Fire station ‘shebeen’

2010-05-06 00:00

ANOTHER scandal has hit the Msunduzi Municipality, and this time it’s the council’s fire department that is under scrutiny — as a haven for the illegal trading of drugs and booze.

Msunduzi administrator Johann Mettler said yesterday he can confirm that there is prima facie evidence, as investigations continue.

Mettler authorised a search for possible drugs in three vehicles attached to the building inspections division on Tuesday.

According to sources at the fire department, who wish not to be named, drugs are sold to certain employees there, but the sale of alcohol is common knowledge and has been going on for years. However, the matter is hidden from other municipal departments.

They said certain managers are behind the alcohol trade. Describing the trade, they said a clerk goes around collecting alcohol orders from the employees between Mondays and Thursdays. On Friday mornings, a 4x4 Nissan Hardbody, which is used as a command vehicle in fire emergencies, is used to fetch booze at Makro, said sources.

“On Friday at around 4 pm, firefighters and employees in the department who placed orders line up to collect their orders,” said sources.

Payments for the booze — and for drugs — are collected on a monthly basis by a manager whose name is known to The Witness.

Those who do not pay their debts on specified days have their salaries docked, said sources, adding that the manager in charge of the trade authorises the docking of the salaries and the council’s pay office approves it.

“The reasons given for the docking of the salaries to the pay office is that the money is being deducted for contributions to the department’s ‘recreational club’,” said sources.

The sources did not say that they had seen employees drunk or drinking while on duty, but the booze transactions do take place during working hours at the fire department.

Mettler said he can confirm evidence of these activities.

“Municipal assets and facilities were used in the fire department to facilitate the purchasing and sale of alcohol to staff members. The salary pay office infrastructure was used to deduct money owing for the illegal sale of alcohol.

“Senior management in the department was aware of this state of affairs and actively facilita­ted it,” he said.

The sale or distribution of drugs apparently also took place at the fire station, he said.

“We have engaged with the Hawks [the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation] and this matter is subject to an intense investigation. We do expect arrests soon,” said Mettler.

Three municipal vehicles were searched in the parking area of the A.S. Chetty Building by police and sniffer dogs on Tuesday, following a tip-off that the vehicles might have been used to sell or transport drugs.

Mettler told The Witness that the vehicles were used by staff contrac­ted to the building inspections division.

“The use of the vehicles was not authorised and we managed to track down the vehicles, and reclaimed them.

“As part of the cost-cutting measures, these and other contract workers have been notified of our intention to discontinue their contracts by Wednesday next week,” said Mettler.

The Witness was contacted by three of the employees who used one of the vehicles. Requesting anonymity, they lashed out at Mettler, saying he had violated their rights by authorising the search, as he was acting on a “rumour” and did not have proof.

Mettler said that no rights were violated.

“They had no authority to use the vehicles and I had a report of alleged criminal activity. I could act on either of those bases. I still await the report on whether any traces of drugs were found,” he said.

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