Oversight report on state-owned properties in Namibia

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International Relations

18 May 2022
Chairperson: Mr S Mahumapelo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Tabled Committee Reports

The Committee met to consider and adopt its report on an oversight visit to Namibia in May 2022. Members said there was a lack of progress since the last visit. Members lamented the poor and dilapidated state of the buildings as embarrassing. This presents a worrying image of a state that does not care for its own diplomatic infrastructure. This may cause a diplomatic embarrassment which is serious for the nation. The Committee said the Department needed to report to it on this as the buildings were so unkempt and could not be sold but the Department was also not doing anything to fix matters. Perhaps the Department owned too many properties in Namibia to maintain.

Members said the state of the buildings did not bode well for international relations. They shared observations of buildings occupied, not secured and rented out. There was concern that the Department had taken a decision to reduce staff presence in Windhoek and they have proceeded with this without having a proper plan on what to do with the properties occupied by the current staff whose posts were rendered redundant or who were not reprioritised

Members were unanimous that the Department must indicate how this situation will be mitigated.

On the disposal of property, regulations on this have not been gazette. The Minister also needs to account for this. It was not fair to become a diplomatic embarrassment and hear neighbours complaining about government properties.

The Committee resolved the Department present on the state of diplomatic infrastructure "across the board" and the issues raised by Members today within 21 days.

Meeting report

The Chairperson made brief introductory remarks and welcomed all present in the meeting.

Report of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation on conducting an oversight visit on the status of state-owned properties in Namibia, and on the implementation and execution of South Africa's international relations policy, in Windhoek and Walvis Bay, Namibia

Ms Lineo Mosala, Committee Content Advisor, took the Committee through the oversight report.


Mr M Chetty (DA) said there was a lack of progress from the last oversight visit. He said Mr D Bergman (DA) always complained that the state of the dilapidated buildings in Namibia as an embarrassment. All the buildings are unkempt. When asked what the problem was, it was said the buildings could not be sold due to their state of despair. Since 2019, the Department should have made the buildings more presentable and clean, given that it was in a foreign country. There is a house that cost more than N$402 000 but its structure resembled that of an RDP-type house. What was this money spent on? The Committee needs a report on this.  

Government owns another property two streets away from this one in Walvis Bay and its sliding gate had fallen off. During the last oversight visit, the Committee was informed that it had been fixed and may have just fallen off again before the Committee’s visit. The Committee found this to be coincidental. On a visit to another property, officials said they had visited the property two weeks prior, but upon arrival, the gate could not be opened as the gate’s motor was stolen despite a security company being employed to look after the building. This is unacceptable and the security company should be held accountable for this.

As alluded to in the report, four families are occupying a property and the neighbour is now allowing the families to access water and electricity illegally. This does not bode well for international relations. One property was inspected by officials and said to be unoccupied but upon the Committee's visit, it found bags with clothing and fresh meat on the property. What is the security company meant to monitor the property being paid for?

Members raised an issue around diplomats who occupy houses but do not take care of their maintenance. The Committee must emphasise that the official must bear the cost as diplomats cannot behave so irresponsibly. There is a double-storey flat that houses at least ten other flatlets fit for occupation. A neighbour at one of the properties said he was renting it for N$10 000, but one of government’s properties is being rented for just N$2 800. Someone who lived two streets away in Walvis Bay said he was willing to rent one of government's properties for the same price. He found it mischievous that the Committee could not access the house as the person who was renting it from the official was not available. He felt this was to prevent the Committee from interrogating the tenant as there was definitely more than one tenant staying at the property. As opposed to selling all four properties, it should be considered to salvage two of the properties to be renovated and rented to get N$10 000. With Walvis Bay becoming a new oil hub, surely there should be a diplomat there. Once there is a boom in Walvis Bay, property will be at a premium and this is something the Committee needs to consider.

During deliberations with officials, the Committee was informed that in 2019, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) disposed of some properties in Windhoek. This was surprising as the Committee was not informed of this. Officials used municipal valuation as opposed to market valuation. Everyone is aware that a municipal valuation is far less than a market valuation for rent and taxes. This is misleading and during the inspection, certain individuals seemed to be aware that government’s properties would be on the market. An evaluator must evaluate these properties.

