Opinion: Duarte playing the pass-the-buck game with Gateway repairs

17 09 2009

September 16, 2009 Edition 1 – Cape Times

Referring to the remedial repair work which is needed in N2 Gateway Phase 1 flats, Thubelisha acting CEO John Duarte is reported to have said “the standing committee on public accounts failed to inform Thubelisha of the contents of the Auditor-General’s damning report”. (“Thubelisha must account to Parliament on Gateway”, September 14)
It is an indictment of Thubelisha’s management of the flats that Duarte expects to get knowledge of their condition from Scopa or the Auditor-General. This supports what the residents have claimed, that Thubelisha has operated by remote control, that they are told to refer complaints to Johannesburg, and that there is no on-site presence for repairs.

It is in fact scandalous that Duarte clearly had no idea of the condition of many of the flats. Surely it did not escape his notice that Phase 1 residents marched in Cape Town as recently as June 30, complaining not only of exorbitant rentals but of unrepaired defects in the flats?

Duarte adds “We did an assessment (last year). Thubelisha is not aware of anything that has happened subsequently.” He implies the defects observed when Scopa visited the site last week were new. But much (though not all) of them were due to trapped moisture, due to the failure to install ventilation ducts, which flat residents have been complaining about since their arrival in 2006-7.

In addition Duarte plays the old pass-the-buck game, stating that “Thubelisha took over the N2 Gateway when it was 90 percent built, so any structural defects were the city council’s responsibility”. He forgets to point out that the 90 percent was built when the ANC controlled the City of Cape Town, and that when the new DA city council began to investigate the problems of cost overruns etc in Phase 1 after March 2006, they were promptly booted off the N2 Gateway project by then-housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu. In any case, it was surely the responsibility of Thubelisha to examine the condition of the property they were taking over at the time. Instead they at first refused to accept that there were any defects at all.

The residents of Phase 1 deserve redress, in the form of adequate repairs, affordable rents, and what they call a “rent to buy” rather than rent for life option. It is also vital that management of the flats is taken out of the hands of the National Housing Agency (successor to Thubelisha) and put in the hands of local management, preferably self-management by the tenants themselves.

Thubelisha, in any case, was supposed to have been dissolved on July 31 and it is unclear why John Duarte is still acting CEO of it.

Martin Legassick
Emeritus Professor
University of the Western Cape
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