Government wants the private sector to fix up its broken buildings

 ·11 Jan 2024

Government is turning to the private sector to cough up funds to refurbish poorly managed state-owned properties across the country’s cities and rural towns.

The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) has implemented a Refurbish, Operate, and Transfer Programme (ROTP), which aims to turn around the poor state of government properties in South Africa.

According to the department’s most recent annual report, 6,808 state-owned buildings are defined as being in a “poor or very poor” condition.

Condition of state-owned buildings. Source: DPWI annual report

“We are deeply concerned about the state of government buildings all over the country,” said committee chairperson, Nolitha Ntobongwana. “The reality is that the state of government property is not good at all,” she added.

According to DPWI Minister Sihle Zikalala, through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), the department aims to encourage the private sector to refurbish, lease out, and maintain state-owned properties over some time and hand them back to the state in a functional state.

“We are not selling the buildings to the private sector; we want to build the capacity of the state [rather] than depending on the private sector entirely,” said Zikalala.

Backing this idea, Ntobongwana said that “there is no problem with public-private partnership. This can help propel service delivery and bring about economic development.”

Speaking about how the department has found itself in this position, Ntobongwana said “we have these challenges because there was no routine maintenance [which] has been our concern for a long time.” “There is no routine maintenance plan in place, and we would like to see a plan in place.”

So far, five government properties – Telkom Towers, Cervitas Building, Public Works House, Police Barracks and Department of Defence Flats – have been identified in the City of Tshwane as pilot projects of these public-private partnerships.

Said to be done in phases, the first project is expected to commence in March 2024. “No property has been leased out as yet as the process is still in its conceptual stage,” said the minister.

The department’s current immovable asset portfolio sits 29 169 land parcels with a total value of R148 billion.

Additionally, out of the buildings in the department’s asset register (not including all state-owned properties), 1,260 buildings have thus far been identified as hijacked. More properties will be added to the list as the department investigates the issue.

Starting this year, the government has said that it is initiating a three-year “Operation Bring Back”, which aims to:

  • Recover/identify stolen or occupied properties;
  • Regularisation of occupancy in properties due to legacy housing policies;
  • Further investigation and identification of more properties that are illegally occupied;
  • Get occupants to pay rent in order to at least pay rates and taxes.

Read: R500 billion Transnet mess to be handed over to the private sector

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