NC Agri dept. must deal with Block’s legacy leases

By Andrew Louw MPL, DA Provincial Leader:

The DA is calling on Northern Cape MEC of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, Norman Shushu, to provide us with his department’s  intentions regarding its lease agreement with Trifecta Holdings, which is due to expire next month.

Earlier this year, the department confirmed that a 10-year lease agreement, previously entered into by the department in 2005 with Trifecta Holdings, for its main office in George Street, Kimberley, is due to come to an end in November this year.

Trifecta has been under the spotlight in the fraud and corruption trial involving former MEC of Finance and ANC provincial chairperson, John Block, and Trifecta Chief Executive Officer, Christo Scholtz. Both Block and Scholtz were found guilty on fraud and corruption charges relating to a number of lease agreements that were entered into with government institutions, in which rentals were grossly inflated.

The department also has a second lease agreement with Trifecta Holdings for its supporting office in Elliot Street, Kimberley. This lease is due to expire at the end of 2016.

Through the department of Roads & Public Works, the department is further leasing office accommodation in Prieska from 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.

The department needs to be frank about its current and future plans for office accommodation.

The DA will write to Agriculture MEC, Norman Shushu, asking that he provides us with a full disclosure of the circumstances and future intentions regarding these lease agreements. While we realize that not all of these leases were entered into during Shushu’s terms as MEC, he must still account.

We specifically want to know whether or not the department intends renewing the lease with Trifecta for its George Street offices and if so, at what cost and with what surety. This is especially important given that sentencing of Block and Scholtz is only scheduled for January next year and until then the future of the company hangs in the balance.

With regard to the other leases, we also want clarity with regards to the cost of the leases to the department and the processes followed in incurring these leases.

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 not only unethical but also criminal.

It is thus very important that Block’s legacy issues be dealt with in a responsible, as well as open and transparent manner, in order to bring an end to the vicious cycle of corruption in this province that is eating away at government money at the expense of service delivery.