Probe into Umsunduzi corruption

2011-09-27 07:21

The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) has been called in to probe widespread acts of corruption in the embattled Umsunduzi Municipality, including the city’s R10 million upfront payment for a defective electricity metering system.

Umsunduzi Municipality encompasses the city of Pietermaritzburg, which is the capital of the KwaZulu-Natal province and the main economic hub of Umgungundlovu District Municipality.

The corruption-busting unit has been asked by current administrator Sbu Sithole to probe allegations of fraud and corruption in the city’s R240 million smart-meter tender, which former deputy mayor Mervyn Dirks claimed earlier this year was engineered by the leadership of the ANC Harry Gwala region.

Unique Mbane, who Dirks claimed was linked to members of KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize’s family, received R10 million from the municipality upfront for a R240 million metering system which was “never functional”.

The SIU has also been asked to probe alleged irregularities in the turn-around team’s Operation Pitbull, aimed at recovering massive electricity arrears.At the same time, whistleblowers in the municipality have asked the SIU to probe allegedly irregular appointments and payments made by the turn-around team, headed by former administrator Johan Mettler, and backpay in acting allowances of more than R100 000 to a senior city manager.

Sithole, who was appointed by Cooperative Governance MEC Nomusa Dube after Mettler’s departure before the local government elections this year, confirmed the SIU had been called in to probe issues including the city’s electricity write-offs, the smart-card tender and other alleged acts of corruption.

“Where there are instances where we can go for civil recovery, we will do so. Where there are criminal charges needed, we will do so. We are currently working with the SIU as we don’t have capacity ourselves or the extended powers they enjoy,’’ said Sithole.

“They are looking at their framework to see where they can help. In the Unique Mbane case we are looking to recover the money that was paid upfront in respect of a system that was never functional,’’ Sithole said.

He said the city had handed its own forensic reports on the case to the SIU to assist their probe.

Sithole is also to meet with the National Prosecuting Authority and the police over the investigation into former municipal manager Rob Haswell, under whose tenure the city’s coffers were looted and its political collapse took place.

On the allegedly irregular appointments and backpay issue, Sithole said he would investigate and provide City Press with comment.

He had failed to do so.Information in the possession of City Press shows that the manager, who left the Richmond municipality under a cloud over his qualifications, was paid R100 000 in backpay for acting allowances, despite public assurances by Mettler that no acting allowances would be paid to staff moved around as part of his turn-around strategy.

Attempts to secure Haswell’s comment were unsuccessful.

A SIU spokesperson confirmed that the unit had been asked to “look at a couple of matters’’.

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