Axes out in forestry fight

2017-02-20 11:19
Msunduzi Forestry Company.

Msunduzi Forestry Company. (File)

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A potentially lucrative municipal forestry project has been rocked by conflict, which some fear may next impact on its operations and staff.

Msunduzi Forestry Company (MFC) interim board members have accused controversial deputy municipal manager Dr Ray Ngcobo of trying to interfere in the operations of the entity, which is worth R30 million per annum.

However, this has been strongly denied by Msunduzi.

The transition of the entity from NCT Forestry Co-operative Limited (NCT) to Msunduzi is beset by accusations and counter accusations and a standoff between interim board members and municipal officials has ensued.

Board members have also turned against their chairperson, Nomalanga Pascal, whom they accuse of conflict of interest. Board members have warned the entity will “go down the drain” should municipal officials not be stopped from interfering.

In 2015, the Msunduzi council appointed an interim board of directors to oversee the management and establishment of the MFC. The Municipal Finance Management Act prevented the NCT, a private forestry co-operative, from continuing to run municipality-owned forests.

Members of the interim board accuse Ngcobo of employing without the board’s approval his ex-colleague from the failed Sisonke Development Agency, as the entity’s CEO.

Ngcobo has denied this.

“Dr Ngcobo doesn’t recognise the board that was nominated by council. He has not implemented any of the resolutions that the board has made in an effort to smooth [the] takeover from NCT.

“He has met with NCT and sidelined the board on discussions relating to the takeover the functioning of the new forest entity.” The board members said they had not been paid their board fees since July because of their fallout with Ngcobo. However, Ngcobo said the problem was that the municipality was dealing with “people who are disgruntled”.

Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said there was no interference in the running of the entity, and added the allegations made by “faceless members of the interim board” were baseless. Board members said since the takeover from NCT on February 1, workers and contractors had been uncertain about their futures.

Meanwhile, both board members and Msunduzi have raise concerns about a R1 million contract to develop a business plan they say was given to the husband of the board chairperson.

Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said in September 2016, NCT wrote to the municipality to raise concerns about a payment to be made to Irvin Pascal, the husband of board chairperson Nomalanga Pascal.

Mafumbatha said deputy municipal manager Dr Ray Ngcobo then advised the board that the payment constituted irregular expenditure. “The circumstances made us believe risk existed in that certain members of the board may be unduly benefitting,” said Mafumbatha.

A board member who asked not to be named said the board knew nothing about the appointment and demanded that the chairperson step down.

Nomalanga Pascal said her husband was not appointed by the MFC board but by the Msunduzi Municipality.

“The MFC board had no role in appointing Ngubane and Company. Therefore Irvin Pascal’s appointment is between Ngubane and Company and him.

“Further Ngubane and Company is paid by the municipality for the development of the MFC business plan and due diligence and thus report to the municipality not the MFC board.

“Based on the above, I am of the view that there is no conflict of interest in this regard,” she said. — WR.

Msunduzi Municipal Forestry (MMF) was first established in 1911. In 1988, NCT started managing the plantations.

This involved the planting, care, cultivation, protection and the felling, removing, marketing and selling of forestry products produced for profit.A board was made up of NCT and Msunduzi municipal councillors.

There are 2 130 hectares under forestry management around the city. About 1 420 hectares are planted, while the balance comprises conservation areas and fire breaks.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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