Council backs R200-mln flop

2009-07-13 00:00

CONTROVERSY surrounds the Msunduzi Municipality’s decision to go ahead with a meter reading system that costs more than R240 million and which was ultimately suspended in Port Elizabeth, allegedly because it was problematic.

Municipal manager Rob Haswell has claimed that a smear campaign is being waged against him following the approval of the system, which took place in a “tense and intimidating atmosphere”. He also claims that he is being warned off by anonymous phone calls and notes, petrol bombs, and, last week, even death threats. “Clearly, someone has a lot to lose, and I stand in their way.”

Recently, it was agreed in a closed executive committee (Exco) meeting that R80 million be approved up front to get the new, high-technology water and electricity management system by PE-based company Unique Mbane SA (Pty) Ltd off the ground.

The Witness has learnt that not all Exco members were present because some wanted no part in the decision.

The Democractic Alliance caucus leader in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, councillor Leon de Villiers, told The Witness that the same project which was undertaken by the same company there was a complete waste of money.

“It was a total disaster. To the best of my knowledge the project has been cancelled altogether,” he said.

De Villiers said Unique Mbane did a pilot project in which it put in a few hundred meters in various middle and upper-class suburbs in PE. The company was so confident the system would work that it undertook the pilot at its own risk, said De Villiers.

“It turned out not to be a success and the project was not rolled out. Instead, they were asked to remove their meters and put the conventional meters back,” said de Villiers.

He said the project was an ambitious exercise that did not warrant the level of expenditure required.

De Villiers said there were suspicions about the project because certain information was being withheld. There has been no official word that the project has been canned and officials involved in the project were reluctant to talk, said de Villiers.

Nelson Mandela Bay’s director of electricity, Richard Harris, declined to comment, as did Peter Nielsen, who works in the municipality’s electricity department, and Kevin Beme, who was the project manager.

Unique Mbane’s chief operating officer, Thirumoorthi Chetty, claimed that the pilot project in PE was a success and resulted in them winning a tender to roll out the system. He said information suggesting the contrary is false and that he would not comment on allegations that the informatuion is incorrect.

Nelson Mandela Bay Metro municipal spokesman Kevin Kupido said the municipality started out with the implementation of the first phase of the project, but it did not go ahead withthe second phase because of the high costs involved.

An ANC ward councillor in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, Friday Frans, said there were some teething problems with the system and there were complaints that the system is consuming too much electricity.

“We had a trial run and in some areas it was successful, but in others it was problematic. I had it in my own house and I was fine with it, but because there were too many problems in other areas, they removed it and we are back to the old system,” he said.

A DA ward councillor, Stanford Slabbert, said many residents in his ward are completely against the system becaue it gives the municipality complete control of switches and panels.

The awarding of the contract to Unique Mbane has caused much controversy. Sources told The Witness that Haswell and his officials turned the proposal call into a tender without informing Exco.

The bid evaluation committee awarded the contract to Starglow Trading CC, but Haswell overruled their decision in favour of Unique Mbane.

Starglow Trading has since taken the matter to court and judgement has been reserved..

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