Western Cape Finance and Economic Opportunities Minister David Maynier recently called on Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza to urgently intervene in the repeated and at times unnecessary closure of the Cape Town Deeds Office.
The Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF) chairperson Deon van Zyl has welcomed Maynier’s lead in the matter, explaining that the closure of the office is having an untenable impact on the property and real estate industry in the province.
However, the continual closure of the deeds office is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of delays and excuses that numerous national, regional and local government officials are currently hiding behind to delay approval processes and add to the very serious crippling of the property development and construction sector, say a number of industry organisations represented by the WCPDF, including the South African Institute of Black Property Practitioners (SAIBPP).
“Lack of adequate health and safety measures for staff, departments issuing directions that allow for often unnecessary extensions on approval processes and the provision of inadequate resources to government staff working remotely are all severely exacerbating the situation,” the WCPDF notes in a statement.
Echoing Maynier’s concern that the Cape Town Deeds Office was not adhering to health and safety measures, Imkita Ntshanga, chairperson of the Western Cape branch of SAIBPP notes that the country has now been in lockdown for 143 days and every business knows what precautionary measures are required for the safety of their employees.
She adds that personal protective equipment is readily available at almost every store and that there ae an array of options that can be adopted and implemented in the workplace.
“The deeds office closure severely impacts the earnings in commissions on which agents rely, new home owners who could not gain access to their homes and indeed all participants in the economy of property sales,” says the WCPDF.
The Western Cape branch of the SAIBPP, which also sits on the management committee of the WCPDF, therefore stresses the urgency of the situation, says Ntshanga, particularly at 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,” she points out.
While Van Zyl recognises those officials who were doing everything in their limited power 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 of the role that “each and every government employee” played in the economy in 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, adding that 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.
“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 can also be attributed not necessarily to departments themselves, but to the directions that have been issued during Covid-19 and that have now added the option for extra time to be taken during every step of the environmental authorisation and waste management licence application processes.
“There is now an extra 30 days available at each step in the environmental-impact assessment (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 socioeconomic wellbeing should weigh more heavily than the culture of compliance. 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 is 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,” Van Zyl continues.
He explains further that 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.”
These and many other issues will be taken up by the WCPDF in a series of “In Conversation” online engagements, which the forum will be hosting between the public and private sectors over the next four months.
The first two of these events will be addressed by Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille.
The series takes the place of the WCPDF’s annual conference and is aimed at stimulating the economy overall and particularly the property development and construction sector into recovery mode.