SIU set for city hall probe

2012-01-03 00:00

THE Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has confirmed that it will probe the Msunduzi Municipality, putting to rest perceptions that nobody will be held accountable for the mess at city hall.

SIU spokesperson Marika Muller said the unit was awaiting a presidential proclamation to authorise the investigation. Work would start in earnest once this was granted.

The SIU can investigate only after a presidential proclamation is gazetted.

Muller’s confirmation of the SIU probe comes just days after the announcement that the Msunduzi Municipality would no longer be under administration in the new year.

It also comes weeks after Co-operative Governance MEC Nomusa Dube confirmed in response to a Democratic Alliance parliamentary question that criminal charges had been instituted against former municipal manager Rob Haswell.

She said the charges related to the alleged contravention of the Local Government Municipal Finance Management Act and its regulations, as well as alleged maladministration and breach of his duties as the municipal manager.

Muller said that until the proclamation was granted the SIU would review and analyse a range of relevant documents to start its work.

She would not elaborate on the exact nature of the investigation.

“It is SIU policy not to engage on specific details of the unit’s work at such an early stage in the process.”

However, from administrator Sibusiso Sithole’s exit report it seems the controversial R240-million, three-year contract to install automated meters in the city will come under the spotlight.

The contract was awarded to a Port Elizabeth-based company, Unique Mbane, in 2009 when the municipality was already experiencing cash flow problems.

Questions were asked then where was the money to come from to pay the first instalment of R70 million. More importantly, there was no provision for this expenditure in the 2009/10 council budget.

The municipality later awarded a meter reading contract to Riotech, a company in the Unique Mbane stable.

In his exit report Sithole said the SIU was helping the municipality recover money that had been paid irregularly “in respect to, for example the smart meter reading contract”.

Whenever officials were previously asked about the contract, they would say that it was successfully launched at Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM).

However, it later turned out that a similar smart meter contract in Port Elizabeth was also the subject of a forensic probe.

Media at the time reported that the relationship between Unique Mbane’s owner, Yusuf Jeeva, and the former mayor of NMBM, Nceba Faku, was under question.

The probe, written up as the Kabuso report, revealed in one of its annexures that the automatic meter contract was allegedly “tailor-made so that the only winning bidder, Unique Mbane, could qualify”.

Jeeva, also a property magnate, was at the time allegedly leasing vast parts of a building he owned, known as the Kwantu Towers block, to the municipality, despite less costly office accommodation being available. It was also alleged that his Afri-corp International Properties group had unpaid rates and services bill totalling more than R16 million and that although legal action was instituted in 2007 for R8,9 million, it was dropped, allegedly after Jeeva had complained to Faku.

The ANC will be sending a five-member team to NMBM to sort problems within the ANC in that area and alleged interference by the party’s regional executive committee in the affairs of the municipality.

Faku is chairperson of the REC and there are calls for him to step aside over allegations of tender irregularities during his term as mayor.

ANC disciplinary committee chair Derek Hanekom is part of the five-person team

Sithole’s exit report stated that political instability was at the heart of Msunduzi’s downfall.

He said: “Political instability resulted in organisational disarray with officials supporting individual politicians, which resulted in non-delivery of services and a complete governance mismatch.

“The municipal manager and the top officials lost control and simply ignored their responsibilities.”

Opposition parties within the municipality have welcomed the impending SIU investigation.

They believe that if it was political instability that caused problems within the municipality, then the SIU investigation should extend beyond the officials to senior politicians, including the then mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo, deputy mayor Mervin Dirks and the speaker, Alpha Shelembe.

They feel the alleged interference of the ANC’s regional executive committee in the running of the municipality should also be probed, especially whether it played any role in influencing the awarding of the Unique Mbane tender in Msunduzi.

Opposition parties also want to know who is going to be charged after the investigation into R2 million being paid for a Nkosi Mlaba celebration that did not take place.

The DA’s Bill Lambert said his party would keep track on the various investigations to ensure that those fingered were brought to book.

Sithole said probing fruitless and wasteful expenditure was part of the provincial intervention process.

This was why the SIU investigation had involved matters of concern going back to 2009.

Attempts to contact Haswell yesterday were unsuccessful.

Fingered managers escaped disciplinary action

MUNICIPAL manager Rob Haswell resigned after the municipality was placed under administration, and was not subject to any disciplinary hearing.

Three of the other five senior managers who were suspended were allowed to resign halfway through their disciplinary hearings. They were chief financial officer Roy Bridgemohan; procurement manager Francis Grantham and manager for community services Zwe Hulane. The manager for corporate services, Kevin Perumal, went through the entire disciplinary process and in the end was cleared of all charges.

Acting manager for public safety Kenny Chetty, apparently walked out of his disciplinary hearing and was found guilty in his absence. His charges related to issues of overtime approval, payments permitted in excess of the contract values and contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act. Chetty indicated at the time that he was going to appeal.

No action has been taken against former mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo, former deputy mayor Mervin Dirks or former speaker Alpha Shelembe on whose watch the municipality went under.

 

 

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