uMngeni: where’s the accountability?

2010-09-30 00:00

A REPLY in the Provincial Legislature to MPL George Mari, revealing that uMngeni Mayor Edward Dladla currently owes the municipality “a staggering R277 000”, catapulting uMngeni into the national news, once again calls into question the lack of real accountability of public representatives.

Looking back, under questioning in the Oversight Committee meeting into the annual report, it was revealed at the time by the chief financial officer (CFO) that an acknowledgement of debt had been signed by the mayor to repay the ratepayers R2 000 per month for housing benefits not approved, as instructed by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in the provincial legislature.

His debt reflected in the financial statements at the time was R253 000. If interest was applied at the prime rate of 9,5% per annum, the monthly repayments would not cover the interest, let alone the amount appropriated, so the debt could never be repaid. Even if the arrangement were interest-free, it would take the mayor more than 10 years to reimburse the ratepayer. Shouldn’t the ratepayers know this? Why have ratepayers not been told?

The calculation of the debt, together with the terms and conditions of this bi-partite agreement between the CFO and mayor, has not been presented to council, to whom the mayor is accountable, let alone ratepayers, whose money is involved and to whom council is ultimately accountable. The mayor has made no apology, and faces no disciplinary inquiry, nor does anyone in management who was party to this decision. Equally, neither council nor the administration has made any statement to the public, and as a result ratepayers are not aware of what their mayor, his supporting councillors, and management have done with their municipal contributions, and whose interests they are serving.

Nor should it be forgotten that the ex-deputy mayor and ex-speaker were convicted of fraud, and sentenced to imprisonment suspended for five years. Yet not a word was mentioned to council, and no press statement was made to inform the public. Although they reluctantly relinquished their official positions, both remain councillors despite having been found guilty of fraudulently obtaining subsidies for houses to which they were not entitled. They effectively deprived poor families of shelter and the basic services and social upliftment that go with owning a home. Demands by the opposition for disciplinary inquiries were outvoted.

Meanwhile, a further six municipal employees have signed acknowledgments of debt for misappropriating houses that should have gone to the poor, and they have also been charged with fraud. Once again these events have been shrouded in secrecy. Would the public have accepted that simply paying back misappropriated funds goes far enough to righting the wrong perpetrated against ratepayers and the poor?

There was no cost in obtaining the subsidies and no punitive fines were imposed, while those found guilty nevertheless gain the increase in the value of the homes, and legitimate prospective beneficiaries remain homeless. Would the public, if asked, not consider it more appropriate for these homes to be returned to benefit those in need?

In respect of the administration, when the municipal manager was found guilty of drunken driving and malicious injury to government property, no mention was made in council, no statement was made to the public, and no public apology was made. When he was suspended, on full pay, there was still no public explanation, and we still await the outcome of his disciplinary hearing. Equally, we await the outcome of an intervention into the financial affairs of uMngeni by the Provincial Treasury, and a commission of inquiry by the premier into maladministration and corruption. Throughout all of these concerns there have been no official statements to the public.

It is disconcerting that despite civil settlements and criminal convictions, no alarm bells drawing attention to wrongdoing in the municipality have been rung by any uMngeni official, ANC public representative, the Internal Auditor or the Audit Committee. Public representatives and officials should remember that those who enrich themselves at the public’s expense, fail to act, or make decisions resulting in irregular or wasteful expenditure, must be held personally liable. If leaders are replaced by promoting those who were aware of a crime or irregularity at the time it took place, but did nothing, those replacements should be held equally accountable. If civil settlements and criminal convictions are not followed by disciplinary inquiries and public accountability, crime will be seen to pay.

• Tim Lindsay-White is an uMngeni Municipality DA councillor.

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