Council’s gravy plane

2010-06-18 00:00

A FULL-SCALE internal investigation is being launched at the Msunduzi Municipality into controversial overseas trips taken by senior staffers and councillors.

A report tabled at yesterday’s Exco meeting shows that Msunduzi has spent almost R1,5 million on overseas trips for various individuals over the past two financial years, and major discrepancies have been revealed.

For instance, suspended deputy municipal manager (DMM) for community services Zwe Hulane and fire chief Billy Paton went to New York to inspect fire engines from July 17 to July 27 last year at a combined cost of R35 542,46.

Although the trip was funded by Fire Raiders, New York, intervention team member Ben Dorfling said it still warrants investigation.

“Why go to America for fire engines you can get in Johannesburg?” he asked.

The report also revealed that Hulane and suspended DMM for human resources Kevin Perumal attended an overseas executive development course from July 30 to August 30 last year at a combined cost of R470 575,78.

The municipality forked out R316 000 for their tuition fees, R74 506 for their expenses, just over R45 000 for their accommodation and a little over R35 000 for their flights.

To date, it is not clear what benefit Msunduzi gained from this exercise, as Hulane and Perumal never submitted a report-back.

Ward councillor Mergan Chetty’s trip to attend the Dr Martin Luther King jnr Day celebration in America from January 17 to January 23 last year will also be investigated after it was discovered that the municipality paid R55 625,16 for his accommodation.

Former mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo and American businesswoman Jacquelyn Johnson also went on the trip. Their accommodation cost the municipality R35 944,20 each.

It is unclear why the municipality funded Johnson’s trip at a total cost of R103 554,20 as she came to the city to initiate a sister city partnership between Atlanta and Pietermaritzburg.

Democratic Alliance caucus leader Bill Lambert said: “This report has been long awaited and it confirms exactly what we’ve been saying. There are serious irregularities.”

Lambert, who has been fighting for more than a year for the report to be brought to Exco, was shocked when Johnson was named as “the mysterious fourth person” who went on the trip to America.

“I asked the previous mayor who the fourth person was and got nothing,” said Lambert.

He said Exco resolved that only councillors should go on the trip. “Her name was also raised in the Auditor-General’s report. [The previous mayor’s personal assistant] did not go on the trip, which is also contrary to the resolution,” said Lambert.

He said a visit to Korea, which cost Msunduzi almost R500 000, was an “extraordinary trip and until this day, we don’t know what the city gained”.

The Korean trip, which took place from November 7 to November 17 last year, involved Hlatshwayo, her personal assistant Evodia Mahlangu, former human resources process manager Lulama Mbatha and community services process manager Mandla Zuma.

While the others’ flights cost the municipality R17 164 each, Hlatshwayo’s flights cost R72 442.

However, this trip will not be investigated as Exco approved it.

Lambert said the course attended by Hulane and Perumal failed to contribute anything of significance to the city “because they’ve come back and been suspended, so who knows”.

ANC councillor Najma Ahmed said: “I’m horrified … we need further investigation and [about] how we’re going to recover this money. Can pension funds be attached?”

Msunduzi Mayor Mike Tarr said overseas trips should be approved, reported on and their value determined. Dorfling said they will review the policies critically along with the mentioned trips as part of their investigations.

“Msunduzi won’t send people overseas for the next three years, I hope,” he said.

DA councillor Rodger Ashe said it is odd that Chetty’s accommodation cost nearly R20 000 more than those who also accompanied him to America.

“Did Chetty stay on to do something private or extra? We need this investigated as a matter of urgency,” he said.

“I want to propose that every member must fly economy class from now on and if they want an upgrade, they must pay for it themselves.”

Dorfling said he will ensure that Exco is given a report-back regarding the overseas trips, what their investigations revealed and what action will be taken.

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