Pietermaritzburg - President Jacob Zuma stunned the Msunduzi administration on Wednesday by announcing that his A-team, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), had been authorised to start an investigation into the municipality.
Zuma yesterday signed the proclamation authorising the SIU to investigate “certain matters” in the municipality.
According to the press release, the unit would probe allegations of serious maladministration; improper or unlawful conduct by councillors, officials or employees; unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public money or property; intentional or negligent loss of public money or damage to public property; and unlawful or improper conduct by any person, which has caused or may cause harm to the interests of the public.
ANC regional secretary Mzi Zuma said he had not known about the proclamation but welcomed the investigation if it was meant to test any allegations.
“We welcome any involvement of law enforcement agencies to test any allegations that have been raised in the municipality,” he said.
Since Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube announced her investigation into allegations of maladministration in the municipality, other entities have also begun parallel investigations.
Award-winning municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi was suspended in early March and the municipality announced an internal investigation into the serious allegations levelled against him.
In mid-March, Pietermaritzburg detectives swooped on municipal offices and the city hall, and seized documents and laptops while probing similar allegations of maladministration and tender fraud as part of their own investigation.
Reacting to Zuma’s intervention, the embattled Nkosi described the move as “strange”. “There is a stampede of investigations into the municipality and I don’t know who invited this stampede. It is strange to see all these entities coming down on one organisation,” said Nkosi, having just found out about the SIU investigation from The Witness.
Msunduzi Mayor Chris Ndlela, who only heard of the proclamation after Zuma’s statement was issued, said there was nothing anyone could do but support the investigation.
“It is very painful that all this is happening at the tail end of our term. Nevertheless, I hope the investigation uncovers everything. I hope it clears whoever should be cleared and deals with whoever is on the other side of the law,’ he said.
Ndlela said all the investigations and now the announcement from the Presidency had affected morale in the municipality. “This is a sad time for us. A sad time indeed,” he said.
ANC provincial secretary Super Zuma, who performed oversight at the municipality until late last year while he was regional chairperson, said ANC would welcome any investigation meant to probe allegations of maladministration.
“We are against corrupt activities. The SIU must investigate this matter and get to the bottom of it. Those who are found responsible for maladministration must be dealt with,” he said.
Zuma said the proclamation was part of the government’s initiative to fight maladministration.
Msunduzi’s acting spokesperson Nqobile Madonda said the municipality “acknowledges and appreciates” the recent developments from the Presidency, but directed all questions to the SIU.
“Council will co-operate with whatever legal investigations are conducted by the state and its organs. As previously stated, Msunduzi Municipality believes in a clean, transparent and accountable administration,” she said.
It is rare for the president to call on the SIU to investigate. In 2014, the Presidency reported that President Zuma had, during the period 2009 to 2014, signed 36 proclamations with five extensions, authorising the unit to probe government departments and entities in the three spheres of government, as well as state-owned enterprises.
Yesterday, the Presidency would not reveal the source of the complaint that had sparked the proclamation.
Spokesperson Bongani Majola said the complaint could have come from any of the three sources with powers to lodge complaints. “It could have been a whistle-blower within the municipality. That will include a concerned worker from the municipality or any interested party. The second source could have been the municipality itself. The municipality has the power to refer the matter to the Presidency.
“The third source could have been the provincial government. Through Cogta, the provincial government monitors the financial performance of the municipality and they have the authority to report it to the municipality,” he said.
Majola said the proclamation gave the SIU the power to summon and interview witnesses.
“They have the power to audit the finances of the municipality. At the end of it all, they need to compile two reports, which would be findings and recommendations,” he said.
Majola added that no timeline had been set for the investigation.
Speaking on behalf of the business fraternity in Msunduzi, Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said they welcomed and supported an independent investigation into corruption at Msunduzi Municipality.
DA CAUCUS leader Bill Lambert said the president’s announcement was “very interesting”, and all signs pointed in the direction of the city heading for administration again.
“We are now heading back to the Hlatshwayo and Shelembe era, when we were placed under administration. There is much more than meets the eye here,” he said.
Lambert yesterday warned managers and councillors that the city was “heading back to dark days”.
He questioned why a report on the Independent Development Trust had been stood down from discussion. “That document is what informed the suspension of Nkosi. The document needs to be seen and interrogated as it contains the details of the allegations against Nkosi,” said Lambert, adding the DA would not support the lack of transparency over “this sordid issue”.
EXECUTIVE committee member Ntokozo Bhengu (NFP) said he was “shocked” and “very surprised” at the news that President Zuma had appointed the SIU to investigate the municipality.
“If this is the case then we will accept it and look forward to the details revealed at the conclusion of the investigation,” he said.
Bhengu said the NFP had “always” had suspicions of maladministration at the municipality, but “people played their cards too close to them for us to find out”.
“The Presidency obviously has information on our municipality to trigger such an investigation. We welcome the investigation, but it is true that we are heading towards going under administration again.”
Bhengu added that Nkosi’s suspension had had a negative impact on the municipality.
IFP caucus leader Dolo Zondi said he found news of the SIU investigation “very strange” and the party did not support the investigation.
“We totally disagree with the president. He is creating confusion. With so many investigations going on, they may not end up yielding results,” said Zondi.
He said the IFP supported the investigation by Cogta and strongly believed that that investigation should be completed before another starts. “There are so many stages that this matter did not go through before reaching the Presidency. It could have gone to the premier or national MEC,” he said.
COGTA spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said there was no contradiction between the department’s probe and that of the SIU.
“All of these investigations serve one purpose, which is to make sure that there is good and clean governance in Msunduzi Municipality,” Mabaso said.
He said it was not the first time that the president had signed a proclamation on a matter being investigated by the department.
“The presidential probe usually covers certain aspects of the running of the municipality, whereas Cogta covers major operations in the municipality,” he said.