Ex-uMngeni speaker signed letter blindly

2011-07-06 00:00

THE former speaker of uMngeni Municipality, Surya Pillay, admitted to the commission of inquiry into the affairs of the municipality yesterday that she signed a letter without knowing its contents.

Pillay admitted she did not always read the letters that she signed and that she trusted then municipal manager, Dumisani Vilakazi.

Evidence emerged that she did not have an office in the municipality and all her letters came via Vilakazi and his personal assistant.

Pillay said she was embarrassed when she later found out about the contents of the letter she had signed as it rebuked the then MEC for Local Government, Mike Mabuyakhulu, for the forensic investigation he had instituted at the municipality.

Evidence had earlier emerged in the commission that the uMngeni council rejected the MEC’s investigation and decided to choose its own investigator. The MEC’s investigation recommended that senior officials, including Vilakazi and the chief financial officer, be charged with maladministration, while the council’s investigator took a contrary position.

Pillay said that while she had consulted with senior attorney Matthew Francis of Venn, Nemeth and Hart (VNH), she knew nothing of subsequent developments on the appointment of council’s own investigator. She never received a letter, which came as an e-mail to Vilakazi announcing the appointment of the company Dobeyn.

She said the first time she knew of company’s appointment was when Dobeyn’s investigator, Kugen Naidoo, phoned her to say the report was ready.

The former speaker told the commission that the administrative officials under the previous municipal manager were always misleading the councillors and she only realised the extent of this when all sorts of issues continued to pop up.

Francis was also cross-examined by the commission after a submission by Democratic Alliance councillor Tim Lindsay-White about what he saw as a close relationship between Francis, his law firm VNH and the uMngeni council.

In his cross-examination evidence leader Paul Schumann asked Francis whether there was a conflict of interest as he was representing both the administrators and the council during the forensic investigations at the municipality.

Francis denied there was a conflict of interest. He said he first became aware of the MEC’s investigation when he was approached by Vilakazi, the chief financial officer and the former technical director, who asked him to seek advice about the powers of the MEC’s investigator.

They told him that they had co-operated, but the investigation had turned into a fishing expedition and was interfering with their work. He had obtained such advice from advocate Trevor Gorven, who said the investigators should apply for a subpoena if they wanted the information.

He was later contacted by the speaker when she received the full report of the MEC’s investigation and requested his assistance. He said that once he received the report from the speaker, he had no contact with the officials.

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