Confusion reigns at Surveyor-General offices

July 11th, 2017, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT

This article has been updated since its initial publication.

Mmuso Riba

Uncertainty and confusion currently reign at South Africa’s Surveyor-General offices which are responsible for managing South Africa’s cadastral information and services. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) has officially confirmed that the Chief Director: Cadastral Spatial Information Siyabonga Mdubeki has been suspended pending the outcome of internal processes and that the Chief Surveyor-General Mmuso Riba has taken a leave of absence. Derek Clarke, who heads up the DRDLR’s National Geo-spatial Information unit, has been appointed as the acting Chief Surveyor-General in Riba’s absence.

This development has worsened matters as several key vacancies in Surveyor-General offices around the country have not been filled in recent years. At present, the Limpopo, North West and Pretoria Surveyor-General offices do not have Surveyor-Generals. Elbe Janse van Rensburg is the acting Surveyor-General for Gauteng, and Mmuso Riba is listed on the departmental website as the Surveyor-General for the North-West and Limpopo offices. With Riba now on a leave of absence it remains unclear who is in charge at these offices. Phone calls to Surveyor-General offices have revealed a state of confusion as to who is heading up the Limpopo and North-West Surveyor-General offices. Eventually, an email notification was received from the Western Cape Surveyor-General’s office that Gole Netshishivhe is the acting Surveyor-General for Limpopo and Innocent Dludla, the acting Surveyor-General for North-West.

Other than a notification that Derek Clarke is the acting Chief Surveyor-General, the staff at National Geomatics Management Services are in the dark as to what is happening at the country’s once-renowned cadastral services.

When asked how these suspensions are affecting the work of the Chief Surveyor-General’s office, EE Publishers was advised by the DRDLR that the unit has competent staff who are capable of executing the duties of the office as required.

Siyabonga Mdubeki

It is not clear why the North-West and Limpopo Surveyor-General positions have been allowed to remain vacant and the resulting situation is definitely cause for concern. In terms of the law, Surveyor-Generals must be appointed by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform and the minister must also define their area of jurisdiction. While not wanting to cast aspersion on the work being done by the personnel at these offices, questions must be asked about the legitimacy of the work being done by these Surveyor-General offices and what action is being taken to remedy the situation.

When asked to confirm whether Mdubeki’s suspension and Riba’s leave of absence was connected to an investigation into the e-Cadastre project by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the DRDLR stated that it was not in a position to divulge details surrounding Mdubeki’s suspension and Riba’s leave of absence. (The SIU was ordered in terms of a proclamation issued by President Zuma in February 2014 to investigate the affairs of the DRDLR and the State Information Technology Agency with regard to the e-Cadastre project, the deeds registry system and the procurement of ICT systems.)

The DRDLR further stated that it was not able to “disclose details of any processes underway or otherwise in respect of the Gijima matter and members of staff”.  Attempts to obtain information regarding progress with regard to the e-Cadastre investigation from the Special Investigation Unit have also not been successful. Apparently, the SIU has handed over its report into this matter and action is being taken in terms of the report. However, it has not been possible to achieve confirmation that this is indeed the case.

According to the DRDLR’s website, the purpose of a Surveyor-General’s office is to take charge of and preserve all records pertaining to surveys of land; to examine and approve all cadastral documents that have been prepared in accordance with the Land Survey Act; and to supply, compile, maintain or amend any cadastral information in both paper and digital format. All of these processes are necessary in order to effect property registration by the Deeds Office, a fundamental underpinning of the South African economy. It is not in South Africa’s interest to allow the rudderless situation to continue at the nation’s Surveyor-General offices especially in these dire economic and political times.

The leave of absence by Riba and the suspension of Mdubeki also have further implications due to their leadership positions on the South African Geomatics Council (SAGC) and the Committee for Spatial Information (CSI). Both Riba and Mdubeki were appointed to these positions by the minister.

Riba heads up the South African Geomatics Council, which is responsible for regulating the geomatics industry and for protecting the interests of the public, and the DRDLR has confirmed that during his leave of absence, the deputy chairperson, Nape Mojapelo, will act as chair of the council in the Chief Surveyor-General’s stead. It is anticipated that there will be no impact on the work of the South African Geomatics Council.

The Committee for Spatial Information (CSI), which is responsible for co-ordinating South Africa’s spatial data infrastructure, is headed up by Riba and Mdubeki is his deputy. Spatial data infrastructure is essential for effective governance, planning and decision-making and the incremental progress being made by the CSI is threatened by the absence of leadership to direct its activities. The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform has been approached to appoint an interim chairperson and an interim deputy chairperson for the CSI, and in the meantime the CSI’s six sub-committees will continue with their approved work programmes.

Update: Subsequent to the initial publishing of this article the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform officially advised EE Publishers that the Chief Surveyor-General Mmuso Riba was appointed by the minister as the acting Surveyor-General for the Limpopo and North West Surveyor-General offices and that the acting Chief Surveyor-General Derek Clarke is now performing the function of acting Surveyor-General for these offices. The department also confirmed that the Limpopo Surveyor-General office has not had a Surveyor-General since 1 January 2017 and that the Gauteng Surveyor-General office has not had a Surveyor-General since 2 September 2016. In response to a question regarding how long the  North West Surveyor-General’s office has been without a Surveyor-General, the department advised that the North West Surveyor-General’s office “is a newly established office which only became fully operational on 2 July 2017”. Derek Clarke’s appointment as acting Chief Surveyor-General took place on 27 May 2017.

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