Dispirited housing staff sitting idle

Nqaba Bhanga Picture: Judy de Vega
NMBM political head of human settlement Nqaba Bhanga
Picture: Judy de Vega

Only planning division at metro department active, writes Johnnie Isaac

Low staff morale, project managers sitting without projects to manage and offices without computers and phones. These were some of the challenges encountered by the metro’s political head of human settlements, Nqaba Bhanga, during a surprise visit to his department’s offices.

Bhanga was accompanied by two councillors who are part of the housing portfolio, Edward Harker and Trevor Louw.

The visit was part of his oversight work to monitor conditions under which staff worked and to check if people were pitching up for work and doing what they were employed to do.

Bhanga spent hours listening to the grievances of the employees, many of whom complained about low staff morale, particularly in the housing delivery unit.

There are more than 400 staff working in the sub-directorate but many are sitting around without work to do as their functions have been taken over by the national Department of Human Settlements.

Housing delivery is currently being implemented by the Housing Development Agency on behalf of the national government.

“The staff morale is very low because there are no more projects coming. People do what they can do in terms of daily activities,” an official told Bhanga.

“We don’t know where we are going in terms of direction in the future.

“Some of us are just coming to work because we are employed to work, but we have a huge challenge.

“People come to do what they can. For example, I am an administrator but there is nothing new that comes.

“We are just keeping ourselves busy with things that were a backlog,” another staffer said.

“We are also dealing with old complaints. Sometimes we can’t find the documents. As you may be aware that there were documents that went missing,” said another employee.

Some of the staff expressed frustration at how it felt to come to work every day for nothing.

“We don’t have things that are mentally stimulating. We wake up in the morning every day knowing that we don’t have any work function to do and it is very frustrating,” one said.

“Sometimes we are frustrated that we can’t find solutions for the people who call us, because the project was done a long time ago.

“Some of us are technical but we are stagnant, doing nothing.”

Another staff member said: “We have a problem because we are dealing with beneficiaries. They come to us but we don’t know how to address them because we are not doing the implementation of projects.”

“We have a lot of challenges regarding title deeds, partly because some of the documents no longer exist.

“We have problems with people who bought houses for R15 000.

“We appreciate the establishment of the office that deals with disputes because it has it has improved speeding of resolutions,” staff members said.

“I come here every day but I don’t have work to do,” another staffer said.

“I am a project manager but ever since the delivery of houses was taken over by HDA, I have no project to manage.”

Some staff complained about the large number of people who were in acting positions.

Although they had many gripes, the staff were also found to be skipping the daily register and failing to sign when they entered and left the buildings.

In almost all divisions, employees fail to sign out when they leave.

An exception is the planning division, which also has a movement registry for staff activities.

Bhanga was quick to allay the fears of those who felt uncomfortable about his unannounced visit.

“We are not here to harass anyone and no one will be punished as a result of this oversight visit,” he said.

“We only want accountability, to make sure that people are coming to work and are doing what they are employed to do.”

But it was not all doom and gloom. The councillors were inspired by the professionalism they found at the planning division.

Despite the division being understaffed, staff morale was high.

Bhanga congratulated them on doing a good job and promised to help them get more staff.

“We have to fix what we found – build capacity of our staff that are ready to assume responsibilities,” Bhanga said.

“People are yearning for challenges, but we want to see more cooperation.”

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