The R500 mln family

2013-11-14 00:00

MEET the R500 million family: the Durban clan, headed by ANC donor Jay Singh, who are racking up a fortune on housing contracts that Durban was supposed to have banned.

An investigation by The Witness has found that family members of the Durban businessman — some seen driving new sportscars including a black Lamborghini and a Mercedes — are directors of construction companies singled out by an official probe as the worst offenders in eThekwini’s housing tender scandal.

Singh (49) is the former head of Durban’s public bus network, Remant Alton, previously known as Durban Transport.

The R15 million Manase report into irregular metro tenders found the city should sever ties with Gralio Precast and Hazedew Investments — and even seek to recover its money — after it found “shoddy” construction and massive cost overruns.

In a finding confirmed by The Witness, the report also found that Singh’s primary construction company, Gralio, was not registered with the National Home Builders Registration Council at the time council awarded the tenders.

However, Gralio — founded by Singh, but now owned by his wife — has continued to rack up contracts now totalling R585 million, despite the report’s internal release in early 2012.

The Witness has established that Hazedew — which is run by Singh’s son — has this month been awarded an additional R9 million contract, on top of its R352 million tender to build the Hammond Farm housing development in Verulam.

This week, a spokesperson for eThekwini made the astonishing admission to The Witness that Durban was now trapped into continued payments to Singh’s red-flagged companies — because the shoddy, chronically over-budget housing developments would face “delays” if the companies were fired.

A twice-married family man, Daniel “Jay” Singh owns numerous businesses throughout KwaZulu-Natal that vary from bus services to concrete pipe manufacturing. He also owns a multi-million-rand mansion on Cyclops Street in Phoenix, which features a two- storey-high front door.

His Gralio firm began its life literally in the gutters 10 years ago, when it was acquired by Singh for just R3,5 million — described in testimony at the Competition Commission as “a small company which looked after manholes in northern KwaZulu-Natal”.

Singh drove a dramatic expansion, triggered by scooping a large tender with the KZN Department of Transport.

Now, it is one of KZN’s premier RDP construction companies, and won a R176 million contract on the Cornubia development near Mount Edgecombe — a cabinet “priority” project.

The Manase report urged the council to “reconsider” making Gralio the preferential contractor on the multi-billion rand mixed development project.

In 2010, the commission found that “It seems that the board of Gralio consists of members of his family”.

Singh said: “We have never received an unethical tender in the city or crooked the system. People are after me because they know that I’m associated with the ANC. All the tenders are public. Nothing can be done to say ‘give me the contract’. Of course we donate to the ANC. We don’t deny this.”

Singh did deny having “anything to do” with two companies central to one of the vast housing developments slated as “irregular” by the report — the Burbreeze project in Tongaat.

However, The Witness has established close links between Singh and these companies.

One ANC councillor, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said the council’s continued support for Singh’s companies had become “divisive” in the council.

“We had to vote in favour of Gralio getting the extension and other contracts for fear of being victimised within the council. Many councillors, if they could have voted by secret ballot, would have voted against the awarding of the contract to Gralio,” said the councillor.

Challenged on the ongoing contracts for the companies, city spokesperson Thabo Mofokeng said eThekwini had “no choice … in these cases”, due to concerns about “existing projects where we had to weigh options between service delivery and court cases”.

“As far as we are concerned we have implemented all the recommendations of the Manase report,” he said.

“Not doing business with the companies or blacklisting them is not a simple exercise.”

Gralio Precast manager Pravash Inderjeeth denied that the company was involved in delivering substandard houses.

He said a decision by the city to use section 116 (3) to allow their company to continue spoke “volumes of the credibility in terms of quality”.

On Wednesday DA eThekwini caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango said the findings made in the Manase report into Gralio Precast must be “investigated, and for the relevant officials to be held financially liable for poorly constructed houses”.

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