EASTERN Cape’s public works department spent more than R500-million renting office space for provincial departments over two financial years.

In the 2011/12 financial year, it spent R249-million and in the 2012/13 financial year it will come to more than R262-million. The department has budgeted a further R277-million for renting space for the 2013/14 financial year.

However, some of the buildings are still unoccupied, public works spokesman Sisanda George admitted.

George was not able to name which departments have not yet occupied their rented space.

“There should be no leased property that is vacant. Properties we have listed under investment are properties that are vacant.

“These are part of a cabinet decision to implement a disposal strategy and the Small Town Revitalisation programme. Each application is dealt with on a case by case basis,” George said.

The provincial health department had a 2011/2012 rent budget of R61-million, R60million in 2012/13 and have budgeted R63million for 2013/2014. Most is for district offices. George said economic development and environmental affairs was the second biggest spender after health.

Roads and public works spent R5.8 million in 2011/12 and R6.3-million for the current financial year, including for security and rates for Amatola Sun, which is currently standing idle.

George said his department was involved in a lengthy court wrangle over the rightful owner of the Amatola Sun Hotel and Casino in Bhisho.

“The case is still in court and I cannot say much about it,” he said.

Once the crown jewel in the Ciskei gambling industry, the casino and hotel is in a shocking state of disrepair after falling prey to looters and vandals over the years.

It has now been reduced to an eyesore with overgrown grass, broken boom gates and a collapsed first floor roof despite the government forking out R600 000 a year in municipal rates and security.

In 2003, the department bought the entire complex, which stands on 37 hectares, for R5.5-million.

It was to be used as office space for the provincial department of treasury, but it was later decided it would become the headquarters for the House of Traditional Leaders.

After buying the hotel and casino, the department hired consultants – at a cost of R1.5-million – to conduct a feasibility study to ascertain the suitability of the building.

George said the feasibility study showed the structure of the hotel was not conducive for office use. In 2004, public works sold the hotel to business consortium Copper Moon for more than R5-million.

Following the sale, public works tried to withdraw its offer, which resulted in Copper Moon filing a R40-million claim against public works.

DA MPL Pine Pienaar said yesterday the provincial government should be smart and realise it was not in the property market.

“We need to work smarter. Just over five years ago government purchased the building that used to house the Amatola Sun Hotel. I have no idea why we did it, but I do know we paid R10-million for it.

“Today it’s a dilapidated building, stripped by vandals, while we pay security services hundreds of thousands of rand to patrol and protect the building.”