Police told MPs on Tuesday that they have been excluded from legal action to end the controversial Pretoria headquarters lease deal, even though they will have to pay R600-million in rent if the case fails.
“The department of public works took a decision to go to court to nullify the lease. We were not consulted as an interested party,” Lieutenant General Lea Moffome told Parliament’s portfolio committee on police.
Moffome, who is the deputy national commissioner for physical resources, said senior police officials went to one meeting on the matter only to be told they had been mistakenly invited.
The committee was baffled by the lack of interaction between the two departments.
Public works had procured more than 1 300 properties for the police, which admitted paying inflated prices in many cases.
Chairperson Sindi Chikunga asked how it was possible that the legal department of the police had failed to implicate itself in the Pretoria lease case against empowerment property mogul Roux Shabangu.
“What is your legal committee there for if you cannot intervene? Are you not worried about the R600-million you are liable to pay?”
Moffome told MPs that the police department was still in need of a new headquarters in Durban after a contract to rent the Transnet building in the port city was cancelled.
“In KwaZulu-Natal, the process was also stalled and the police remain in that need. They need offices.”
Both that office block and the Middestad building in Pretoria were to be leased from Shabangu, but the deals — worth a total of R1.6-billion — were declared unlawful by the public protector because proper tender procedures had not been followed.
The findings led to the sacking of former public works minister Gwen Mahlangu in October last year and the suspension of national police commissioner Bheki Cele not long after.
A few months before she was fired, Mahlangu announced that she would ask the courts to rule on the validity of the lease for the Middestad building.
Moffome said the police rented 1 365 properties through public works and had undertaken a verification process of all these contracts.
It found there were four contracts for which public works had invoiced them where they did not occupy the property in question.
She complained that the police were at the mercy of public works to procure buildings and had, in a number of cases, been evicted from police stations because of disputes between that department and the owners.
At the Erasmia Police Station, officers turned the public away last year because they had been given notice to evacuate the premises.
Chikunga said the briefing made it clear that despite assurances from the police that they were trying to build new stations and living quarters to lower costs and acquire assets, it seemed as if they were renting even more buildings than before.
In addition, it was obvious that the police were often not paying market-related prices and did not have copies of the leases, but were simply paying invoices made out by public works.
“Reductions are not happening. You are paying these exorbitant rates every day.” — Sapa