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Monday Jun 04, 2018

Joburg names and shames developers stealing water

Several major development companies have been named and shamed by the City of Joburg after they were allegedly caught stealing water and electricity.

Some were found to have been building without approved plans.

Employees from the construction companies and Johannesburg Water were arrested at Waterfall Estate in Midrand in the past few weeks.

And construction of a student accommodation building was halted because the building plans had not been approved.

The city has warned that the flouting of by-laws and the illegal use of municipal water and electricity would not be tolerated.

Employees of Waterfall Investment Company, which manages the Midrand estate, appeared in the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crime Court on Thursday.

They were charged with fraud and corruption and granted bail of R5 000 each. They are expected back in court on July 19.

The city said a probe by its group forensic and investigation services unit and Operation Buya Mthetho, a unit set up to crack down on illegal services, showed the Waterfall Investment Company had allegedly obtained water meters during construction at Waterfall City that were not registered on the city's billing system.

"Instead of applying for bulk water meters, which can cost up to R140 000, the company allegedly colluded with suspects to obtain the meters to continue with the development, " said the member of the mayoral committee (MMC) for finance, Funzela Ngobeni, who visited the site.

"It seems that some developers have found ways to engage in irregular practices that seek to circumvent due process and cause the city massive revenue leakages.

"The City of Joburg loses between R5 billion and R8bn annually due to revenue leakages and accounts being deleted on the billing system, " Ngobeni said.

He added it was also discovered that the property developers had connected water directly from the fire hydrants.

Three people were arrested last month and three trucks impounded after they were caught stealing 58 000 litres of water from a fire hydrant in Waterfall.

"It is alleged that the truck drivers were sent by their employers to get water from the hydrants, " said Ngobeni, adding that this had been going of for more than two years.

The MMC pointed out that this constituted illegal connections and theft of services that could be directed to the poor of the poorest communities in the city.

It was also discovered that the development had not been registered, meaning that the services used by the tenants and developers were also illegal.

"Further investigations on site revealed that most of the water connections in this property development have access to water without proper metering, " he said.

Willie Vos, chief executive at the Waterfall Management Company, said the company was aware of the allegations that had been reported. Two employees had been arrested, but had since been released on unopposed bail. They had been granted leave and agreed to assist in the probes, he said.

"We take these allegations extremely seriously and will fully co-operate with the authorities as they address the problem of corruption. Investigations are continuing, and should any illegal practice be found, we will take immediate corrective action, in line with ethical business practices and legal requirements, " Vos said.

He said the company was neither a developer nor a consumer of water in any part of Waterfall Estate.

Attacq, the JSE-listed property company developing Waterfall City and the Waterfall Logistics Hub, has denied the city's allegations of illegal water connections.

Melt Hamman, the interim chief executive, said the company was in possession of all the paperwork and invoicing of its water connections and consumption, and welcomed the opportunity to share the documentation with the relevant authorities.

"None of our staff have been arrested, " he said.

In a separate incident on Thursday, officials halted construction of a student village by Century Developments in Auckland Park due to non-compliance with the Building Standards Act.

The city's development planning department said it had discovered that the construction permits were invalid.

The city said preliminary investigations showed that both the water and electricity meters had been illegally connected.

Century Property Developments was issued with fines in line with the city's water and electricity by-laws on illegal usage of services.

One resident, Jane Griffiths, who has been opposed to the development along with the local residents' association, said excavation started last month.

"The previous owner managed to rezone a residential buffer strip without any consultation or notification to residents. No public notices were displayed, " she said.

"It has been a contentious piece of land for many years, " she added.

When it was rezoned to allow Absa's call centre and Campus Square to be built, the condition was that a 32m residential strip between Campus Square and the residential suburb be retained to maintain a buffer and protect the residential area to the north.

Harm Schreur, development director for Century, said that because of the city introducing its spatial development framework 2040, they decided to apply for rezoning to comply with this.

"We submitted our rezoning application in 2016. After receiving all the service reports and approvals, as well as talks with Joburg town planners, the rights were reduced before the application was supported by the council.

"The council approved the application in September last year, " he said.

Anna Cox
The Star

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