Ignoring the problem

2009-09-11 00:00

NALINI Naidoo’s column of September 7, “Corruption and KZN”, brought home the fact that forensic reports, despite great effort, time and expense, fizzle and die.

In the case of the uMngeni Municipality, the first report commissioned by the MEC, Mike Mabuyakulu, was given to the municipality’s legal advisor, Matthew Francis of Venn Nemeth and Hart, by the Speaker at the end of July 2008. This was a year after it was initiated, and only reappeared at a council meeting in March 2009, a full seven months later. The council ignored the recommendations contained in the report and commissioned a little-known small practice, Dobeyn Admin­istrators, to conduct its own inves­tigation. This report was delivered to the Speaker on September 3, who sent it back to the legal advisor of her own accord, once again without deferring to council. Such sidelining of the collective wisdom of the council, and continued use of ratepayer’s money without author­ization by their public representatives, is tantamount to negligence and wasteful expenditure.

Is this report going the same route as the first one? Eventually, as in the case of the Msun­duzi Municipality’s investigation, residents and ratepayers may well stop asking questions, giving the opportunity for the report to disappear.

There are a number of damning reasons why forceful action might not be taken by the various government departments when presented with the findings of forensic reports.

Firstly, the Department of Local Government and Trad­itional Affairs does not have the financial resources to get involved in lengthy and expensive legal battles, and other government departments are in the same position. It would be financial suicide to pursue each case to its logical conclusion. It must follow that only certain cases will follow the legal route and that those where there will be the least damaging political fallout will be sanctioned.

Secondly, in municipalities where there is a strong dominating municipal manager, council can be controlled. In the case of uMngeni, the municipal manager and chief financial officer could be regarded to have intimidated council into abeyance.

Thirdly, there is the uMngeni all-time favourite — just ignore everyone and everything, and the problem will go away. Just a few days ago, The Witness broke the story of how a council resolution was ignored so that the management could continue to be paid their excessive vehicle allowances, as if nothing had happened, business as usual.

The municipal manager and his general managers are well-known for ignoring requests, suggestions and rulings from just about every parastatal — the auditor-general and his staff, uMgungundlovu municipal management, the South African Revenue Service, the Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector, the Department of Local Government, even the provincial legislature and the MEC. Letters are not answered and telephone calls not returned. Councillors requesting information that would, in any other municipality, be readily available are told to apply via the Access to Information Act, and these applications are then ignored.

The Democratic Alliance, as the opposition party in the uMngeni council, has over the past three years sought the assistance of every appropriate organisation and government department to help call a halt to this maladministration. But there would appear to be a lack of political will and moral courage from African National Congress leadership to reign in its recalcitrants. To the eventual detriment of the country as a whole, the message to those who are incompetent, corrupt and criminal is clearly one of tolerance.

Local residents and associations have contacted the Public Protector, written to national ministers and reported information to fraud hotlines, to a deafening silence. Thousands have physically marched in protest on the streets when their voices were not heard — with promises made by the administrative leadership, but no action was taken.

The system has allowed a poli­ticised primary school teacher to take the top position in the municipality, and surround and protect himself with bullying lieutenants bought with exorbitant salaries at the ratepayers’ expense, who, instead of serving the people, treat them with disrespect and as unwelcome irritants. Either the system is flawed or the people who are governing it are flawed; either way, an urgent change is called for before disorder prevails.

 

• Pam Passmoor is a DA Caucus leader on the uMngeni council.

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