Umgeni report: Reputations, rantings and restitution

Bruce Whitfield

Greg Morris, the former Specialised Outsourcing MD, fingered in the highly critical Umgeni Water report, has added his voice to the growing list of concerns around the document’s credibility.

Contrary to his boss Dave King’s largely positive response to the document, Morris has criticised elements of the report. He says he was implicated in wrongdoing without being contacted for his side of the story about how the Umgeni Water contract with Outsourcing was negotiated in 1998.

That criticism is similar to protests voiced by current Outsourcing boss David McLean, who says after a number of interviews with the legal investigation team, his company was not contacted again or given a chance to respond to allegations made in the report.

That was one of the chief criticisms of Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Ronnie Kasrils, who said the report did not follow basic principles of an investigation of this kind. He said the investigation team should have observed the “audi alteram partem rule”, which means that all parties implicated in the report should have been granted the opportunity to respond to any part of the report as they saw fit.

While the Outsourcing board issued an emotive response to the report within hours of it being released, calling it “vague, incoherent and illogical”, King’s measured and carefully worded response suggests it is a useful first step in a process that will unravel for some time to come.

Outsourcing directly accused the investigators of being biased, claiming in a two-page statement, that advocate Manie Meyer, who led the probe, and one of his colleagues had acted as legal counsel for Umgeni while working on the report. Outsourcing said it was reporting Meyer to the Bar Council for unspecified reasons.

Morris is considering legal action, and feels aggrieved that his reputation has been tarnished. He says he feels as if he has been made the scapegoat for anything that might have gone wrong at the time the contract between Umgeni and Outsourcing was agreed.

“My only assumption though is that, being, I guess, the minority player in the whole thing or the most junior individual involved in the process, is one of an oversold promise, going back some time. A situation where, in fact, it has been easy to keep me vulnerable and at arm’s length just because of my strategic position and being out of the board, being not a representative member of the asset and liability committee, and not being one of the adjudication panel,” Morris said.

Morris was the finance and treasury manager at Umgeni Water, earning a little more than R300 000 a year, when he met King and then later joined Specialised Outsourcing, at a basic salary of R480 000 a year, plus a profit share scheme and share options.

The report accused Morris of being concerned with furthering his own interests and putting his own personal ambitions ahead of the interests of Umgeni Water after he was given the responsibility of finalising some of the details of what was to become the controversial contract between Outsourcing and Umgeni.

It was widely believed that Morris was granted share options in Outsourcing several months before he joined the company, but the report says that was probably just a technicality.

Morris denies that he was a key negotiator in setting up the contract and says he was erroneously included on a list of directors who were granted share options in Outsourcing ahead of its listing, before he joined the company.

“They put all the directors of the board on documentation, which was meant to exclude me. That documentation was at the prelisting,” Morris said.

While Morris has concerns about the effect the report has had on his reputation, he says he remains confident that those closest to him and his current business know the truth about his involvement.

“I believe that sufficient people have applied their minds on the right levels within the financial community to the process and if one does apply a level of intellect to it, you have to then question the motives of a single individual at the lowest ranks, who was not responsible for negotiating the contract, who could not have reasonably been expected to be the person to have negotiated the contract, within the bureaucratic structures that an organisation like Umgeni has.

“And the fact that it is being clarified that, as much as I negotiated myself a package, it was after the negotiations with the board had been concluded. Unfortunately, the perceptions turned to reality with time, and I think that’s what we need to prevent right now,” Morris said.

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