All he touches turns to dust

2013-11-25 00:00

WELCOME to the crumbling empire of tender tycoon Jay Singh, the Durban ANC donor making a fortune from sub-standard buildings.

Singh’s construction companies have scored R686 million from over a dozen eThekwini low-cost housing contracts in the last decade, “always” with the lowest bids — and almost every development has been dogged by cracked walls, massive cost overruns, resident outrage and blatant planning irregularities. Yet he has built so much, so fast, in the past 12 years that Singh has literally changed the landscape west and north of Durban, with over 7 000 houses in Phoenix alone.

Yesterday, DA city leader Zwakele Mncwango said they will put forward a motion on December 5 for an “urgent debate regarding Jay Singh” to be heard in the city council chambers.

“The city cannot continue to give companies linked to Singh contracts under the guise that they were the lowest tenderer,” said Mncwango.

Singh’s government housing developments in Verulam and Tongaat were slammed in the Manase forensic report, which cited housing irregularities, corruption and fraud within the city. The report, completed in 2012, recommended action against Singh’s family enterprise.

Singh said earlier this month that he has been perceived as “crooking the system”, but while there were findings made in the Manase report, “no one wanted to take this matter further”. He said all the tenders he has been awarded “are public” and that he cannot simply say “give me the contract”. He said the “city has won awards for the work we have done”.

Singh’s private developments include the Starwood mall, which the city sought to close as a “lethal” fire hazard that flagrantly ignored building regulations, and another, Tongaat mall, which collapsed last week, killing two and injuring dozens.

In the wake of the tragedy, the city’s leadership has spoken of “blacklisting” Singh-linked companies, while outraged councillors from Chatsworth to Tongaat demanded the council and courts intervene to stop the tycoon’s companies from churning out more “deathtraps”. Residents’ groups have made renewed legal demands for compensation.

Durban structural engineer Nelson Allopi — who has worked with Singh on a series of projects, including the Tongaat mall — said: “He runs his construction companies seven days a week; he’d run them 24 hours a day if he could. But if you build things like lightning, you can expect them to fall like thunder.”

Last Friday The Witness reported that Gralio Precast — Singh’s primary company — was awarded another R100 million tender on the Cornubia Project.

But The Witness established that Singh’s companies are ploughing ahead with yet more developments in Umzinto and Lamontville — while eThekwini’s city manager exclusively revealed to this newspaper that Singh has “forced” another R100 million from ratepayers for a new development in Umhlanga.

Gralio Precast is officially owned by his wife Shireen Annamalay. She is also the registered director of Woodglaze Trading, which along with the city is being taken to the Durban high court by Phoenix residents for a litany of issues surrounding land ownership and poor quality workmanship on housing estates.

Other companies he controls, including Rectangle Investments (owner of Tongaat mall) and Hazedew Property Investments, are run by his son Ravi Jagadasan. Singh is, according to records, an active director of the Starwood shopping centre. A number of his businesses also list the Jay Singh Family Trust as a director.

Local councillor Brian Jayanathan said: “I don’t believe any of Singh’s houses have approved plans, except for the first ones, and the rest were just copied. The building standards are shocking — at Burbreeze, it’s a disaster. Residents are forced to make huge cash deposits, and then they can never get title deeds.”

Meanwhile, the body of 51-year-old Leonard Masuku was recovered from the Tongaat mall collapse on Saturday. This takes the death toll from the disaster to two. On Tuesday, Zakithi Nxumalo (35) died hours after the collapse.

SAPS spokesperson Lieutenant Mandy Govender said two cases of culpable homicide have been opened.

“We are aware that the site developer had been served, but ignored a high court order to cease building operations, but this has yet to be made a police matter.”

How long will Singh be in

the news? opinion on page 6

• The Burbreeze housing development in Tongaat was exposed in an official investigation as “shocking and unacceptable”. Houses that eThewkini said should cost ratepayers R32 000 each ended up costing R162 000 each.

•The Manase report found that the massive Hammonds Farm development in Verulam featured “poor workmanship”. The development was expected to cost R68 million, but has to date cost R361 million, with an extension of R9 million given this month.

•The Home Builders Council of South Africa said in the report that Gralio Precast was “not registered with the NHBRC” on both projects.

•Residents of Singh’s Treehaven complex in Phoenix have taken him to court for a stack of building errors as well as an alleged scam in which tenants were denied the promised option to buy their homes.

•In 2009, the Starwood mall in Phoenix was slammed by eThekwini officials for featuring dangerous escape routes and building violations — and a fireman declared under oath that “there will be loss of life”.

•Lawyers representing residents at various Woodglaze developments around Phoenix claimed the houses were so poorly built that “banks refuse to finance them”.

•The Tongaat mall was built not only with no approved plans, but no attempt to secure permission for the R208 million, 15 000-square metre structure, according to court papers filed by the city.

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