North West legislators did not sound convinced by a presentation from the JB Marks Local Municipality on its R11.4 million Covid-19 coronavirus-related expenditure, which included R1.2 million splurged on “instant nutritious porridge for indigents”.
The municipality said this was money spent over three months, through emergency procurement processes, after municipalities were empowered by National Treasury to deviate from normal procurement processes to speed up the purchase of goods and services required to control the spread of the virus.
National Treasury, however, also spoke strongly against “possible abuse of supply chain management systems” and the “opportunistic use of this disaster to drive profit margins”.
Contradicting expenditure amounts
The municipality was questioned on why its expenditure was reflected as R11.4 million on its presentation when members of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) and finance committee were made to believe the expenditure was R47.5 million.
The municipality was hauled before the committee after the provincial treasury listed it among high spenders in the name of Covid-19.
JB Marks’ chief financial officer, Tumisang Moeketsane, explained that the actual expenditure was R11.4 million and that the R47.5 million was a projection, but the provincial treasury was invited into the virtual meeting on Wednesday.
The head of provincial treasury, Ndlela Kunene, said according to their records JB Marks’ expenditure was R47.48 million.
He said many other municipalities have explained in their reports to provincial treasury that the amounts reflected were projections, but that did not appear to be the case with the Potchefstroom-based municipality.
The JB Marks municipality also covers the farming town and areas around Ventersdorp.
Kunene said JB Marks was in the same bracket of municipalities with the highest expenditure, including Mahikeng-based Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality.
City Press recently reported on how Ngaka Modiri Molema was also taken to task in the legislature on its dubious R90 million Covid-19 expenditure.
The same municipality was found to have spent millions on emergency procurement basis, mainly on costly water projects.
The biggest earning company
Members of the committee found it hard to believe just how one company could have dominated the procurement list.
Batseba Holdings appeared to be the biggest scorer in JB Marks’ Covid-19 expenditure, although according to calculations, it was paid R750 for one litre of sanitiser.
According to the municipality, Batseba was the only company that could still supply sanitiser and personal protective equipment (PPE) items at a time when major industry players “like Bidvest” had run out amid the high demand.
No dates were given as to when exactly procurements were made.
“The PPE, sanitisers, masks and gloves were very scarce and we tried major suppliers, but Batseba was the only one with the most PPE and sanitisers. Prices were very high,” Moeketsane said.
Committee member Kabelo Mataboge, however, was not convinced.
“Do you want to tell me that in the whole of JB Marks, and the whole province, Batseba was the only one at that price?” he asked.
Batseba was paid R742 500 for 990 litres of sanitiser, while for almost 10 times that quantity another supplier was paid less. According to the municipal records, Steiner was paid R1.05 million for 9 020 litres which translated to about R117 per litre.
This could also raise eyebrows on why Batseba supplied only 990 litres of sanitisers when it was supposedly the only company still with the much-needed items in stock, when Steiner went on to supply almost 10 times more at 9 020 litres.
It also appears not all suppliers were charging such high prices.
“Why is the amount for Batseba high? Or maybe there is some magic formula in their sanitisers?” asked another committee member, Freddy Sonakile.
The R1.2 million porridge and more questions
“We have decided, instead of going for food parcels, let’s give money to the Potchefstroom-Tlokwe Business Chamber so they can supply nutritious porridge to indigents for 30 days,” Moeketsane told the committee.
This was explained in the municipal presentation as “instant nutritious porridge to indigent beneficiaries as part of Covid-19 disaster relief efforts”.
The municipality said R1.2 million went into this porridge project but one member of the committee expressed his doubts on quantities supplied against money spent.
“Your porridge was less than what the municipality was procuring,” Aaron Motswana said.
Another committee member, De Wet Nel, questioned the quantity of some of the procured items.
“With 2 120 employees, why did they buy 8 000 face shields? Why did you buy 20 000 boxes of 100 shoe covers?” he asked.
Moeketsane explained that shoe covers were used only once and disposed of everyday by workers in waste management and cemeteries. She said face shields were used by “cashiers in Ikageng, Ventersdorp and Potchefstroom as well as other employees [who were] not able to wear masks”.
Among other expenditure, the municipality said R1.9 million was spent on “material bought for the Lake Resort/Potchefstroom Dam” which was to be renovated for usage as a quarantine centre.
More money was spent on masks and gloves, among others.
Meanwhile, Scopa chairperson, Job Dliso, has warned municipalities against “taking money meant for service delivery and coming to mislead the committee”.
Dliso said they were going to engage North West Premier Job Mokgoro and ask him to call for investigations, and even push for serious probes by law enforcement agencies and for criminal cases to be opened where necessary.