Haswell labelled a liar

2010-08-05 00:00

FORMER municipal manager Rob Haswell was labelled a liar at the legislature yesterday when his blatant dishonesty regarding his refusal to admit that the Msunduzi Municipality was in great financial difficulty was highlighted.

This after the legislature’s joint sitting of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), Finance and Co-operative Governance committees revealed there was gross misrepresentation about the municipality’s administration — of which Haswell was the head — and multiple cover-ups were engineered to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

John Steenhuisen, caucus leader for the DA in the provincial legislature, said he was greatly displeased that Haswell had come before the legislature and lied.

Said Steenhuisen: “It needs to be placed on record that the municipal manager Rob Haswell came before this committee and lied. He pilloried the media, he even pilloried you, madam chair. It turns out he served us a pack of lies. We as a parliamentary committee should take some action on this.”

In September last year, The Witness reported that the municipality’s cash flow was not as healthy as it should be and that the municipality was on the verge of a liquidity crunch.

Haswell quickly leapt to the offensive and denied that there was cause for alarm.

He even claimed that the municipality’s monthly collection rate was 75%, but the intervention team has said the figure is actually 55%.

In February this year, The Witness reported that Haswell and suspended chief financial officer Roy Bridgmohan were exposed at an executive committee (Exco) meeting when they initially refused to admit that the municipality was running at a loss.

Haswell was often absent from Exco meetings whenever he had to account and requests for a report detailing how many days he was actually at work never materialised.

He resigned suddenly in March this year after extended sick leave, but Msunduzi administrator Johann Mettler made it very clear yesterday that former officials and ex-councillors are not off the hook and will have to account for their misdeeds at some stage.

Joey Krishnan, general manager for municipal finance in the Co-operative Governance Department, said: “There was a great deal of misrepresentation at the municipality. The real cash flow position could not be determined. We did not even know who the creditors were. People suddenly popped up saying the municipality owed them money … They also reflected the collection rate higher than it really was.”

She said it took the intervention team about two to three months to get the real picture as they were being fed false information.

Due to the blatant misrepresentation, Mettler said they had great difficulty in drafting the budget and it was drafted based on assumptions.

“If we do not get funding … the entire budget is at risk and we will be staring bankruptcy in the face by mid-year,” he said.

ANC MPL Reena Naidoo said: “We want to see some heads roll for the mess that was done at the municipality and should they survive, they should be shot again.”

Chairperson of the finance committee Belinda Scott said the municipality is living a hand-to-mouth existence and something needs to be done.

“We’ve got to bail Msunduzi out … The situation is desperate — even now, even with the intervention,” she said.

ANC MPL Lizzie Fikelephi Shabalala said only National Treasury can rescue the situation.

“We can see you are drowning, but you are trying your best. As much as you are doing your best, you also need help,” she said.

• Mettler told members of the legislature that two forensic investigations have been finalised and will be tabled at today’s Exco.

This entails the investigation into the R240 million smart meter reading contract and the ghost Nkosi Mlaba cultural festival that was allegedly engineered to fund an ANC rally.

Haswell was implicated heavily in both and Mettler said a number of investigations are still being conducted and that those responsible are likely to face criminal and civil charges.

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