Millions spent on stalled bus project

2015-07-27 07:00
Integrated public transport system buses stand unused at a bus depot in Motherwell. The Nelson Mandela Metro has paid more than R500 million to contractors for the project. PHOTO: THEODORE JEPHTA

Integrated public transport system buses stand unused at a bus depot in Motherwell. The Nelson Mandela Metro has paid more than R500 million to contractors for the project. PHOTO: THEODORE JEPHTA

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For five years, buses bought specifically for the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality’s integrated bus rapid transit system have been standing idle at a depot next to a fruit and vegetable market in Motherwell, Eastern Cape.

But new evidence shows that the city paid more than R500 million between July 2013 and July 2014 to numerous contractors; including engineers, security companies and attorneys for an integrated public transport system that is not going anywhere.

A damning dossier compiled by the city’s business forum, the Nelson Mandela Bay Ratepayers Association and pressure group AfriForum – after information was leaked to them by whistle-blowers within the city – has revealed the extent of what seems to be a massive waste of money on what is essentially a stagnant transportation system.

The dossier, which is in the possession of City Press, contains what its compilers say is proof-of-payment receipts, names of companies involved in the bus rapid transit project and how much they were paid, email exchanges between city officials, and reports and requests for deviation from procurement guidelines by those involved in executing the project.

The buses were briefly on the road as part of a pilot project during the 2010 Soccer World Cup, but there has not been any progress since.

Now, following the emergence of the dossier, officials who were involved in the project – including its head – are said to be in the firing line.

Advocate Mhleli Tshamase, head of the project, resigned abruptly on Wednesday. City Press understands this was after he received notice of his suspension.

The city has confirmed that Tshamase was about to be suspended in connection with the project.

One of the financial irregularities uncovered by the dossier includes a R92 million payment to a security company for a closed-circuit surveillance system. But it was not clear how this security system was linked to the project.

The MD of the Port Elizabeth-based company said it had done security work for the city for the past 10 years. He said he wasn’t aware of how much they had been paid for work on the bus rapid transit system, but disputed it was R92 million.

“I would require more time to speak to our accountants to determine the exact amount that has been paid to us by the metro, but it’s not R92 million – that I can assure you,” he said.

Another payment contained in the dossier is for R28 million paid to a Port Elizabeth-based law firm, which also operates in the security field – presumably for legal fees relating to the project, although it was not clear what exactly the law firm had done.

A total of R188 million was paid to a number of consulting companies and R250 million was paid to various entities for civil engineering and for the construction of bus lanes.

According to the dossier, a company that provided the buses for the integrated public transport system is said to have received an additional R17 million to Baybus Refurbishers. It is not clear what this aspect of the project was about. Contacted for comment, the company asked to be emailed questions, but it had not responded by the time of going to press.

Kobus Gerber, chair of the Nelson Mandela Bay Ratepayers Association, said the investigation was confidential and not in the public domain yet, and that its purpose was mainly for prosecution and to recover state money that he claimed had been “stolen” in the name of the project.

Gerber claimed that only a few individuals and institutions had seen the report. These, he said, were Cooperative Governance Minister, Pravin Gordhan; Derek Hanekom, previously head of ANC deployees in the Eastern Cape; the Treasury; the Hawks; and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

Gordhan’s office confirmed that he knew about the report. His spokesperson, Tsakane Baloyi, said the leadership of the metro would soon be presented with the results of a forensic investigation into the bus project.

Gerber, who is also the deputy president of AfriForum in Port Elizabeth, said despite all these millions paid to service providers, all that residents of the bay had to show for the project was 25 buses parked at a makeshift depot for more than five years, main streets that have been ruined during the construction phase and an empty public purse.

“Corruption is deep at the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. Not a single department [here], isn’t tainted by corruption in one form or another,” he said.

Nelson Mandela Metro spokesperson Roland Williams acknowledged that Tshamase had been served with a notice of suspension related to the project.

He referred further queries to Tshamase, who could not be reached for comment.

Williams said two other people had been served with similar suspension notices related to the project, saying the city was still conducting further investigations.

He said, however, that he was not aware of the existence of the dossier and would need to check with other city departments to see if they had received a copy. 

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