November 21 2013 at 11:38am By Kevin Lancaster
Durban - eThekwini municipal manager S’bu Sithole denied allegations that the city had a special relationship with Jay Singh and his son, Ravi Jagadasan’s, company, Rectangle Property Investments, developers of the Tongaat mall which collapsed on Tuesday.
“We exhausted all the legal remedies (to stop the development) that were open to us. The city was taking this matter seriously,” said Sithole at the Durban City Hall on Wednesday, after he was asked why building continued without planning approval.
Sithole said several notices were issued, along with a final court order, on November 14, ordering Jagadasan’s company to cease all work. And, at the time of the accident, the city was filing a contempt-of-court application against Jagadasan.
“The municipality will continue to pursue the contempt-of-court warrant it has been seeking. We believe the conditions are right for that,” said Sithole. There was also the possibility of the building now being condemned, he said.
Singh is no stranger to controversy in his interactions with the city, and was the man behind the resale of Durban Transport buses to the municipality in 2008.
Singh’s company, Remant Limited and Alton Coach Africa Consortium, bought the buses for R70 million in 2003, only to sell them back to the municipality for R405m, while continuing to run the service.
More recently, another company linked to Singh, Gralio, was awarded a multimillion-rand contract to build part of the low-cost housing project at Cornubia.
When the Manase Report revealed the houses were not up to scratch, and an additional two housing tenders were irregularly awarded to Singh, the city took action to remove Gralio from the project.
But Gralio’s owner and Singh’s ex-wife, Shireen Annamalay, took the city to court and won, allowing them to continue work.
The eThekwini mayor, James Nxumalo, said building inspectors had visited the site a number of times, trying to ensure that the company complied with regulations.
The attorney acting for Rectangle Property Investments cc, R Naidoo, said his client would offer support to the affected parties.
“Our client is deeply affected by the events and records its sincere and heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased and injured labourers who were trapped beneath the slab,” he said.
Naidoo said the reason for the collapse was under investigation by at least three independent structural engineers.
Provincial Labour Department spokesman Nhlanhla Khumalo said inspectors were on site and investigations were under way on Wednesday.
The DA’s caucus leader in the city, Zwakele Mncwango, spoke out against the municipality’s links to Singh.
Mncwango said he voted against awarding an additional R34m low-cost housing contract to Gralio two weeks ago, and warned the city against doing further business with Singh.
“Despite statements by the city manager and mayor that there is no link between the city and the owners and shareholders of Gralio, questions remain as to why the company is given opportunities to do business with the city time and time again.”
* In August 1997, businessman Jay Singh, father of Ravi Jagadasan, the developer of the collapsed mall, pleaded guilty to a bribery charge in relation to an offence in March 1996. He was accused of offering R4 000 to a clerk to overlook and approve a section of condemned work where a pipeline was being laid.
* In 2004, Singh’s transport company, Remant Alton, took over Durban’s bus service, but was soon embroiled in a litany of controversies and it was eventually run into the ground.
* In 2010, Woodglaze Trading, linked to Singh, was reported to the National Homebuilders’ Registration Council for alleged shoddy workmanship.
The complaint was laid by residents of Treehaven. Woodglaze said it had attended to all the formal complaints received.
* A low-cost housing company, Gralio Precast, owned by Singh’s ex-wife, Shireen Annamalay, was criticised in the Manase Report released earlier this year.
In the report, Gralio was accused of sub-standard work on the Hammond’s Farm and Burbreeze housing projects.