Picture: If retail can reopen after 24 hours why not government offices says Dr Daan Steenkamp.
Dr Daan Steenkamp
The three-day and even longer closures of government offices due to Covid-19 scares are costing the property sector, and the country’s economy, billions of rands in lost revenue. If retail outlets can reopen within 24 hours, why not government offices?
Property Professional ran an article on 30 July, in which it reported that the Sandton office of the Estate Agency Affairs Board had been open for seven days only over the past three months, initially owing to hesitancy to reopen during the pandemic and then once open, scares about reported Covid-19 cases in the same building or among their staff.
The ten deeds offices close regularly for the same reason. Last week Monday, in Pietermaritzburg, the municipal rates department, the Master’s Office and the Deeds Office were all closed for this reason.
Dr Daan Steenkamp
Effect of government office closures
The effect of such closures and the ensuing delay in obtaining rates certificates and registration of transfers/bonds, on the property industry is immense; think property owners, estate agents, conveyancers and banks which all have their cash flow delayed. That cash flow undoubtedly runs into billions of rand annually.
These closures are not particular to the property industry: the whole of civil service is affected by the state-set sanitisation procedures. This means that all clinics, SASSA offices, post offices, government departments and the like are affected to the detriment of the people that they serve. At present, the norm for closure, after sanitation, appears to be three days i.e. a day for sanitisation, followed by a two-day wait. This procedure, unless changed, will continue until so-called herd immunity is achieved. Herd immunity occurs when between seventy and ninety percent of a population has been infected and has recovered. This means that, in an office of a hundred people, that office would have to close for at least 70 x 3 days if employees tested positive for CV19 sequentially.
Time to question government three-day wait policy
The sanitisation-wait period, prescribed by the state, has, until now not, to my knowledge – at least in the press, been seriously questioned by civil society. Commercially, such a lengthy wait-period has been ignored as work/sales equals income, as opposed to our civil service. Hence one repeatedly sees large retail outlets closing for sanitisation and reopening the next morning, or even the same day.
The fact is that such a long sanitisation-wait is unsustainable. If this practice continues, any dealings in which the state is involved will be delayed with our population bearing the brunt of these delays. This has been recognised by the Limpopo Department of Health, that has publicly called for a review of the current sanitisation procedures.
Why the two-day settlement period?
I have not been able to establish from the state why a two-day settlement period after sanitisation is prescribed. A chemist, who manufactures sanitisation products commercially, speculates that the reason for the settlement period after sanitisation is most probably owing to noxious chemicals being used by those who sanitise. One such chemical could be formaldehyde which, by way of example, is very poisonous and which would necessitate a wait after sanitisation. I understand from the chemist that other, equally effective chemicals, are available and could be used for sanitisation. That this is so, is amply demonstrated by the example of retail outlets reopening immediately after sanitisation procedures have been carried out.
Property industry should demand review
What to do? Given that one needs to turn a large ship – sanitisation procedures across the entire civil service – it will not help the cause if, for instance, only conveyancers or only estate agents would complain and demand a review of sanitisation procedures. The property industry, together with banks, should call for such a review. Such a review should include consultation with the private sector: if no consultation takes place, the suspicion will remain that parties who supply the state with chemicals might influence any decision that is taken. As it is, questions have been raised in the press as to why civil servants are entitled to more protection than those in the private sector, in terms of their sanitisation rules. This debate is exacerbated by those holding the opinion that lockdowns are encouraged by unions as their members will be fully paid whether they work or not.
Even better, if all estate agents, conveyancers, banks and those involved in the property industry, were to approach their local chambers of commerce and industry, indeed any civil organisation that presents persons who receive services from the state, and object, and call for a review of sanitisation procedures so as to reduce state-office sanitisation-wait to a day, we may well persuade those who govern us, to change.
About the author: Dr Daan is a practising conveyancer and notary public with specific interests in commercial, estate and trust law. He is an experienced attorney capable of handling any form of property work including developments, estate law problems and a wide range of commercial and notarial work.