/ 22 February 2008

ANC in stadium cover-up

The African National Congress has called for the sacking of a senior council official who blew the whistle on alleged abuse of power and corruption in a R1-billion 2010 stadium project. The apparent attempt at a cover-up follows a damning report by independent attorneys on the alleged corruption, which was leaked to the <i>Mail & Guardian</i>.

The African National Congress has called for the sacking of a senior council official who blew the whistle on alleged abuse of power and corruption in a R1-billion 2010 stadium project.

The apparent attempt at a cover-up follows a damning report by independent attorneys on the alleged corruption, which was leaked to the Mail & Guardian.

This week a team of Fifa infrastructure inspectors was in South Africa looking at progress in the building and upgrading of stadiums in six cities. They include the crisis-plagued Mbombela Stadium, in Nelspruit, where the irregularities are said to have happened.

Central to the saga is the Mbombela municipal manager, Jacob Dladla, who was investigated by the local council after being accused of wide-ranging misconduct in relation to 2010 contracts.

The M&G has reliably learned that the ANC provincial working committee met last weekend and recommended the sacking of the council speaker, Jimmy Mohlala, who blew the whistle on Dladla. It also recommended that municipal mayor Justice Nsibande be fired.

It had nothing to say about Dladla, who is alleged to have personal links with senior ANC politicians in Mpumalanga.

Dladla’s conduct in relation to Nelspruit’s World Cup projects has long been a cause of concern. In November last year, on Mohlala’s recommendation, the council decided to place him on compulsory leave until January this year so that he could be investigated.

However, the mayor refused to sign the letter and Dladla continued to come to work and occupy his office. His compulsory leave was then converted to three months’ suspension.

He also threatened the council with legal action in a bid to stave off investigations. Last week the Johannesburg Labour Court rejected his application to have his suspension declared unlawful.

Dladla again challenged the Labour Court’s decision on Wednesday, but his challenge was rejected.

Interviewed by the M&G on Thursday, the ANC chairperson in the province, David Mabuza, denied there was a cover-up. Asked why the leadership had not called for Dladla’s axing, he said: ‘The ANC has its reasons for taking its decision, which will be communicated to the public in due time.”

In sparing Dladla the ANC provincial executive overrode the findings of an independent law firm — which tabled its report last month — hired by the council to investigate Dladla.

Attorneys Nkosi Ngobe found that Dladla’s conduct had ‘severely tarnished” the council’s image and that he enjoyed the mayor’s support.

Their report paints a damning picture of his activities since he was appointed municipal manager in October 2006, alleging manipulation of tenders, service delivery failures, victimisation and harassment of council employees, and failure to implement council resolutions as well as to keep the council informed on matters relating to the World Cup.

It calls for legal action against him, stadium project manager Lefika Emerging Equity and main stadium contractor Basil Read.

The report accuses him of failing to report tender misconduct by the council’s 2010 coordinator, Differ Mogale, who paid Lefika R43-million in an irregular transaction.

The council questioned Mogale’s appointment to his R480 000-a-year post and fired him after he had served only two months of his five-year contract. However, the provincial ANC intervened to have him reinstated.

The report also claims Dladla overpaid Lefika by R2-million to compile a business plan.

It says he knew of the irregular pre-existing relationship between Lefika and Basil Read during its adjudication of the contract. The relationship had started with the construction of the Kaizer Chiefs stadium in Krugersdorp in 2006.

‘There is irrefutable evidence that the parties already had a close association and that Lefika should have declared such when appointed as the professional manager at the Mbombela 2010 stadium,” the report says.

‘They should have recused themselves from any evaluation or bidding or any other committee related to this tender when Basil Read tendered. The only conclusion one could reach … is that it would appear that Lefika had to ensure that Basil Read/Bouyges be appointed.”

In addition, the M&G has established that Dladla approved the R1-billion contract for the building of the stadium when national treasury had allocated to the Mbombela municipality a total of R875-million for all the stadium precinct projects.

A senior Mbombela official, who asked not to be named, predicted that the entire mayoral committee would now be dissolved. He accused the provincial ANC of protecting Dladla, saying: ‘People just want to cover up and continue to benefit from 2010.

‘The speaker is not implicated in the report compiled by Nkosi Ngobe attorneys, but is getting the boot.”

Executive director of subsidiary Lefika Consulting Bobby Motaung refused to comment, saying: ‘Lefika has a chief executive officer. If you want comment, contact him.”

Lefika responds

Lawyers for Lefika Emerging Equity have dismissed as ‘groundless” Nkosi Ngobe’s finding that Lefika improperly failed to disclose its relationship with Basil Read in the Mbombela stadium tender adjudication.

Answering Mail & Guardian‘s questions about the attorneys’ report, it said dealings between Lefika and Basil Read over the Amakhosi Stadium in Krugersdorp constituted ‘a usual, professional relationship between contractor and principal consultant”.

The lawyers pointed out that Lefika had obtained a High Court interdict preventing the council from releasing the report and demanded that the M&G reveal the identity of the person who leaked it to the paper.

They said they had never seen the Nkosi Ngobe report.

Expressing shock at ‘the negative attention the media is displaying at … scurrilous and prejudicial allegations”, the lawyers said Lefika was not answerable to the media ‘apropos its private contractual relationships”.

The M&G‘s questions, they said, were a part of a consistent media attempt to undermine Lefika’s reputation.

Saying they had already initiated action against other media groups, they warned that ‘the innuendo conveyed by you, if published, will be treated similarly”.