The Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities, David Maynier recently called on the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform Thoko Didiza to urgently intervene in the repeated and unnecessary closure of the Cape Town Deeds Office.
Maynier cited the “considerable negative impact” this was having on the property and real estate industry in the Western Cape and it is believed that the Deeds Office was not implementing the necessary Covid-19 health and safety measures in line with either the National Department of Health or the Department of Employment and Labour.
“As the property development and the construction sector, we are extremely grateful to Minister Maynier for the lead he has taken in this” notes Deon van Zyl, chairperson of the Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF).
However, van Zyl says that the continual closure of the Deeds Office is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the excuses that numerous national, regional and local officials are currently hiding behind to delay approval processes and to add to the very serious crippling of the industry.
Echoing Maynier’s concern that the Cape Town Deeds Office is not adhering to health and safety measures, Imkita Ntshanga, chairperson of the Western Cape branch of the South African Institute of Black Property Practitioners (SAIBPP) says notes that as a country, we have been in lockdown for 143 days and every business knows what precautionary measures are required for the safety of their employees.
“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is readily available at almost every store and there is an array of options that can be adopted and implemented in the workplace. The Deeds Office’s closure severely impacts the earnings in commissions on which agents relied, new homeowners who could not gain access to their homes and, all participants in the economy of property sales”.
The Western Cape branch of the SAIBPP which also sits on the management committee of the WCPDF, stresses the urgency of the situation says Ntshanga, particularly during a time when an appeal was put forward by the industry as far back as April to declare the deeds office an essential service.
“Our industry needs to see a commitment through actions that will ensure a solution is implemented with extreme urgency.”
While Van Zyl recognizes the officials who are doing everything that they can to assist the industry, many working from home without adequate tools to do business online, he blames the lack of enthusiasm dealt out by others on their having no understanding whatsoever of the role that “each and every government employee” played in the economy during this time of crisis.
“We believe strongly that the full seriousness of the current economic situation, which was dire even before lockdown, has not hit home with the majority of government employees,” says Van Zyl. “And this is a failing of leadership and senior management who have not provided vital sensitivity training on the economy and generation of tax revenue to their teams, noting that such taxes pay public servants’ salaries”.
“There is absolutely no practical understanding of the multiplier effects of their slow-to-stagnant decision making or the role they should be playing in the economic ecosystem.”
The delays the industry is experiencing may not necessarily be attributed to Departments themselves but to the directions that have been issued during the pandemic and that have now added the option for extra time to be taken during every step of the Environmental Authorisation and Waste Management License application processes.
“There is now an extra 30 days available at each step in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) process, which can also be applied to authority review timelines – effectively extending a full EIA process by up to 120 days. This at a time when we need to be encouraging or fast tracking every economic opportunity that arises” explains Van Zyl.
These extensions are being routinely adopted by authorities even when the Level 3 Lockdown circumstances should not have affected the ability of stakeholders to participate, and for applications to be processed.
“Perhaps this is a time when the clear imperative to create jobs and generate socio-economic wellbeing should weigh more heavily than the culture of compliance,” says Van Zyl, noting that even the judicial management system, through its own self-imposed delays, seemed to be suffering from the same lack of practical insight into the economy.
Another concern which many industry members have bought to the WCPDF’s attention was the inability of officials to adequately do their jobs remotely, with authorities having made little or no provision to equip their officials with the tools they need, in particular access to adequate online systems or even basic reliable internet services.
“The choice of internet-based platforms to engage with applicants has highlighted narrow-minded procurement goals. There are clear front runners in technology, yet various government entities have elected to subscribe to old and disproven technology, leaving parties wanting to engage with government at their wit’s end with meeting calls being dropped and video screens having to be deactivated to save bandwidth.”