R1 mln council fund ‘hijack’

2009-07-06 00:00

HIGH-RANKING officials of the Msunduzi Municipality are set to be investigated after being implicated in an alleged scam in which they apparently misappropriated more than R1 million in council funds.

The Witness has evidence that municipal manager Rob Haswell, speaker Alpha Shelembe and deputy municipal manager for finance Roy Bridgmohan allegedly by-passed the municipality’s proper procurement process in order to secure R1 067 119 to finance an African National Congress rally in January.

According to sources, Haswell, Shelembe and Bridgmohan were approached by the regional ANC and asked to help raise funds for an ANC provincial rally that was set to take place on January 18.

Instead of embarking on fund-raising ventures, the sources allege, the three conspired to obtain the funds from the municipality.

Shelembe was given the task of engineering requests for a cultural event called “the Nkosi Mlaba Cultural Day” to be used as a cover, the sources said.

This event was scheduled to take place on January 18, but the authorised payments for the event were allegedly obtained only on January 19.

As far as The Witness can establish, there is no evidence to prove that the cultural event actually took place.

A booking sheet for The Oval, where this event was meant to take place, states that this venue had been booked on January 18 for use by the Midlands Cricket Association.

However, another significant event did occur on January 18 — the ANC provincial rally at Qokololo Stadium in Edendale. It was attended by more than 50 000 people, including national Human Settlement Minister Tokyo Sexwale.

A firm was allegedly paid R497 860 to provide sound, tables, chairs, marquees and a stage at the rally, while another firm was allegedly paid R569 259 for T-shirts, caps, calendars, diaries and paper bags. The total is R1 067 119.

The payment form, which The Witness has in its possession, shows quotes allegedly obtained by Shelembe’s personal assistant, Hazel Xolo, the manager in Shelembe’s office, Nondumiso Hlela, and Haswell.

Bridgmohan allegedly counter-signed the documents, but the absence of the signature of head of procurement Francis Grantham raises questions.

DA MP Mark Steele said that acco­rding to supply chain management regulations, any tenders of significant amount first have to be evaluated by the bid-adjudication committee before being signed by Grantham. Without this, they are not valid, he said.

Steele said another important regulation is that should funds over R1 million be required, council resolution is needed for their authorisation. Should there be no council resolution, then funds cannot be authorised, he said.

IFP councillor and executive committee (Exco) member Dolo Zondi said he did not remember any council resolution about this matter.

“It has never been to council. If this is true then it will put our municipality in a terrible situation. It’s the first I’ve heard of it but I will be investigating it,” he said.

Msunduzi Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo said she had seen the documents and according to her knowledge no council resolution was passed. She said she would take the documents to council and the issue would be investigated further.

Haswell said he could not comment until he had seen the documents. When The Witness offered to forward the documents to him, he declined.

“The onus is on the DA to forward them to me,” he said.

Shelembe and Hlela failed to respond to voice mail messages asking them to contact The Witness and Bridgmohan could not be reached as his phone was switched off.

DA spokesman Frits de Klerk called for the matter to be investigated immediately.

“Those found guilty should be dismissed from office and the ANC should return the money to the municipality. I am meeting with the auditor-general this week to put the matter before him and to ask that a full investigation take place,” he said.

KZN Local Government and Traditional Affairs MEC Willies Mchunu said the matter was brought to his attention at an ANC press briefing last night.

“The premier and the ANC government are committed in investigating the matter and if there’s any wrongdoing, punitive steps will be taken,” he said. He said he would make sure that he got a hold of the relevant documents this week and proceed from there.

 

 

 

 

 

The Witness attempted to elicit reaction from the following people yesterday. This was the outcome:

Msunduzi Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo - full comment given.

Speaker Alpha Shelembe - failed to contact The Witness by the time of going to print even though messages were left on his phone.

Dolo Zondi (IFP councillor and Exco member) - full comment given.

Roy Bridgmohan (deputy municipal manager for finance) - phone switched off with no option to leave a message.

Nondumiso Hlela (manager in speaker’s office) - did not respond to voice mail messages asking her to contact The Witness.

Rob Haswell (municipal manager) - he told The Witness he would only comment once the DA had sent him the documents.

Willies Mchunu (KZN Local Government and Traditional Affairs MEC) - full comment given.

DA MP Mark Steele - full comment given.

DA spokesman Frits de Klerk - full comment given.

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