Mr B Nkosi (ANC) said the renovation of the guardhouse, which is very small, seems to be exorbitant. Going through the documentation, it is clear that the structural damage was so extensive that it requires the foundation to be redone. The Department must re-explain this item. The Department has decided to reduce staff presence in Windhoek. They have proceeded with this without having a proper plan on what to do with the properties occupied by the current staff whose posts were rendered redundant or not reprioritised. An unoccupied property not properly guarded leads to the issues identified in the report, such as illegal occupation, deterioration of infrastructure and possible use of the properties for purposes other than what they have been intended for. The Department must indicate how this situation will be mitigated. Security could be increased and monitored thereafter. On disposal of property, regulations have not been gazetted and the Department needs to recalibrate this if it wants to dispose of the properties within this financial year.

The Committee Content Advisor said that based on the November 2018 report and the current report, there was commonality with the properties still being in an unacceptable state. In 1999, the Department of Public Works handed over its authority to DIRCO to maintain properties. When disposal of properties is done, this should be done in consultation with the Department of Public Works. Maintenance of the properties has been very minimal. If there are plans to dispose of the properties, there should be officials with built environment qualifications to advise the Department correctly on evaluations that need to be done. No further steps can be taken until such regulations have been promulgated.

A hotel was acquired and the Department should assess it to see how it can be converted into a proper office block as now offices look like very small hotel rooms given that the building acquired was formerly a hotel.

Mr X Nqola (ANC) said all he heard was about illegally occupied, inhabitable and vacant properties. He was concerned that this might be the situation across diplomatic missions. This presents a worrying image of a state that does not care for its own diplomatic infrastructure. This may cause a diplomatic embarrassment which is serious for the nation. The Minister can acquire or dispose of property on behalf of the state, and properties should be acquired instead of rented. He did not understand why government had unused properties, which posed a threat to its vandalism and demolition. He proposed that the Department present the state of its diplomatic infrastructure across the board as this was a cross-cutting issue.

Mr D Bergman (DA) said he visited the South African embassy in Morocco and was displeased with what he saw. Many renovations were taking place, but South Africa was still in its infancy in its diplomatic stages between Morocco and South Africa. He said this reminded him of when he went on oversight visits to schools, as it was immediately clear when the principal cared about the school or his job or when the governing body cared about their jobs. One can see when there is pride in a school and this was exactly what could be seen when walking into the embassy in Morocco. The people posted in Morocco care about making South Africa look good and have made its budget stretch far.

The properties in Namibia are still the same as when he visited, despite a few cosmetic lifts. He agreed that this was a diplomatic embarrassment. He said the one thing Namibia could pride itself on was its clean streets. He said the dirtiest part of Namibia was where the South African properties were because they were not kept with pride. People are simply sent for a job but are not proud of it. He said it was a tale of two cities. He wondered if there was still graffiti on a bedroom wall in one of the diplomat’s houses. He said there was a morale and pride problem which needed to be fixed.

Mr K Meshoe (ACDP) said this was embarrassing and agreed with Mr Nqola and said the Committee should consider requesting the Department present on South Africa’s diplomatic missions. The Minister also needs to account for this. It was not fair to become a diplomatic embarrassment and hear neighbours complaining about government properties. What message is this sending to the international community? He said South Africa is a relatively wealthy country and it should not be an embarrassment but a motivator. Properties will be sold for peanuts if sold in their current state. Walvis Bay will have a booming economy. He proposed that the properties be reevaluated by qualified South Africans who do not have an interest in the properties. He proposed that Mr Nkosi and Mr Chetty, who represented the Committee on the oversight trip, should have a say on this. He said he was surprised that in a population of 2.59 million people, South Africa owns 20 properties in Namibia which were too many as it could not be maintained.

Mr T Mpanza (ANC) said the report provides a way forward and Members’ comments should be added to this. The Department should update how far it was with finalisation of regulations on the Foreign Services Act. How far is the Department in employing qualified people for project management?

Mr Nkosi said he did not visit any other embassy, so he could not make a comparison, but given the feedback the Committee received, the staff in Namibia were excellent from a hospitality perspective.

The Committee adopted its oversight report with amendments.

The Chairperson thanked Members and Committee support staff for their contributions and made brief closing remarks. He said the Department would have to report back to the Committee within 21 days on the issues raised.

Meeting adjourned.


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