase until 2020. Ultimately, this lease agreement will cost the provincial government more than R16.6 million.

With R16.6 million, a lot of good could have been done in the province. We could have built at least 184 houses. We could have provided water and sanitation services to the communities of West End, Roodepan and Floors so that they can live in more humane conditions, especially those who currently reside in informal settlements. We could have doubled bursaries through the Premier’s Education Trust Fund for learners from poor communities whose parents cannot afford their further education. We could have seen to the training of nurses for the province. We could have improved the existing school infrastructure, especially in rural areas like Kuruman.

Instead, this money is being poured down a drain which feeds into the pockets of the politically connected. Is it a coincidence that one of the directors of Ocean Echo is married to a head of a provincial department?

The Khaya la Bantu building is not fit for office use. On page 28 of the annual report, the department says that it, “acknowledges the challenge regarding office space experienced at Khaya la Bantu building which is largely open space structured”. The report says that the management “is in the process of addressing the situation”. The question is why a building was rented for office use if it is not fit for that purpose in the first place.

This is a repetition of the Meridian Hotel scandal, where the provincial government rented a hotel for office use and experienced similar difficulties. Why does the provincial government refuse to procure adequate office space for workers and instead set up little Nkandlas?