Pizza lands municipal manager in trouble

2012-12-09 10:00

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A top Mpumalanga municipal boss is accused of stealing R120 000 sent to him while on an official overseas trip – money he asked for because he didn’t like the local food.

Now Ehlanzeni district municipal manager Hugh Mbatha’s picky eating habits have landed him in hot water.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has recommended that the municipal council lay charges of theft against Mbatha.

Mbatha was on a trip to Italy with five other senior municipal officials two years ago.

A report by the Public Protector, released last week, reveals that while on the trip Mbatha instructed a finance official to transfer R165 500 into the credit card account of the municipality’s international relations deputy manager, Roy Makwakwa.

The report, titled Free Money For All, said this was because the delegation did not like the Italian food their hosts served.

A delegate who went on the agriculture and tourism “learning trip” to a municipality in southern Italy told City Press they were not used to ­eating “leaves” and pizza.

Mbatha is slated in the report, the product of a two-year investigation into alleged irregularities in the district municipality amounting to more than R215 million.

Madonsela said Mbatha did not report the spending to council after they ­returned to Nelspruit, and instead divided up the R120 000 left over with three other delegates after their return.

Madonsela said Mbatha displayed a “reckless attitude” and his conduct amounted to maladministration. She also recommended the council recover the money from the other delegates.

Despite looming theft charges against him, two council officials told City Press that Mbatha ­ridiculed Madonsela’s report during a staff meeting on Tuesday.

“He said he ate the money, so what? He said no one would fire him.”

But Ehlanzeni spokesperson Lucky Ngomane denied this, saying: “We wish to indicate there was no meeting where Mbatha uttered such statements to his staff.”

Ngomane said the council had referred Madonsela’s report to the municipal public accounts ­committee for advice.

The report has brought more heat to bear on Mbatha after a former ­Ehlanzeni official laid an unspecified complaint against him with the Hawks this week.

The elite unit has begun taking ­witness statements.

Hawks spokesperson Captain Paul Ramoloko confirmed this and said: “We ­received a complaint and are looking into the matter.”

Madonsela’s findings against Mbatha include that:

» Mbatha took a delegation on an unauthorised R1 million trip to Brazil in March 2009 to prepare Nelspruit as a host city for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Council did not approve the trip and it was only reported to the council five months later; and

» Mbatha appointed law firm Mculu Incorporated to advise the city even though it did not have a valid tax ­certificate.

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