Officials in trouble over building rental

TWO senior officials in the department of arts and culture are in hot water after allegedly incurring more than R200000 in fruitless expenditure by renting temporary accommodation.

Departmental chief operations officer Thabane Biyela and chief director in cultural affairs Mafika Lubusi have been charged for wasteful expenditure of R210000 in illegally renting premises of Vakasha Travel for three months.

This was determined by calculating the rental from the previous landlord at R25000 a month for three months - minus the R285 000 charged by the service provider.

Now the integrity management unit wants Lubusi to repay a whopping R210000.

Investigators said as acting head of the department earlier this year Lubusi approved a memorandum to rent offices from Vakasha for three months at R285000.

The unit's report states that when Vakasha was appointed no other quotations were obtained from other service providers.

"This is a contravention of treasury regulations, which states that the procurement of goods and services by way of quotations or through a bidding process must be done within the threshold values as determined by the national Treasury," says the report.

In January last year the department advertised the contract for the hiring of a building to be utilised as office accommodation after departmental officials, who were stationed at Ehlanzeni in Nelspruit, experienced challenges such as sewerage blockages.

This building was rented out at R18950 a month excluding 8percent escalation fees from July 2005 to June 2010. By last year, the department was paying R25781, 27.

A memo dated May 12 2008 from Sindi Mjwara, head of culture, sport and recreation department to the then head of public works, Priscilla Nkwinika, shows that an inspection was done at four buildings that had tendered. The tenderers were Soltida Investment, Major Shelf 171, Quantum Leap and Sinethando Consulting.

The department then confirmed its interest in Sinethando at a monthly rental fee of R94625.

But Nkwinika advised the department not to use Sinethando because she said, the building was more than 3km away from town with no public transport system available, among other reasons.

Nkwinika's memo further indicated that this was a direct contravention of the government's objectives to bring services closer to the people.

Mjwara agreed with Nkwinika. But on December 12 last year, Nkwinika indicated that her department would enter into an agreement with Sinethando despite the advice given on the unsuitability of the building.

Mjwara wrote to Nkwinika again, insisting that they could not go ahead with the lease due to the bad situation. This angered Sinethando's landlord, Ben Mahalabe, who wrote to the then public works MEC, Madala Masuku, expressing his dissatisfaction.

Mahalabe said he had incurred an expense amounting to R450 000 in preparing his place after Sibiya asked his company to start partitioning the site as the lease in Nelspruit was expiring.

The unit has recommended that Lubusi and Sibiya be charged.