Whistleblower spills the beans on alleged dirty tricks used by waste management company

(File, AP)
(File, AP)

A whistleblower within waste management company EnviroServ is said to have turned on his bosses and spilled the beans on alleged dirty tricks the company has used in its fight with Hillcrest residents over a "big stink" coming from its landfill site in the area.

The company, while not denying that the emails may emanate from the now former senior employee, has "categorically" denied all of his allegations.

Upper Highway Air (UHA), the activist group leading the charge against what it claims is a noxious and health-threatening smell, has filed the documents from the whistleblower in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban.

These same emails and documents were recently used as one of the reasons by which the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) secured a warrant against the company through which computers and data was seized.

EnviroServ spokesperson Thabiso Taaka said the "tip-offs" were unsubstantiated, false and malicious. This was particularly so in the claim that the company had amended certain technical reports "to create a more favourable report" about conditions at the landfill site.

"We believe the raid was unlawful and will be challenging this in court. The DEA has been informed of this and has agreed that it will strictly preserve the confidentiality of the data until the outcome of the court process." 

Read: New legal challenge to shut down Durban landfill site

The emails, which were sent to UHA's director Lauren Johnson and its lawyer Charmane Nel between August last year and January this year, are from an anonymous Gmail address with the name S Clinch.

A private investigator hired by UHA says he has confirmed that they were authored by the former company secretary, who is named in the court documents, and who has since resigned from the company.

Johnson, in her latest affidavit in an application in which UHA seeks to shut down the landfill site permanently, says the truth of the contents of the emails have been borne out by subsequent events.

What has proved to be "true", she says, include the unreliability of EnviroServ's monitoring data, the reason why it has refused to produce PH data for interrogation, its "hijacking" of the monitoring committee, "buying" support from local communities, and interfering with a toxicology report.

Emails, documents to be used as evidence to 'get to the truth'

The former company secretary, she says, would have been one of the few company employees to be privy to the confidential information disclosed in the emails. 

"The tactics for the court appearance (when directors appeared on criminal charges) unfolded precisely as he warned it would three days before," she said.

She said the company's conduct - as alleged in the emails - constituted grounds for the revocation of its licence and corroborated UHA's expert's opinion that there was no scientific basis to uphold its appeal (against the suspension of its licence).

On the issue of "buying" support from the community, Johnson said this amounted to corruption.

She said the "mole" claimed that traditional leaders had "received money in their pockets".
He predicted chaos at a monitoring committee meeting in September last year, instigated by two leaders who would position themselves in certain places in the hall.

Read more: Enviroserv officials in the dock over 'big stink'

"I can confirm that the meeting did indeed degenerate into chaos because of these two individuals," she said.

"I call upon the company to disclose all records of payments or other benefits paid to these individuals."

The whistleblower also alleges some community leaders were hosted in the VIP box at soccer matches. Johnson again called upon the company to confirm or deny this.

She said UHA wanted the emails and documents produced by the "mole" to be admitted as evidence "in the interests of justice". 

"If the company disputes the allegations, this can be evaluated in light of all the evidence, including the documents it must now disclose and explanations it can provide and if necessary, these disputes can be referred for oral evidence or for trial.

"We can then procure the evidence of [the whistleblower] under subpoena and get to the truth," she said.

Allegations 'are false'

Responding to the allegations, Taaka said the issue of the identity of the so-called "mole" had been referred to lawyers for consideration.

"However, we can confirm that [the man alleged to have authored them] left the company in November last year, the terms of which are confidential," he said.

"We categorically deny all these allegations. They are false, and the court process will vindicate us," he said.

UHA is seeking to review a decision by the Minister of Environmental Affairs to "conditionally relax" a portion of an earlier suspension of the company's licence and compel relevant government departments to take action against the company "to remedy the ongoing pollution, including making directions regarding the need for proper reliable monitoring, full capping and efficient, effective gas extraction and destruction".

Last year the company, its CEO Dean Thompson and three officials, Clive Kidd, Esme Gombault and Dr Johan Schoonraad were charged criminally for "failing to prevent the emission of an offensive rotten egg smell", and not managing the waste correctly.

UHA has also instituted proceedings against EnviroServ in the Equality Court, saying company employees were harassing residents and embarking on hate speech. The company is opposing this application.

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