Despite proof of wide-ranging corruption worth R358.7 million across various units in Mpumalanga’s Thaba Chweu municipality, only three officials have been charged.
Chief finance officer, Lesley Mokwena, project management unit manager, Ganon Nhubunga, and former acting director corporate services, Surprise Maebela, were the unlucky ones to face charges and disciplinary hearings since Audit and Risk Management Solutions released a forensic report into looting that brought the municipality on its knees in April last year.
Maebela, who died two weeks ago, was acquitted while Mokwena and Nhubunga were found guilty on financial misconduct charges.
They are appealing their dismissals.
The report painted a picture of how officials made irregular payments to law firms, paid companies for doing nothing, violated supply chain processes to appoint certain companies, and disposed of municipal land in favour of private companies and a conveyancer, and also allocated donated houses to themselves and their relatives.
Even though the corruption took place across many units, only the three officials were charged – an action the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) described as being “selective” and shielding more officials who should have been charged.
The report implicated a number of officials – some have resigned and sought employment elsewhere but the municipality did not pursue them.
“Many officials mentioned in the report were suspended for a short time and they were reinstated without any charges. The council was very selective and let many officials off the hook,” said EFF councillor, Exodus Maloka.
“Some are politically-connected … that’s why charges were not pursued against them and they’re acting or appointed into senior positions at present,” Maloka said.
He said that at least seven officials in the finance, community services, electrical and community services units should have been charged, but they were not.
Maloka said that one example of shielding miscreants was an official in the legal department who Audit and Risk Management Solutions found to have paid R166 141 to a legal firm over and above a retainer amount.
“Some of the officials who were implicated were promoted to senior positions and some were left to leave the municipality without being followed,” Maloka said.
Read: How to burn R358.7m
Thaba Chweu spokesperson Themba Sibiya denied that many officials were let off the hook but said that financial misconduct was “a very complex” matter.
“We have a staff complement of around 500 plus. We do not have the capacity to take everyone through [disciplinary processes] at once, but it does not mean people are off the hook,” Sibiya said.
“Remember that financial misconduct is a very complex matter to deal with in a tribunal, so we are approaching this with caution,” he added.
Sibiya said the council had consulted the Hawks and the Special Investigating Unit to look into the forensic report and decide if they want to take the matter up or not.
The highlights of the report were that:
• A law firm, Macbeth Ngcongwane Attorneys, was hired on a R120 000 monthly retainer for a six months from February 20 2015 to August 15 2015 to handle all legal matters, but officials diverted work to other law firms during the period.
The municipality incurred R3.5 million during that period, which the report described as wasteful;
• Mokwena paid R840 000 to George Fivaz Forensic and Risk to investigate cable theft in August 2016 without following supply chain processes and gave an excuse that he wanted the investigation to be confidential.
The six-month contract, said the report, was irregular;
• Private companies disposed of municipal stands worth R14.9 million but the money was not paid into the municipality’s coffers;
• Three Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) road construction projects worth R7.7 million were extended without any letter authorising such.
The report found that Nhubunga did this with the aim of “by-passing supply chain management processes” and incurred irregular expenditure.
• Officials resorted to turnkey projects – where private companies spend their money and recoup it once the project is completed.
Auditors said the municipality implemented 21 turnkey projects from 2015 to 2017, but they “did not find any technical reason for using the turnkey method of contracting.”
• The turnkey projects saw R14.2 million being spent on two roads that were found to be of a very poor standard.
Thaba Chweu municipality is one of the most corrupt and badly-run municipalities in Mpumalanga - which is widely considered a cash cow for ANC leaders. It has obtained disclaimers for nine consecutive years.
Last week, the North Gauteng High Court attached the municipality’s account with an amount of R8.3 million after its failed to pay R9.1 million to a debt-collecting company, Magoveni Business Trust.
The municipality’s Eskom debt is running at over R700 million.