Suspicious flattery

2010-03-24 00:00

THE response from Thiru Chetty­ in The Witness of March 11 in reply to concerns raised about the manner in which the R240-million smart metering tender was awarded without ratepayer involvement, refers.

Chetty emphasised that proper procurement procedures were adhered to by the Msunduzi Munici­pality in awarding the tender, adding that the Public Finance­ Management Act was strictly adhered to. Nowhere in the Msunduzi Municipality’s Supply­ Chain Management (SCM) Policy is there any provision made for a tenderer to make disclosures of the sort Chetty has made. The former mayor is on record having admitted “that her council had committed to a controversial R240 million water meter scheme without seeing presentation on the pilot project”, (Maritzburg Sun, November 13, 2009). “Mayor­ Zanele Hlatswayo also conceded that a R900 000-a-month contract to phase out physical­ meter reading was not awarded according to correct tender processes.” At a council meeting in November 2009 it was raised that “Unique Mbane was the only company to be asked by procurement manager Francis Grantham to tender for the phase out meter-reading project”. Also shocking in the meter saga was the revelation that as at November 13, 2009, “the two key Msunduzi senior managers appointed to manage the project had yet to meet face to face to discuss the issues­”. One of the manager’s resigned last year. The other manager is on sick leave, exhausted because he worked very hard for “scant rewards”.

The contract with Unique Mbane was completed in mid-March 2009, and all these disclosures emerged some eight months later. It was agreed that Grantham was “to advise Exco why he called for only one tender” (Maritzburg Sun). The mayor guided the council. If she was in the dark with regard­s to the tender then ratepayers are justified to question the process. The privileged Chetty stated that a “cursory glance at the documentation regarding this contract” would have quelled the worry of ratepayers. Where is the justification in taking a “cursory glance” when employees from the city hall have alleged that the Regional­ Executive Committee (REC) of the Moses Mabidha region­ has a strong grip over the municipality and it decides who should get tenders (The Witness, March 9)? Against this very serious allegation, which has not been denied, Chetty wants us to believe that the Public Finance Management Act was not compromised? When ratepayers ask compelling questions, the politicians are passionately protected in the media by a successful bidder. We have every right to question the non­co-operation of a financially humiliated­ municipality, the mayor and executive of which have been rightfully removed. Despite having no first-hand knowledge of the new system, the Exco supported the project. The SCM Policy makes provision for openness and accountability to the public when good reason exists. Given that Chetty is the self-elected spokesman for Msunduzi, we would like to see the tender and how it amounted to R240 million. If other­ tenders were considered, then Grantham has yet to respond to the November 2009 questions.

It was never challenged whether the new system will assist greatly in electricity management. This is well within our understanding. We expressed concern at the timing of the ushering in of the multimillion-rand project with the complete absence of ratepayer consultation. We consider Chetty’s hollow attempt to convince ratepayers that there was public participation in areas where the system was introduced as a pilot project as grossly misleading. Home owners confirmed that permission was only sought to enter their properties and implement the change.

Chetty’s directorship of the Standard Transfer Specific (STS) Association was never the subject matter of the Msunduzi Rates Forum (MRF). We learnt from the STS Association that Unique Mbane only paid its outstanding membership and licence fees on March 19 and the suspension is now lifted. Any conscientious director who bulldozes ratepayers’ concerns should have the same vigour to act speedily and uplift his company’s suspension, but why only after the MRF questioned the suspension? Chetty pointed out that the NRS 049 was finalised in 2008. We are mindful that consideration is being given to amendments and future developments of NRS 049. As ratepayers, we were well within our rights to ask questions. An inquiry should never rouse anger as the latter creates suspicion.

The municipal manager and the chief financial officer cannot be relied upon for they purposely hoodwinked ratepayers only a few weeks ago by stating that the municipality was not experiencing financial difficulties. Every ratepayer is condemning the munici­pality for the reckless spending of their money and the awarding of very highly questionable contracts. Only Chetty emerged as a solitary voice praising his blue-eyed boys who “work very hard for scant rewards”. Allega­tions of government officials having their fingers stained with state contracts are emerging daily, even from as afar as Limpopo. We will always question whether an element of the awarding of the tender made provision for Chetty to be the communications officer for our overrewarded city officials. For as long as there are allegations of political interference in the awarding of tenders and a successful bidder flattering those who awarded the tender exists­, ratepayers will remain steadfast in their demand for good governance.

Those who reduced the city’s finan­ces to nothing will always know the truth about where our hard-earned money went to. The City of Choice is bankrupt, while certain Msunduzi employees and service providers emerged instantly enriched. Grantham is challenged to break his silence publicly and account to ratepayers if only Unique Mbane was called to tender.

My integrity as a nonracial sports administrator, my current involvement in indoor football at the highest level, my contribution to education and my community work is unshakeable. I am open to scrutiny by Chetty and any politician. Angry ratepayers have contacted the MRF expressing extreme­ irritation at Chetty’s personal­ attack on me and his posturing­ as a front in defence of our struggling council that remains­ spineless and does not offer­ answers to relevant ratepayers’ queries.

Given that serious allegations of political interference have been made, we will now approach the Msunduzi administrator, Johann Mettler, to conduct an investigation into this tender procedure as the sacked mayor described it as not being “awarded according to correct tender processes”.

More heads need to roll as we continue to campaign for efficient management and responsible service delivery. We have some very incompetent officials protected by a one-of-a-kind “cadre deployment” policy and a unique Mr Thiru Chetty.

• Babs Sithapersad is the chairman of the Msunduzi Rates Forum.

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