iTrump unit gutted

2014-05-13 00:00

DURBAN’s key “bad buildings” enforcement unit has itself been gutted, with staff and resources stripped away in what insiders say is “a looming disaster for Durban”.

Despite major successes in reviving or sealing crime magnet buildings like Ark Royal, Tong Lok, and 20 Pixley kaSeme Street — and over 200 more problem buildings outstanding — the municipal iTrump task force has lost all four of its co-ordinators; and has only one Metro policeman left.

Yesterday, its manager, Hoosen Moolla — who has to rely on inspectors seconded from other departments — admitted that “some department heads wanted their staff back”, but denied allegations the unit was “paralysed”.

Moolla insisted, “The unit is still running, we have an operation planned, and I have meetings this week to sort out the areas where we are depleted.”

However, a source close to the task team told The Witness that “this unit was a national best-practice model, and it has now been whittled almost to nothing”. He said a large “hijacked” building opposite the library in Crompton Street, Pinetown, was “just one example of a building the unit no longer has the resources to take on”.

Another source, Greg Pedersen — a veteran health inspector who left the team last year — said, “Hoosen is an excellent manager who is doing the absolute best he can, but the fact is that we were a knowledgeable team doing critical work for the city, and now there is no team at all.

“There is now one policeman trying to co-ordinate multiple departments on hundreds of problem buildings, which is obviously impossible.”

The 13-year-old “better buildings programme” has rehabilitated over 100 buildings, using methods ranging from criminal arrests of drug dealers to civil court actions against slumlords and interventions to help reconnect victimised tenants to services.

Pedersen said the unit previously worked with a core of four Health Department officers, who, he said, harnessed personal relationships to get inspectors at the city’s electricity, water, fire and building departments to jointly tackle decayed buildings. At least two experienced Metro police officers were also on semi-permanent loan to provide “security and profiling”.

“In this way, I was able to look at 110 problem buildings in the Albert Park area, and 54 of them were repaired — majority of these have declined again because those co-operative structures have been allowed to fall away,” he said. “The problem was that it was not a dedicated unit by itself, and I think other city managers were jealous of our success, and withdrew their people.”

Andre Grundler — a court-appointed administrator who handles many of iTrump’s target buildings — said he had noted the impact of the unit’s down­scaling, “There is a strong case that iTrump should get significantly more — not less — resources; its that important to the city.”

Tozi Mthethwa, eThekwini’s head of the communications, said the unit was now in the process of hiring: “The process of filling all critical vacant posts is currently underway and the municipality cannot comment any further.”

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