Zondo shifts focus to rotten Mpumalanga municipalities

July 17, 2019. South Africa. Chair of the state capture commission of inquiry deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo during the testimony of former president Jacob Zuma in Parktown, Johannesburg. Zuma appeared at the Zondo Commission to give testimony on allegations of corruption and fraud. Picture: Thulani Mbele.
July 17, 2019. South Africa. Chair of the state capture commission of inquiry deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo during the testimony of former president Jacob Zuma in Parktown, Johannesburg. Zuma appeared at the Zondo Commission to give testimony on allegations of corruption and fraud. Picture: Thulani Mbele.

The Zondo commission, which has heard startling evidence of corruption and state capture in state-owned entities, appears to have set its sights on Mpumalanga municipalities, which have a track record of mismanagement, maladministration and general corruption that have strangled service delivery.

But the municipalities, most of which are notorious for being cash cows of corrupt politicians, have been dragging their feet to submit financial documents requested by the commission.

According to correspondence seen by City Press, the commission’s secretary Brigitte Shabalala has sent a plea to Mpumalanga cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC, Mandla Msibi, to urge 12 municipalities to comply with its request.

The municipalities are Mkhondo (Piet Retief), Thaba Chweu (Lydenburg), Chief Albert Luthuli (Carolina), Dipaleseng (Balfour), Dr JS Moroka (Siyabuswa), Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme (Volksrust), Gert Sibande District (Ermelo), Lekwa (Standerton), Msukaligwa (Ermelo), Steve Tshwete (Middelburg), Thembisile Hani (KwaMhlanga) and Victor Khanye (Delmas).

All these municipalities had, according to the 2017/2018 Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu’s report, raked up about R2 billion in irregular expenditure, R236.2 million of which was fruitless or wasteful.

The commission asked the municipalities to submit all forensic reports, audited financial statements, schedules detailing irregular expenditure, records of payments from July 1 2008 to June 30 last year and a list of their top 20 suppliers by value.

“While we have mixed success in terms of getting municipalities within your province to respond to us, we are at a stage where we are asking for your assistance in ordering the outstanding municipalities to comply with our request,” Shabalala wrote.

Msibi said he had asked all the municipalities to cooperate with the commission but he was not sure if they had submitted the required documents.

“I have written to them and asked them to respond after the commission asked for my intervention. I have told the municipalities that this is a commission appointed by the president and they ought to cooperate,” Msibi said.

Commission spokesperson Mbuyiselo Stemela did not respond to questions emailed to him.

The case of two municipalities

Of the 12 municipalities that have been known for malfeasance, Mkhondo and Thaba Chweu stand out.

Mkhondo

The Mkhondo Local Municipality in Piet Retief, on the border with KwaZulu-Natal has had its share of corruption, maladministration and mismanagement of funds.

In 2017, its coffers dried up, resulting in a notice being issued to councillors that they would not get their salaries. They were later paid from the equitable share grant.

At that time, newly appointed mayor Vusi Motha said that the municipality banked all its income in one account and this resulted in the funds being used for purposes they were not budgeted for.

Motha had to cancel projects worth R300 million that were awarded without following proper procurement procedures.

The projects included:

. A 3km road that would have been built for an astronomical R81.4 million;

The installation of 940 smart meters without a council resolution. The project cost R81 million and electricity money was allegedly siphoned to private individuals;

R100 million spent on water tanks, but still no water is provided to rural communities; and

Payment of R21 million for the paving of a street that is less than 1km long.

For his troubles, Motha survived an assassination attempt on May 13 2017 when 21 shots were fired at his vehicle in what was suspected to be linked to his clean-up crusade.

. Thaba Chweu

The story of Thaba Chweu Local Municipality is one of despair. It has received eight consecutive disclaimers.

Last year a forensic report by Audit and Risk Management Solutions, which covered five financial years, revealed how officials had milked more than R300 million from the council’s coffers.

Forensic auditors found that R201.2 million had been lost for good and only R84.4 million could be recouped.

The report also showed that procurement processes were flouted and municipal stands and land were sold but no money was deposited in the municipality’s account.

Other findings were that:

. R95.1 million in irregular expenditure had been written off because documents could not be traced;

The municipality incurred a R10.2 million debt from a hydropower station that was unused;

Officials paid R3.5 million to law firms despite having a contract with another firm, which was paid a R120 000 monthly retainer. It was also paid another R286 000 without an explanation;

Senior managers were irregularly paid R1 million in acting allowances they did not deserve while a retired official received R16 000;

R14.2 million paid for shoddily constructed and refurbished roads and R5.6 million was paid for a road that did not exist; and

Security companies were fraudulently appointed and paid R42.2 million.



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