Builder gets millions more

2013-11-22 00:00

DURBAN’S city manager has confirmed a R100 million extra payment for the Tongaat mall developer, saying his hands were tied.

This despite official reports of “shoddy” workmanship on housing developments and a public outcry.

Sbu Sithole yesterday told The Witness that Jay Singh’s company bullied the municipality into the shock award — even though officials regarded the company as so bad that “it would [have been] better if no one won the contract” for the urgently needed low-cost houses.

eThekwini’s finance and procurement committee heard yesterday that Singh’s company, Gralio Precast — officially headed by his wife Shireen Annamalay — had been awarded another R101 million to build low-cost houses at the prestigious Cornubia estate, near Um­hlanga.

This was in addition to R176 million already awarded to Gralio for this “cabinet-priority” project, and the overall total of R585 million in ratepayers’ money awarded to Singh’s companies.

The announcement came just days after the mall’s lethal collapse left one woman dead, one missing and 29 injured.

Yesterday, Singh revealed he was at the mall when it collapsed and “could easily have become a casualty [myself]” — and later visited the injured.

However, councillor Steven Naidoo alleged that Singh “fled the scene” shortly afterwards.

Meanwhile, a police spokesperson has told The Witness that the SAPS have found evidence of negligence in the death of the worker at the site — Zakithi Nxumalo (35) — and that witnesses were being questioned within a culpable homicide investigation.

Yesterday, a recovery operation resumed at the site, where at least one person remains missing.

In an exclusive interview yesterday, Sithole told The Witness the extraordinary tale of how Singh’s company had twice overpowered and overruled the city on the contract, until “we decided to just concede here”.

Sithole said Gralio could even have won over R250 million in new contracts for Cornubia last month “because they always come with the lowest tenders” — but claimed city officials had to fight to give two more reputable companies the remainder.

He said the R101 million contract was originally awarded to Gralio in December 2011 — “but I did not approve it, based on the Manase report” (which exposed shoddy building standards, massive cost overruns and irregularities in Gralio’s projects).

“But Gralio took the matter on appeal and won it — but still I said no; it would be better if no one won the contract [than Gralio winning it]… Then Gralio actually took me to the high court, which enforced the decision of the appeal authority in about August.

“I did everything in my power not to award this tender, but eventually we realised the court process would drag on and on if we appealed — instead, we placed strict guidelines on them on deadlines and quality and safety standards.”

He said it was “especially disappointing” in the wake of Gralio’s shopping centre collapse on Tuesday.

The finance committee ledger announcing the tender, in the possession of The Witness, states that “the award made to the contractor [Gralio] is in the best interest of the municipality”.

DA eThekwini caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango said: “It is simply unacceptable that Gralio continues to land multi-million rand contracts from the city when they have a long history of shoddy workmanship; the latest of which has resulted in deaths and injuries. All government entities must blacklist Gralio immediately.”

However, Sthembiso Mshengu, spokesperson for mayor James Nxumalo, slammed the DA’s “opportunistic” response: “They are dancing on the grave of the dead; no one has awarded anything to [Gralio] since this tragedy took place.”

Singh claimed to have personally visited some of the injured in hospital, and had offered to cover Nxumalo’s funeral costs.

Melanie Moodley, a public relations consultant hired by Singh, said: “Mr Singh has been gravely affected by this unforeseen tragic event. Finger-pointing and premature accusations would not be helpful at this crucial stage.”

The Witness understands that Singh’s companies are also ploughing ahead with vast low-cost housing developments at Lamontville and Umzinto near Durban.

A day after the Tongaat tragedy, Gralio reportedly made a large purchase of steel supplies.

SAPS spokesperson Mandy Govender said no suspects had yet been questioned — or their attorneys contacted — but that workers at the mall had been interviewed for an active culpable homicide investigation.

“It is someone’s negligence that caused the walls to fall on this person; someone has to take the blame for this, and we hope summons will be served for a trial after a suspect is identified,” said Govender.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that businesses and taxpayers will have to pay to clean up Singh’s lethal mess at Tongaat mall.

Dr Saloshni Naidoo, an expert in occupational safety at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, estimated that occupational safety claims for Tuesday’s collapse would exceed R1 million for injuries alone.

Yesterday, The Witness revealed that 35 tenants, including Edgars, Game and Mr Price, had already signed up at the mall, despite no planning permissions for the project.

None of the companies contacted by The Witness categorically withdrew their intention to open a store at the mall, despite the collapse.

Mr Price CEO Stuart Bird said they were “considering our options” on whether to commit to the project. Vuyo Mtawa, spokesperson for Edcon, the parent company for Jet and Edgars, said they would only introduce stores provided that “obligations” in safety and permissions were met.

Singh’s lawyer Rajan Naidoo said he could not comment “on legal matters” until the investigation into the disaster was finalised.

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