House got uMngeni in trouble

2009-06-11 00:00

THE purchase of a mayoral house by the uMngeni Municipality landed the council in hot water with the Auditor-General (A-G) for two years in a row.

The mayor’s house saga is a subject of the forensic investigation report revealed in The Witness, which the municipality tried to keep under wraps.

In both his 2006/07 and 2007/08 reports on the uMngeni Municipality’s financial statements, the A-G raised a query about the free house in Hilton that was being provided by the muni­cipality for the mayor. In his opinion

He said he believed the remuneration packages of councillors, including mayors, are clearly legislated and “the provision of housing for a mayor does not fall within the framework of the Public Office Bearers Act”.

Providing the mayour with a house, he said, “ will result in a transgression of Section 167 of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA), if occupied at no cost by the mayor”.

In his report in 2007, the A-G said the market-related value of this benefit must be repaid by the mayor because it constitutes irregular expenditure.

The uMngeni Municipality told the A-G it believed that no irregular expenditure had taken place.

The municipality pointed out that it had sought legal opinion on the matter.

Attorney Matthew Francis of Venn Nemeth & Hart was consulted and he had advised that the mayor was entitled to the free accomodation as it is a “tool of trade”.

According to labour experts, a “tool of trade” means an item that is essential in order for a person to carry out their job. This would mean that it was essential for the mayor to be provided with a house in order to carry out his mayoral duties. This would be similar to a travelling salesman needing a vehicle or photographer having to be provided with a camera.

Opposition parties at the time expressed concern that this interpretation could mean all 284 mayors in the country should be provided with rent- free accomodation, paid for by ratepayers.

Earlier this year, the A-G’s office in Pretoria made a similar finding — that the Tshwane Metro Council should not have bought an official residence for its executive mayor.

The A-G noted that the house had been bought in 2001, before the MFMA had came into effect.

There was also the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers Act and in the light of this, the A-G’s office in Tshwane had advised the council to charge an occupational market-related rental for the house.

THE chairman of the Howick Concerned Ratepayers’ Group, Jeff Paine, a forensic auditor, expressed delight that details of the forensic probe into uMngeni Municipality are in the public domain.

Paine said the managers fingered in the report appeared to be arrogantly ignorant of the need for transparency. He said he could not understand how any recessionary budget could incorporate the kind of salary increases proposed. “These increases will eventually become a financial problem for the residents of Howick,” he said. — WR.

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