Durban’s rot uncovered

2012-02-08 00:00

FORMER eThekwini mayor Obed Mlaba, ex-municipal manager Mike Sutcliffe and a host of top city managers have been fingered in a damning forensic report that has finally blown the lid on financial mismanagement and alleged graft in KwaZulu-Natal’s economic heartland.

With a whopping 53% contribution to the province’s GDP, the state of local governance in the eThekwini metro has been a matter of concern, but problems were allowed to continue for years, with the Msunduzi Municipality regarded as the problem child.

Amid sustained media reports about alleged corruption and complaints about a small clique of politically connected buddies winning tenders in eThekwini, the province stepped in ahead of last year’s local government election and instituted a forensic probe.

This after damning reports by the Auditor-General (A-G), the city’s own audit committee and an internal investigation were rubbished by some of the city’s top officials.

The long-awaited Manase forensic report was tabled yesterday in a closed sitting of the full council by KZN Co-operative Governance MEC Nomsa Dube, although councillors were only given an abridged version.

As expected, it fingered Mlaba in a multi-million rand waste disposal tender at the Bisasar Road landfill site, which also reportedly involved his family members.

He was reported last year to be actively seeking a stake in the project, allegedly telling a potential partner that it was “his retirement plan”. There was also alleged collusion between municipal employees and the preferred bidder.

It was found that the awarding of the tender had been “grossly compromised” and that certain municipal employees should be further investigated for negligence and/or collusion with the preferred bidder.

It was recommended that the tender process should start afresh. Mlaba's fate remains unclear, however.

The report also recommended that Sutcliffe, whose reign as municipal manager ended on January 3, should face criminal prosecution for not reporting certain fraudulent and corrupt activities to the police in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act. He is also alleged to have contravened the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) by not promptly reporting irregular expenditure in writing to the mayor, the MEC and the A-G.

The municipality may also try to recover money from him. In terms of the awarding of controversial scarce skills allowances to senior managers, there was no evidence that Sutcliffe had acted irregularly or beyond his mandate.

The report also recommended disciplinary action against the following top officials:

• Deputy city manager (treasury) Krish Kumar is alleged to have contravened the MFMA by not taking all reasonable steps to prevent irregular expenditure.

• Deputy city manager (infrastructure) Derek Naidoo is alleged to have contravened the MFMA in a similar way. He is also accused of non-compliance with the metro’s supply chain management (SCM) policies as well as failure to exercise due care.

• Housing head Cogi Pather is similarly accused of non-compliance with the metro’s SCM policies and the MFMA, and failure to exercise due care.

 

Pather and other housing officials are also liable for irregular expenditure.

The report makes it clear that housing is the main problem division in the metro, responsible for R428 million out of the metro’s R532 million irregular expenditure identified by the A-G in the municipal financial year ending on June 30 last year.

•  The report recommended that the head of geographic information and policy, Jacquie Subban, face disciplinary action for negligence resulting in duplicate payments, as well as the irregular awarding of two contracts to H20 Networks for the installation of fibre optic cable by way of Section 36 emergency tenders.

It said that the awarding of the contracts to H2O should be investigated by the municipality. Some of the top managers implicated in the report, including Naidoo and Kumar, said they could not comment as they had yet to see it.

Kumar said: “I would like to say that whatever we have done, we did in the best interest of the city and as far as fraud and corruption goes, we were not involved.”

In his reaction, Mlaba told The Witness: “Once I have seen the report, I will have to call a press conference to tell my side of the story.”

Repeated attempts to reach Sutcliffe, Subban and Pather were unsuccessful.

eTthekwini municipal spokesperson Thabo Mofokeng said the city’s new municipal manager, Sbu Sithole (the former Msunduzi administrator), and the mayor, James Nxumalo, would hold a press briefing today.

MEC Dube stressed yesterday that the investigation was not a witch-hunt against certain individuals, but was “intended to confront head-on some of the ills bedevilling this municipality and arrest the rot before it collapses this institution”.

She said it was important to note that no one had been found guilty.

The immediate tasks to be undertaken included:

• The council adopt the report and its findings and provide a comprehensive response within 21 days.

• Urgently institute disciplinary proceedings against all officials and councillors implicated in the report.

• Review and amend the composition of all bid committees.

• Recover council money from all those liable immediately.

• All disciplinary issues be instituted and finalised within a period of three months.

Dube also noted the 38 officials identified by the A-G to have been conducting business with the municipality had been disciplined, but that an additional 123 had since been found to have not disclosed their business interests and would have to be acted against.

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