The Metsimaholo Local Municipality’s water and sanitation manager, Maria Ramovha, was promoted to acting municipal manager in July, despite a scathing forensic report recommending that disciplinary action be taken against her for her role in a contentious R22 million tender.
The independent forensic report compiled by Edge Forensic and Risk Consultants revealed that the mechanical support tender awarded in December 2013 by the municipality to Millennium Pumps on an ad hoc basis for three years, had its scope later extended in an irregular manner, adversely costing the Free State municipality much more in the process.
“The extension of the scope of the work of Millennium Pumps was done in contravention of the applicable legal prescripts … We recommend that disciplinary action be taken against Maria Ramovha in line with our findings,” recommended the report compiled by Molefi Ntleru.
Ramovha, who at the time was the water and sanitation manager, was found to have “verbally increased the scope of Millennium Pumps’ work [extending it to even working on maintenance that could be done by municipal workers] and also terminating verbally the tender to the company”.
These functions are by legislation only reserved for the municipality’s accounting officer.
“It is the accounting officer who is legislatively empowered to enter into contracts, to extend the scope of the work of service providers and/or terminate contracts with service providers after due process has been followed in each case,” the report said.
Although section 59(4) of the Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000 empowers the municipal manager as the accounting officer to delegate or subdelegate some of his/her powers to a staff member, in this case, the municipality could not provide records showing that the municipal manager had delegated any powers to Ramovha.
In her own defence Ramovha told Ntleru, who conducted the interviews during the investigation, that “the scope of work for Millennium Pumps was extended by the acting municipal managers” before her and the directive was issued verbally to her “to implement that decision”.
According to the report, Ramovha however conceded that she “verbally told Millennium Pumps in 2017 to stop carrying out maintenance services work on the pump stations in Zamdela”.
The probe found that as a result of the irregularities, “Millennium Pumps was paid by the municipality a total of about R22 501 346.48 during the period from January 2016 to March this year”.
The forensic investigation was commissioned in August last year after Obakeng Mashiane, the acting director of technical services, requested an urgent investigation after numerous allegations had been reported to the municipality that “Millennium Pumps was claiming amounts from the municipality in excess of what they were appointed for and/or claimed for work not performed”.
The report also concluded that the termination of the contract came after Millennium Pumps had already “charged the municipality a fixed rate for each day including weekends and public holidays [days that were not supposed to be billed for since there was never any work rendered]”.
Instead of taking disciplinary action against Ramovha as recommended, the municipality in July appointed her acting municipal manager, granting her an accounting officer’s powers.
Gino Alberts, the municipality’s communications manager, told City Press that the recommendations made in the forensic report had not been implemented because the Millennium Pumps matter had not yet been tabled before council.
However, a senior council member who spoke to City Press said: “The matter is being swept under the carpet. Instead of disciplinary action being instituted against Ramovha she has been promoted without a council resolution being taken.”
This was disputed by Alberts who said “council resolved during a sitting held on July 9 this year, to appoint Maria Ramovha as acting municipal manager”.
The council agenda for that day, seen by City Press, does not show any item on the nomination and/or appointment of an acting municipal manager.
Several attempts were made to solicit comment from Ramovha but at the time of going to press she had not responded to emails and text messages sent to her.