The Zondo commission is likely to move premises early next year to cut costs.
Envisaging a likely extension of the scheduled February 2020 completion of its proceedings, the commission, in consultation with the department of justice and correctional services, has arrived at an agreement to cut costs through seeking cheaper residence to hold hearings.
“The commission is anticipating a possible extension after [the scheduled cessation date of February next year]. To reduce costs, they are looking at a cheaper venue alternative for the hearings,” said department spokesperson Chrispin Phiri.
Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille recently revealed that R14.8 million had been paid to media company Tiso Blackstar and property group Redefine Properties for housing the Zondo commission.
A breakdown of the costs shows that monthly rental for offices at Arena Holdings – which bought most of Tiso Blackstar publications and Hill on Empire, the building that has been used by the commission since its commencement – was R72 846.52 and the rental of the venue auditorium was R796 950, bringing the total to about R870 000.
In total, the commission has incurred R350 million in expenses since it began.
Phiri said the commission has already identified the Johannesburg Council Chambers as a viable and cheaper alternative.
“They have found a state premises which was not available at the commencement of the commission [in August last year],” said Phiri.
He said the council chambers, which were used by the commission during this week’s proceedings, “could be available to the commission from March 1 next year when the current lease [between the commission and the owners of Hill on Empire] expires”.
City Press contacted City of Johannesburg spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane to inquire about how much rent the city would be charging the commission, however, at the time of publishing he had not responded to our questions.
Commission spokesperson Mbuyiselo Stemela said the change of venue this week was “due to the unavailability of Hill on Empire” and not a test run by the commission of its potential new residence.
The housing of the commission at the Hill on Empire building attracted serious criticism, especially from the EFF.
A letter from the EFF last year, signed by deputy president Floyd Shivambu, asked commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo several questions about the procurement of the venue in Parktown, including how the bidding process to host the inquiry was facilitated.
Zondo responded during a sitting in November last year, saying that he had been informed that various government venues had been inspected “and, for one reason or the other, were either unsuitable or unavailable”.
“I just want to make it clear that this commission and [the departments of public works and that of justice] did not simply go for a privately owned building without exploring the possibility of saving costs and using a government-owned venue,” Zondo said.
The state owns venues that had been considered, Zondo said, including the Tshwane municipal building, Kempton Park Civic Centre, Emoyeni Conference Centre and The Joburg theatre in Braamfontein.
Phiri told City Press that Hill on Empire had been chosen because “the chairperson of the state capture commission is still performing functions as the deputy chief justice of the Constitutional Court. A premises was therefore sought near the Constitutional Court to allow the judge to perform both functions.
“State-owned premises were considered, but none was found to be suitable or available at the time of the commencement of the commission.”
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