A house divided

2008-02-12 00:00

In-fighting between two factions in the Msunduzi Municipality, one reportedly headed by Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo and the other by council speaker, Alpha Shelembe, is about who is in control of the council, now that several lucrative tenders are coming up for renewal. The contracts of certain strategic executive managers (SEMs) also come to an end. The faction in control will be able to influence who the preferred bidders will be on tenders and decide whether the SEMs return to their posts. This is the view of observers of the current shenanigans at City Hall.

The spat between the factions, which first became public early last year, is over whose office should manage the establishment of ward committees. This is usually the domain of the speaker’s office and the mayor was accused of wanting to take over the process. The next major flare-up came in December over the appointment of Skumbuzo Mpanza (a Hlatshwayo supporter) as acting municipal manager, when incumbent Rob Haswell went on leave. Sources believe the Shelembe faction hoped this issue would discredit the mayor and force her to step down.

Coming up for review is the debt collection contract, the directors of which include the wives and families of local African National Congress luminaries such as Msunduzi deputy mayor, Mervin Dirks; uMgungundlovu deputy mayor, Aubrey Lukhele; and ANC chief whip at City Hall, Sehla Ngubane. Dirks and his supporters, believed to be in Shelembe’s camp, want the debt collection contract renewed. The faction behind Hlatshwayo are opting for a retender process and new contractors.

Also due for tender is the controversial Security Contract, which, when awarded four years ago, was worth over R4 million. The tender was given for two contractual periods (eight years in total) to the same two bidders. This, despite the fact that during the first period these bidders were found by the Security Industries Regulatory Authority (SIRA) to be underpaying their workers and avoiding detection by hiding behind a front company, known as Rain Security, which they used as a labour broker. One of the bidders was also alleged to have stolen electricity from the council to run his bakery.

The contract to publish the council’s newsletter, Umpithi News, is due to be retendered as well. Last time round it went to the most expensive bidder. New contracts, worth millions, that are coming up include the outsourcing of the meter reading and a contract involving the landfill site.

The history of tender awards within the council, as in both provincial and national government spheres, has shown that bids often go to contractors favoured by the politicians in charge. Although in theory the bid process is decided by the administration, it is also known that senior administration posts are held by the party faithful. At Msunduzi we know from the auditor-general’s (AG) report, presented in January this year, that no clear guidelines exist.

The AG found that certain municipal supply chain management regulations had not been adhered to in respect of calling for verbal and written quotations. More importantly, he noted that there was no supply chain management policy in place to guide the process. He said, “a report on the implementation of the supply chain management policy was not submitted to the council after the end of the financial year, as required by the Municipal Supply Chain Management Regulations”.

The earlier struggle over whose office establishes ward committees also highlighted why control of this system was so highly contested between both factions. Shelembe won this round as legislation rules that the speaker’s office oversees the process. Sources say Shelembe now has the growing support of ward councillors, some of whom have recently openly challenged the mayor on various issues. There are also allegations doing the rounds at City Hall that this support could be the result of the families and friends of ward councillors allegedly getting employment in the A-band or general workers’ category. For example, there is an allegation doing the rounds that a ward councillor’s son was given a position as a ward secretary, a paid post. It is not clear whether these allegations are part of a rumour mill that has come to characterise the tussle. The stories doing the rounds about the mayor are that she allegedly is arrogant, acts on her own and has lost the support of her caucus.

The latest spat over the appointment of Mpanza as acting municipal manager spiralled into an ongoing drama when he ended up being suspended for insubordination. This was for instructing secretarial staff not to attend the special full council meeting called by Shelembe during the council recess period. The mayor did not support the suspension and argued that proper procedures were not followed when the special council meeting was convened. She felt that the issue of Mpanza’s suspension should have been discussed with him and Haswell before being dealt with in a council meeting.

With both sides refusing to budge from their positions, the ANC’s provincial leadership was consulted. They have since instituted an inquiry into the Mpanza matter and, according to sources, ruled that whoever is found to be in the wrong, either Shelembe or Hlatshwayo, will have to leave the council.

Staff at City Hall are now eagerly awaiting the outcome of the ANC inquiry and they are looking for decisive leadership from the party so that the in-fighting can come to an end.

As an employee said: “We’re tired of this ongoing feud. We need to expend our energy on service delivery, not fighting.”

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