Msunduzi: a mayor, a Mettler and a monumental mess

2010-12-13 00:00

AMID much fanfare earlier this year, residents were promised that “Mr Fix It”, aka Johann Mettler, would rescue the city.

Prior to his arrival, the city was like a patient on life support.

Residents were contemplating violent protest and court action against the worst capital city in South Africa.

The filth, incompetence, inefficiency and dishonesty of staff were beyond belief. Mettler provided hope and many of us wished him well and offered support. But now, as the end of the year approaches and reality sinks in, it is beyond dispute that objectively, legally and morally, Mettler and the mayor have failed at every endeavour to achieve a turnaround.

The Budget

A hastily prepared budget, which is flawed in many respects, was rushed through, despite the Msunduzi Rates Forum (MRF) pointing out that certain calculations were incorrect.

Bankruptcy

The city is in no better position than it was a year ago. We know that a short while ago there were insufficient funds to pay staff. Add to this, the payment of allowances to people acting in positions to the tune of about a million a month, despite a promise that this would not happen, has made the situation worse. The debt-collection drive and residents being held to ransom to pay R3 000 as a deposit to ensure reconnection, without a corresponding effort to provide services, are ludicrous.

Corruption

We were told that 75% of the city’s businesses had tampered with electricity and water meters, with the collusion of municipal staff. Despite this, not a single prosecution has ensued. The much-vaunted Operation Pitbull was a process identified in 2006 — when nothing was done — but the

same process has cost the residents of Pietermaritzburg

R546 768, which was paid to Focus Project Management for “proffessional” (sic) services rendered to Operation Pitbull reviews. The payment included R40 380 for polygraph testing, the need for which has not been explained, nor is an explanation likely. In fact, nothing has come of it to date.

Investigations AND Disciplinary Inquiries

Proffessional (sic) services rendered by Focus Project Management related to a “forensic review” cost the city

R368 984,82. Again, there has been no quantifiable outcome from this expense. We also do not know how this company came to be appointed and the basis for their expertise. An odd disbursement contained here is the amount of R19 030,02 as attorney fees for Unique Mbane. In view of the city’s own senior, exorbitantly paid staff, which includes attorneys and auditors, why was there a need to appoint external consultants? Are the current staff incompetent, inefficient or untrustworthy? Why are they still in the employ of the municipality?

In addition to this, KPMG received R99 075,14 for professional services for disciplinary proceedings. PKX Attorneys were paid R202 687,87 for disciplinary inquiries and a further R139 146,83. They were paid R71 111,08 previously. Why was an advocate from Johannesburg appointed at considerable cost when local advocates could have been appointed? This raises more questions. At the end of all this expenditure the question remains — why has there been no tangible result regarding disciplinary inquiries and criminal prosecution? What has become apparent is the selective targeting of certain individuals and the protection of others.

There appears to have been no action taken against the former mayor and municipal manager. Furthermore, Mettler stated that electricity staff were complicit in the theft and corruption, yet the unit and the offenders remain in their positions and have become allies of Mettler and his counterparts. A few individuals have been targeted to prevent a political fallout. There is already dissension in the ANC over Mettler and his lack of progress. Some seek to neutralise him to protect themselves, while others demand effective action.

Overtime Payments

The current deputy mayor is reported to have up to six bodyguards, more than most MECs. In the recent past, refuse collectors and traffic officers were paid between R10 000 and R100 000 per month in overtime. The individuals who claimed and all those who processed the payments, and all those who did nothing to stop this unlawful conduct, are guilty of various contraventions and this has been identified by the Auditor-General. Yet again, nothing has been done.

FinaliSation of Investigations

The undertaking given by Mettler that investigations will be completed by the end of August and September (2010) appears to be untrue. There have been no tangible results.

Rates

Mettler admitted that the valuation roll is flawed, yet he implemented it. This is immoral and unlawful. The call by the MRF for an investigation of the tender process that awarded the Rates Valuation Roll to a certain company was ignored.

The Staff

Mettler noted that senior staff were incompetent and too many people were not qualified to do their jobs. Despite this, we have not seen heads roll as promised.

Questionable Conduct

Recent conduct that mars Mettler’s probably well-intentioned actions, include:

The appointment of J. K. Khumalo as a senior manager,

despite the Richmond Municipality having commissioned a forensic report which found his appointment and qualifications questionable. The failure to probe this may well land Mettler in hot water as the forensic report and the resolutions of the Richmond Municipality are well known.

Another strange incident that raises questions is the “accident” (reported in The Witness a few weeks ago) and reported to the police giving the wrong date, allegedly involving a motor vehicle that was proved to have not been involved at all. Ben Dorfling or his bodyguard, one of whom drove a municipal vehicle, have much to answer for. The incident raises many questions and should have been properly investigated.

The impolite, discourteous and nonsensical comments by Brian Zuma, the city’s acting manager for public relations, have not helped the municipality either. Rather than deal with valid complaints raised by residents, he believes that there are acceptable reasons for the corruption and incompetence at every level. With the looming local government elections, there is a dire need to maintain the vote-pulling ability of councillors, irrespective of how corrupt they may be. The effect on the city seems to be less important.

• The MRF will hold a protest opposite the city hall in Chief Albert Luthuli Street today between 9 am and 1 pm. For details, phone Sithapersad at 033 391 2943 or R. Naidoo at 084 345 4020.

• Babs Sithapersad and Ashin Singh write on behalf of the Msunduzi Rates Forum.

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