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Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority still battling to get its house in order as it appoints another new acting CEO

Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority still battling to get its house in order as it appoints another new acting CEO
Embattled Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority CEO Mamodupi Mohlala. (Photo: Gallo Images / Financial Mail / Robert Tshabalala)

The beleaguered Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority has appointed yet another acting chief executive officer, who took over from Deli Nkambule on 1 February. 

Thato Ramaili is a highly regarded property professional and a board member of the Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority (PPRA), who worked in the US for more than a decade before returning to South Africa to head up a finance start-up team that launched the first Iveco Plant in southern Africa. She was appointed on an interim basis while the recruitment process for a new CEO is underway. 

It is not known why Nkambule, who was also believed to be highly effective in the acting role, could not stay on. 

The PPRA failed to respond to media queries about the new appointment on Friday.

At the time of Nkambule’s appointment, the Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa’s CEO Jan le Roux, hailed her as a “person of ability and integrity”, saying they are confident that she will steer the ship successfully through this process.

Nkambule took over the office in an acting capacity after her predecessor, Mamodupi Mohlala was placed on precautionary suspension, with full pay, pending a forensic investigation into allegations of fraud at the PPRA.

Mohlala’s brawl with the PPRA board came to a head in the high court, in an attempt to have her precautionary suspension declared unlawful. She lost that court bid and was informed of her suspension at the end of March 2022. 

On 1 February 2022, Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi hailed the PPRA, saying in contrast to the Estate Agents Affairs Board (EAAB), it will have wider powers, which include inspections without notice and more serious consequences for non-compliance. “Over and above this, the new act is aimed at improving the functioning of the sector in general.”

The minister noted that her department’s priority was to stabilise the housing sector: “We were and still are concerned about the negative media reports that were flooding the media about Human Settlements entities in which EAAB was not spared. It is for this reason that we prioritised the appointment of a new board, whose topmost important task was to stabilise the entity and ensure that the entity focuses on its primary mandate.

“I am delighted to report from industry bodies that they have noticed a positive change. This is a demonstration that the new board has hit the ground running and has made such tremendous progress in a short space of time,” Kubayi said.

The PPRA’s main functions are to regulate the affairs of all property practitioners; to provide consumer protection; to support training; augment transformation in the property sector; and preserve the Estate Agents Fidelity Fund, as the Property Practitioners Fidelity Fund.

The estate agents’ watchdog, which replaced the EAAB on 1 February 2022 when the Property Practitioner Act 22 of 2019 came into operation, has battled to clean its house for years.

On 13 July 2022, the board had given an update on the forensic report, saying that based on the preliminary findings, further serious allegations against the CEO and other staff members had been made. It then subjected her to a disciplinary process and referred allegations of fraud and other financial misconduct to the police. 

The PPRA board has vowed to take immediate action against parties implicated in the forensic investigation.

Chairperson Steven Ngubeni told media on 7 September that soon after the new board was appointed they received a report from the Public Service Commission, based on a whistle-blower’s damning allegations against Mohlala. She, however, declined to respond.

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PPRA board member Pamela Makhubela explained that the forensic investigation had now been completed, confirming the allegations against Mohala included contraventions of pension fund legislation and rules, irregular appointments of staff, appointments of underqualified persons, flouting of procurement processes leading to irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure and fraud. 

Ngubeni said the forensic report found the authority was “run as a spaza shop” under Mohala’s watch. 

The forensic investigation stretched from before her engagement in 2019, from 2011 to 2021.

The final report directly implicates Mohala for not only failing to ensure that pension fund contributions were collected and paid over to the pension fund, but also instructing that contributions must not be made. The board called her conduct an “outright dereliction” of her duty as CEO. She was also found to have made irregular appointments of staff to positions without having the required minimum skills and qualifications.

Some of these unnamed individuals who were declared not fit and proper were appointed to critical positions in supply chain management within the PPRA. This, the board said, was concerning given the background of corruption at the authority. 

Human resource files, removed at the behest of Mohlala, could not be traced in the PPRA’s premises.

“Considerably some of these files involve the HR files of staff members implicated for flouting of procurement processes or for irregular appointments. [There] is to date a lack of documentary evidence to verify that the recruitment and selection process was followed during the appointments of key positions approved by the suspended CEO.”

This complicated the work of the forensic investigations team. 

“It is alarming that integrity and honesty have been vitiated without conscience that some of the implicated individuals have misrepresented their qualifications. The entity incurred a loss due to the misrepresentation of qualifications and paid excessive salaries to undeserving individuals because of this misrepresentation of qualifications.” 

The PPRA, insisted the board, would recover losses from those involved in the fraud. 

The Public Protector had also launched an investigation into the matter.

Other findings included: 

Study guides unaccounted for: The PPRA had ordered 1,500 study guides and paid a 50% deposit, with no record of delivery of 1,000 guides. Ngubeni said they believe the guides were never bought nor delivered.

Namibia delegation: The service provider was not vetted for tax or BEE compliance. The visit by the delegates was for two days, on 15 and 16 March 2022, yet the supplier invoice was made out for three days. The number of people who were catered for at the function was at the maximum of 40, but the invoice issued was for 120. The finance department queried this but the CEO signed off on the invoice.

Rural Brands: Rural Brand Technologies was paid for an app to facilitate the PPRA applications and the issuing of Fidelity Fund Certificates, but the app does not work. Mohlala approved payment of R495,000.

Makhubela confirmed that the new board, which comprises members of the legal fraternity, property experts and representatives from the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and the Public Works Department, found the EAAB/PPRA “very challenged”. 

“People that also, like myself [an attorney], deal directly with property practitioners and obviously see what is happening on the ground. We have to make sure that we obviously expedite issues that have come up. 

“We are very clear that we are going to act with immediate effect towards the specific parties and the individuals that were implicated in this.” BM/DM

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