DA questions NC Agri. dept’s office leases

By Ismail Obaray MPL DA Northern Cape Spokesperson of Agriculture, Rural Development & Land Reform:

The DA is investigating dubious lease agreements for buildings that are being occupied by the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform.

It is believed that a 10-year lease agreement, previously entered into by the department in 2005 with notorious company Trifecta Holdings, for its main office in George Street, Kimberley, is due to come to an end in November this year. Meanwhile, a lease agreement for the department’s supporting office in Elliot Street, also in the city, is due to expire at the end of 2016.

Trifecta has come under the spotlight for its supposed ties to ANC Northern Cape Chairperson, John Block, and for allegedly having entered into a number of lease agreements with the Northern Cape Department of Social Development in which rentals, or rental space, were grossly inflated.

At the same time, the DA is also questioning the lease of the Agriculture District Office in Prieska from none other than the Ocean Echo company. This controversial company has also made headlines regarding suspicious lease agreements with government institutions, most notably the Department of Transport, Safety & Liaison, which saw former Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, write a letter to MEC of Finance, John Block, advising him to cancel the government lease.

It came to the DA’s attention that the district offices in Prieska moved premises from a state owned facility to the old hotel, owned by Ocean Echo, at a greater cost to the taxpayer. The Agriculture Department has previously sidestepped responsibility for this move, indicating that the Department of Roads and Public Works facilitated their relocation to the hotel.

The DA is concerned that a high ranking politician may have facilitated the mentioned leases and could possibly be benefitting from them.

The DA calls on Agriculture MEC, Norman Shushu, to provide us with a full disclosure of the circumstances surrounding these lease agreements. While we realize that these leases were entered into before Shushu’s appointment as MEC, he must still account for the department’s legacy issues.

We specifically want clarity with regards to the expiration dates, the costs of the leases to the department and very importantly, the department’s intentions regarding either renewal of the leases or possible relocation of the offices. With regards to the Prieska lease, we also want to know how the cost of the lease agreement with Ocean Echo compares to the rental costs incurred for occupation of the state owned building.

The leasing of commercial properties by the province, for amounts far in excess of current market rates, or which result in personal gain for officials and politicians, is unethical and no corruption, regardless of its shape or size, will be tolerated by the DA.