Cape Town - The City of Cape Town says its internal investigations unit overstepped its mandate by looking into councillors and was conducting investigations only meant to be carried out by police officers.
This - to "steer clear of the potential abuse of local government powers" - is why its mandate was changed.
A press release on the matter was issued on Friday afternoon. This statement hints at deep conflicting opinions between key figures in the City of Cape Town.
On Friday morning, News24 reported that Mayor Patricia de Lille had in August clipped the wings of the city's special investigations unit (SIU) by ordering that it be shut down.
This move had rattled mayoral committee member for safety, security and social services, JP Smith, who in August wrote to, among others, DA leader Mmusi Maimaine, in an attempt to find out why De Lille was trying to shut down the unit.
He questioned whether her order was linked to claims that some city councillors may have been involved in the murder of DA ward councillor Xolile Gwangxu, who was shot dead in Philippi East in June.
De Lille and corruption claims
Smith said it could also be linked to rumours of alleged irregularities relating to building work done at De Lille’s home.
He also said restructuring that had happened within the city meant there was "reasonable suspicion" that, if corruption was detected, nothing would happen to De Lille.
"This has already been the concern to one particular whistleblower on corruption who works in the mayor's office and who claims that there is corruption in the office of the mayor and that procurement processes are not being followed," Smith wrote.
De Lille's order to have the special investigation unit shut down, as well as other tensions within the DA, are expected to be discussed next week by a committee created by the federal executive.
'Exceeding its mandate'
The statement issued by the city on Friday said that, in August 2016, it had adopted the Organisational Development and Transformation Plan (ODTP), which resulted in a review of the city’s structure and all its departments.
"As part of the ODTP review process, it had come to the city administrative leadership’s attention that the internal investigations unit was exceeding its mandate, in that it was investigating councillors, which is a function of the speaker of the council as set out in law," it said.
"It had also come to light that the unit was investigating criminal matters, which is the mandate of the SAPS in terms of the SAPS Act."
The statement said, as part of the ongoing ODTP restructuring process, the city manager had conducted an administrative review of the internal investigations unit.
'We are not the police'
"During the run-up to the restructuring process, it also emerged that the unit was exceeding its mandate, which was obviously procedurally inappropriate," it said.
"In this regard, it must be emphasised that the city government does not have investigative powers when it comes to criminal matters – which is clearly the mandate of the SAPS and the criminal justice system. We are not the police force."
The statement said, to ensure the restructured unit operated within its legal mandate, it had sought external legal opinion.
"[This] confirmed the Metro Police Department and the Law Enforcement Department were not permitted to put structures in place to conduct external criminal investigations and investigations related to fraud."
The statement said the internal investigations unit had not beenshut down, but "restructured in accordance with its legal mandate".
It said the city had clarified the matter with police leadership in the Western Cape.
"Should the unit come across information related to criminal activities, the unit will pass this information on to the SAPS, as has always been the case," the statement said.
'Corruption will proceed unhindered'
However, in his August submission to Maimane on the matter, Smith had a vastly different take on the ODTP process.
"It must be noted that the checks and balances of monitoring the executive have been much weakened through ODTP and that forensic services now reports to the Mayor [in the directorate of the mayor]," he said.
"This means that there is a reasonable suspicion that it will fail to act against the Mayor if corruption is detected."
Smith, in his submission, said special invesitgations unit members had not probed councillors.