What's taking so long?

2010-11-03 00:00

IT is now exactly one year since the MEC instructed the uMngeni municipal management to sell the house that was bought for the mayor, Edward Dladla, for the overpriced amount of R1,75 million.

The address of the house, 1 Mimosa Drive in Hilton Gardens, must be one of the best-known addresses in Hilton. The purchase of this property has been the subject of news reports and ongoing investigations for the past three and a half years. It is now the subject of the premier’s commission of inquiry.

What has happened to this house in the year since the MEC instructed the municipality to sell it? Having stood empty for a whole year with only 24-hour guards walking around, this house is showing signs of serious neglect. The varnish on the wooden window frames is peeling, and the fascia boards need a good clean and a coat of paint. The show garden is no more and the pool has become a fearsome eco-system, with all sorts of strange creatures swimming around in the dark, fetid water.

What has gone wrong? This house was so easy to buy, but it appears to be so difficult to sell.

The council took a resolution in February 2010 to put a tenant into the property while arrangements were being made to sell it. This would have resulted in a saving to the seriously cash-strapped municipality of R12 500 a month as security guards would not have been required and there could even have been a rental income. This has not happened, so the municipality is at least R150 000 poorer.

In July, the council took yet another resolution to sell the property having been told that, in order to comply with regulations, evaluation and adjudication committees had to be set up, which is why the process was taking so long. Still nothing has happened.

Here is my considered opinion.

One of the findings of the Ubuntu forensic report was that the purchase of 1 Mimosa Drive amounted to unauthorised expenditure and in failing to take steps to avoid the unauthorised and/or fruitless and wasteful expenditure, the accounting officer had contravened the Municipal Finance Management Act. Also in terms of this act, irregular expenditure constitutes a criminal offence and must be reported to the SAPF.

However, there is something else lurking in the act that implicates the councillors who approved the purchase of the house, even though it was done a full three months after the property was registered — “any political office bearer or official of a municipality who deliberately or negligently made an unauthorised or fruitless and wasteful expenditure is liable for that expenditure”.

To reinforce this point, in June 2008, the Cape High Court handed down a judgment that set an important precedent regarding councillors’ individual liability for taking or supporting illegal decisions.

Could this be the reason the sale of the house is being dragged out? Could those councillors, in this case the whole ANC caucus including the mayor, be held personally liable for the shortfall that will be incurred when the house is sold?

In about six months, the 2011 municipal elections will be held and the majority of the current councillors will not be returning, mainly so that there can be a fresh batch of uninitiated “yes” people. These retiring councillors will then be unemployed and unable to pay back the shortfall.

 

• Pam Passmoor is the DA uMngeni­ caucus leader.

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