ANALYSIS: Smear campaign targeting acting Tshwane boss falls flat

2019-08-06 18:26
Moeketsi Mosola (File, Netwerk24)

Moeketsi Mosola (File, Netwerk24)

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As the battle for the City of Tshwane's top job intensifies, a serious effort was mounted over the past weekend to make its chief operations officer (COO), James Murphy, look unsuitable for the job.

But the apparent smear campaign to discredit Murphy, who was mandated by the Tshwane city council to act as city manager last week, appears to have been stillborn.

A flurry of texts to high-ranking municipal officials, party apparatchiks and journalists over the weekend pointed to an effort to stop Murphy's installation as the City's acting municipal manager. 

It may look like a storm in a teacup, but it points to a broader fight for control of the municipality's purse strings now that the position of city manager will soon be vacant. The position comes with a lot of power - tenders can be signed off by him or her, such as the multimillion-rand GladAfrica project management contract that was declared irregular by the Auditor-General.

The incumbent, Moeketsi Mosola, was removed by a Tshwane city council resolution at the end of July following a mutual separation agreement between himself and the municipality. But Mosola did not sign the agreement as planned, with the municipality announcing he would remain in his position until August 31 subject to the agreement's finalisation.

The separation agreement controversially allowed Mosola to be paid out for the remainder of his contract to the tune of R7m, while the only independent, external investigation into the GladAfrica tender scandal, in which Mosola was implicated, would be buried. It is not clear why the agreement was not finalised.

The council resolution in which Mosola would vacate his office included a clause that said Murphy would act in the position temporarily until a permanent city manager was appointed.

But instead of Murphy assuming the role, another of Mosola's deputies and the municipality's governance and support officer, Lorette Tredoux, assumed the position.

In the background, talk of a now-discredited report that loosely linked Murphy to a dodgy payment to a non-profit organisation (NPO) at his former job has abounded.

Murphy declined to comment, but it would appear as though, by Sunday, the rumours had reached him. The career bureaucrat wrote to the municipality's group audit and risk department to find out whether he was indeed under investigation, correspondence that was seen by News24 shows.

On Monday, Murphy was told by the municipality's chief auditor he had been cleared of wrongdoing a long time ago, according to the same document. The rumour peddled was that Murphy could not be appointed because he was implicated in a scandal surrounding a R5m grant payment to an NPO while he was employed at the Ekhuruleni municipality. Murphy was the divisional head: urban management and functional relationships at Ekhuruleni before being appointed as Tshwane COO in 2017.

DA regional leader and councillor Abel Tau, who was acting mayor last week, was also drawn into the fray. It was widely rumoured, and later reported in the media, that Tau had written to the speaker's office requesting a special council sitting to revoke Murphy's appointment as acting city manager on the basis of the allegations.

But Tau told News24 on Monday that this was not true - he too had heard the rumour about Murphy from journalists, he insisted, and had said nothing about it to the speaker or anyone else.

Tau said he had asked for a special council sitting, but this was because the municipality found itself in a legal bind: Mosola, who was by then still in his position but on "special leave", wanted Tredoux, and not Murphy, to act in his place. As the council had resolved to appoint Murphy, this created a legal dilemma that only it could undo.

"It had nothing to do with the report into Murphy," he said. "That sitting has not taken place. The speaker's office did not respond to a request for clarity."

In response to Murphy's inquiry, the municipality's chief audit executive, Moeketsi Ntsimane, denied Murphy was implicated in the NPO matter. 

Ntsimane said the municipality had commissioned an investigation into the claims in 2017, which was was undertaken by an outside firm.

When the group audit and risk department received the final report in November 2017, it discovered a number of errors. This included unsubstantiated conclusions, inaccuracies in the report, and a lack of evidence, Ntsimane wrote. The report was therefore "recalled" in June 2018.

But the problematic report was picked up during an investigation by the Auditor-General and erroneously referenced, the document shows.

"The Auditor-General relied on a report which had no effort and no force…" said Ntsimane in his response to Murphy.

"We can therefore confirm that the report in question remains withdrawn as we deem it unreliable. [The Auditor-General] did not undertake any investigation on this matter but relied on an erroneous report," Ntsimane said.

"The COO [Murphy] was not involved in any way with the matter…" 

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Read more on:    gladafrica  |  moeketsi mosola  |  city of tshwane

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