Amabhungane

Leaders ‘splash on private property’

Justice Kavahematui

Major misspending by ANC local and municipal leaders reported in Harry Gwala municipality

Provincial secretary of ANC KZN Sihle Zikhalala

The ANC speaker of a major KwaZulu-Natal municipality has written to provincial party bosses alleging wide-ranging corruption by his colleagues, including property purchases by local ANC and municipal leaders, using municipal cash.

Mandla Ngcobo, speaker of the ANC-controlled Harry Gwala district municipality and an ANC regional executive committee (REC) member, also claims that regional officials of the ANC are allocating municipal tenders.

The Harry Gwala municipality spans a large area of southern KwaZulu-Natal, comprising the Greater Kokstad, Ubuhlebezwe (Ixopo), Umzimkhulu, Ingwe and KwaSani (Underberg) municipalities.

His letter – which has been leaked to amaBhungane – also alleges:

l Irregular expenditure by the municipality “as high as 70% of the total budget”. Ngcobo suggests that the expenditure has not been explained to council, a prerequisite for it to be condoned. Irregular spending totalled more than R200-million in 2011/2012, according to the municipality’s financial statement for the year; and

l Massive overpayment of a manager hired to oversee the R215-million integration of Umzimkhulu into KwaZulu-Natal. The fee is under forensic investigation, municipal manager Nandi Dlamini revealed.

Ngcobo further complained of “a concerted effort by some of us to protect wrongdoers in administration”.

He said “the ANC component in council does not seem to agree on the need to access information on council financial matters. A request for information meets a lot of impediments.”

Ngcobo declined to comment on the letter, saying he would “not discuss ANC affairs with the press. The ANC is dealing with the issue internally.”

Ngcobo’s letter, dated January 15 this year, states that it was sent to ANC provincial chairperson Senzo Mchunu, provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala and regional ANC officials.

Mchunu denied receiving the letter but said that he had heard of its existence.

Zikalala, however, confirmed receiving it. “We are in the process of getting a full briefing from Ngcobo. We are taking these allegations seriously.”

Ngcobo’s letter stated that the issue of unlawful property purchases was raised at a meeting of the ANC’s REC.

In an apparent reference to the whistle-blowers, he said: “Some raised concerns about the safety of their lives. In response … I have been urging council to take a closer look at past financial affairs of council, which … leave a lot of questions.”

But municipal manager Dlamini said that she was unaware of any councillor buying property using municipal funds, and there was no budget councillors could tap into.

On allegations that regional ANC officials were handing out tenders, she said: “There’s nothing like that. The municipality follows competitive tender processes and we don’t use political affiliation to award tenders.”

Ngcobo’s letter said that 1.5% of the annual budget for the integration of Umzimkhulu into KwaZulu-Natal was earmarked for the payment of the official hired to manage the project, yet the manager was paid R7.3-million, “way above the agreed 1.5%”.

Dlamini confirmed that “this matter is still under forensic investigation as commissioned by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs”.

The project manager is no longer working on the project, as the funding has been exhausted, she revealed.

Ngcobo also pointed to the alleged irregular expenditure of R17-million for the protection of springs, claiming that the council could not even establish the location of these water sources.

The letter said requests for geographic co-ordinates drew a blank and it was “doubtful if these are in the asset register of council”.

The target for this project had only partly been met.

The municipality’s annual report for 2011-12 stated that a number of spring protection projects, in areas such Esibovini, Nazareth, Jolivet, Elukhanyen and Ndabayilali, encountered “challenges” because the service providers were emerging contractors who did not meet project completion dates.

But Dlamini insisted that the spring protection “was budgeted for and that the budget was approved by council”.

She said that the GPS co-ordinates are available for all springs, “as recorded in the municipal fixed asset register”.

Ngcobo’s letter also accused the municipality’s accounting officer and chief financial officer of a “gross violation” of the law by lending or advancing R2.5-million for the construction of a farmers’ market in Ixopo without council approval.

Dlamini responded that council endorsement was not needed because the money was an advance payment to the service provider, Cyclone Construction, to start construction.

She conceded, however, that the company was subsequently liquidated and the R2.5-million was never recovered.

“The municipality has instituted civil action and the matter is currently in court,” she said.

Irregular expenditure had fallen to 60% in the 2012/13 financial year, she said, calling it “a significant decrease”.

Management had reported it to council, which had asked the Municipal Public Accounts Committee to investigate.

Following the tabling of the committee’s report, the expenditure had been certified as irrecoverable, and written off.

“Accordingly, it is not correct that no explanation was given for the irregular expenditure,” Dlamini said.

Harry Gwala has one of KwaZulu-Natal’s lowest literacy rates (55.3%) and highest poverty rates (66.6%), according to the municipality’s 2011/12 annual report. “The ANC does not seem to agree on the need to access information on financial matters. A request for info meets a lot of impediments”

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