‘I’m busy with arrests’, Mettler warns municipal workers in tough speech

2010-04-23 00:00

CRIMINAL action has already been taken against some employees found to have contributed to the Msunduzi Municipality’s dire financial crisis, and more is to follow soon.

This was the message that Msunduzi administrator Johann Mettler gave Msunduzi Municipality workers when he addressed them collectively for the first time at a special meeting at Harry Gwala Stadium yesterday morning.

Mettler said that when he arrived on March 7, he realised he was in a lawless, unaccountable and corrupt environment and that senior managers had broken every rule in the book.

He said managers were being paid a lot of money, yet they had abdicated their responsibilities.

“The unaccountability goes beyond what any sensible person can believe … [and] the manner in which this municipality was run is criminal,” he said.

He said 500 employees owe the municipality about R2,8 million, and he warned that they will face the consequences if they fail to pay.

“I’m busy with arrests, so I don’t think I’ll have friends in Pietermaritzburg,” he said.

The cellphone budget has already been overspent by R700 000, Mettler said. On their 3G cards, one employee has clocked up R170 000 and another R40 000.

“How they do that, I don’t know, but I will find out and go after them and they will pay back every cent,” said Mettler, to loud cheers from the crowd.

He told the workers that there had been an attempt to derail the event, because he had received a phone call warning that if he were to attend, he would be attacked by a knobkerrie-wielding mob.

But he went ahead regardless, he said, and that is why the police were in attendance.

Mettler said the municipality’s current debt collection rate of 55% is unacceptable and that no business can survive like that, but he will do all he can to change this.

Although he cannot yet name the officials facing criminal and civil charges, Mettler said, he will keep people informed about which officials are to be charged, and with what.

He said the special police unit, the Hawks, have been brought in.

“Don’t think I will be afraid to attach pensions. I will do that, because accountability is in town,” he said to loud applause.

Mettler told workers that they have to put a stop to corruption, theft and mismanagement as they have a critical effect on the the municipal budget.

He urged them to make a difference by reporting any corrupt practices they know of because “this is a serious matter that can create problems for someone’s salary at some stage”.

Mettler said the overtime budget, which was overspent by R30 million when he arrived, is still a problem, as is the scandal of “jobs for pals”, the theft of diesel and petrol as well as the hiring of cars and temporary workers.

“This job is no joke. We don’t sleep … Even a spaza shop was run better than this place,” said Mettler to loud laughter from the crowd.

He said management and ousted former political heads have failed miserably and it is now his job to sort out the mess.

He said he is still working on a budget because the one drawn up before his arrival would not be sustainable financially. If he implements it, the municipality is likely to overspend by R200 million and to carry debts to the tune of R500 million.

But Mettler, a native of the Western Cape, said he is up to the challenge.

“When you are faced with a crisis situation of this proportion and don’t have the balls … then you must go back to Cape Town … and tell all those who enter Pietermaritzburg to abandon all hope,” he said.

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