Crisis at the top

2010-03-09 00:00

AMID the crisis gripping the capital city, it has emerged that the mayor and council are powerless to assert their authority to fire underperforming officials because of ANC politics.

Political rifts between ANC members in council and the interference of the party hierarchy are hamstringing the council’s ability to manage the city.

Municipal manager Rob Haswell, blamed by the mayor for the city’s crises, is on extended sick leave, having reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown.

He and Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo have not had a cordial working relationship for some time, which has affected the running of the municipality. At one point they were not on speaking terms.

Hlatshwayo and the executive committee wrote a three-page letter to former local government MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu in March last year appealing for assistance regarding Haswell’s actions, such as approving tender contracts without informing Exco.

Last week Hlatshwayo publicly stated that Haswell does not communicate decisions of Exco and full council decisions to municipal employees.

Haswell is on sick leave scheduled to last about six weeks, having been initially booked off with chest pain on February 10.

Speaking to The Witness yesterday, Haswell’s wife, Penny, said the municipal manager has had a nervous breakdown and his doctor’s orders are that he should be away from the city.

She said he was thus unable to comment to the media.

Sources said that Haswell, as Msunduzi’s accounting officer, has a contract that allows him 80 days’ sick leave per three-year cycle and 24 annual leave days. The South African norm is 30 days’ sick leave per cycle and 21 annual leave days.

Hlatshwayo confirmed yesterday that she, as Haswell’s direct employer, has not received written correspondence from him requesting leave.

Despite his wife’s assertion that he is out of town, The Witness has learnt that Haswell and chief financial officer Roy Bridgmohan were summoned yesterday by the provincial treasury team tasked to assist with the financial turnaround.

 

On the issue of political control, sources say the grip of the regional executive committee (REC) of the ANC Moses Mabhida region on municipal affairs extends to who should be awarded tenders.

Senior managers who spoke to The Witness on condition of anonymity said they cannot be fired or even suspended without council making a recommendation to the REC, which in turn would make a recommendation to the provincial executive committee (PEC).

They are “deployees” affiliated to the ANC, and this makes it harder for Exco and full council to harshly reprimand them.

They said Hlatshwayo cannot fire Haswell, but can only recommend his dismissal to the REC.

Sources said that a balance must be struck between the deployees, REC, Exco and full council if crises are to be avoided in the future.

Joe Mavuso, a local government expert with the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa), said that according to legislation, the mayor is the direct employer of the municipal manager.

The mayor can draft a resolution to fire a municipal manager to be approved by full council.

A municipal expert close to the municipality said the crisis at city hall has been years in the making and stems from not only the lack of communication between Haswell and Hlatshwayo, but also the fact that Haswell appears to have lost both authority and the respect of his subordinates.

The expert said managers lack the capacity to cope with the current financial crisis.

He criticised the community services section, saying that the many hours of overtime claimed from that department are indicative of incompetence.

He added that the political leadership should outsource functions and bring in resources to save the current situation.

“[Haswell] has been unable to act decisively and there are grave reservations as to whether he will weather this storm at all. It is time for him to step down,” said the expert.

The source said that if Haswell is unable to deliver because his staff also do not trust him, this would inevitably lead to more stress.

It is believed that some parties will deliver an urgent motion of no confidence in Haswell and Hlatshwayo at the next council meeting.

The source added that Hlatshwayo and Haswell have been dismally unable to separate their interpersonal antagonism, and the proper management of the city has suffered.

“While ideally they should have a particularly close relationship, she is never there and doesn’t know what’s going on.

“She seems to believe it is Manco’s [management committee] job only to do this. She should be well informed … but she leads by style over substance …”

Former DA councillor and now MP Mark Steele said the council’s political leadership continues to be locked in a “poisonous factional vendetta between the supporters of the mayor and speaker Alpha Shelembe, while the deployed cadres who run the administration headed by Haswell are increasingly seen as lacking credibility and authority”.

Steele said it is time that business, civil society and the city’s media put pressure on those with the capacity to rescue the situation to intervene decisively.

Hlatshwayo told The Witness the council must give the task team sent in by Co-operative Governance MEC Nomsa Dube a chance to introduce changes.

WHAT THE MFMA SAYS

The Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA), read together with the Municipal Systems Act, spells out the roles and responsibilities of council — to set policy, provide political leadership and oversee implementation.

The municipal manager is accountable to the mayor and the council. Chapter 7 of the MFMA stipulates that the role of the mayor is to monitor and oversee the responsibilities of the municipal manager and the chief financial officer.

CADRE DEPLOYMENT

Cadre deployment is a policy of the ANC, set at a national consultative conference at Kabwe, Zambia, in June l985.

 

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