Hold your horses! Council officials probed for using development funds for R170K Durban July joyride

2019-11-19 06:00
Do It Again wins the Durban July 2019, an event a group of officials from the JB Marks Municipality are alleged to have spent nearly R180k on. (Gallo Images)

Do It Again wins the Durban July 2019, an event a group of officials from the JB Marks Municipality are alleged to have spent nearly R180k on. (Gallo Images)

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Money from a municipal trust fund intended to help boost small and medium businesses in a North West town was used to pay for seven JB Marks council officials to attend the 2019 Durban July.

The officials spent almost R180 000 on the jaunt that was described as a "local economic development networking trip" when funds were requested from the trust, which was established to help the community around the Eleazer gold mine.

The JB Marks Municipality, which houses Potchefstroom and Ventersdorp, was placed under administration following a series of revelations detailing alleged fraud, corruption and maladministration over a number of years, News24 reported.

READ |  A list of shame claims: Allegations of fraud, corruption and maladministration at JB Marks Municipality

North West Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Gordon Kegakilwe sent an administrator to the municipality in August in terms of Section 139 of the Constitution, which allows provincial governments to intervene in the running of municipalities.

ALSO READ | North West MEC sends administrator into JB Marks, but municipality and councillors fight back

These financial woes did not stop seven council officials from attending the popular horse-racing event under the guise of a local economic development networking trip scheduled from July 4 to 8, 2019.

"The council does not know anything about this trust and the payments it has made as well as why a group of officials needed to network at the Durban July at such a price while the municipality is on the brink of a collapse," a high-level source told News24.

In documentation seen by News24, funds were requested by two individuals - a municipal services director and caretaker. These instructions were made under the municipal manager's instruction, it read.

Both parties, whose names are known to News24, are not recognised as accounting officers in the troubled municipality.

In the request to the lawyers managing the trust, Willem Coetzee Incorporated, the trip was described as "a network and local economic development partnership initiative which will be attended by officials of council".

An amount of R12 765 - believed to be for suits - was paid to Uno Sewing Pty Ltd on July 4, 2019.

The municipal services director said the request for the suits was "part of a local economic development project where we support a local entrepreneur who has reached a high-level in marketing her product throughout South Africa".

Costs of the extravagant trip

Flights tickets to Durban and back for the seven officials totalled R27 895.82, while accommodation at the Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel for seven rooms were R71 034.

Records seen by News24 show that R98 929.82 [for the above] were paid into the personal Capitec savings account of an alleged employee at a travel agency in Potchefstroom on July 4, 2019, instead of a business account.

A further R41 400 was paid on July 4, 2019, to Southern Routes for eight Pegasus trackside tickets.

An additional amount of R21 000 was paid into the personal account of a caretaker at the municipality for "catering and fuel for seven people to Durban for four days" on July 4, 2019.

The Durban July was held on July 6, 2019, at the Greyville race course.

A total of R174 094.82 was spent on the trip.

The municipality refused to comment on the matter, calling it "sub-judice" although it appears the case has not been heard in any court.

"The matter of your enquiry is subjected to an investigation by the Hawks and therefore is sub-judice. The report still has to be served before council. It is against this background that I cannot comment further," mayoral spokesperson Victor Boqo told News24 on Thursday.

The DA in the North West opened a case with the Hawks on August 3, 2019, in terms of Section 34 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

"Our concern was that this was an income the municipality was supposed to receive in royalties from a mine on municipal land. Instructions to pay out the amount came from officials without it reflecting in the municipality's bank account as an income.

"There was no fiscal control of that money. Anonymous officials came to us and gave us the documentation of transactions which we handed over to the Hawks," DA caucus chairperson, Hans Jurie Moolman told News24 last Thursday.

The Hawks in the North West confirmed on Thursday that the matter was under investigation.

"We can confirm that we are currently conducting several investigations at the JB Marks municipality. We cannot, however, divulge further details as we do not want to jeopardise the investigation," spokesperson Captain Tlangelani Rikhotso said.

Read more on:    mahikeng  |  corruption  |  fraud

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