/ 14 November 2011

Blood in the water: Hunt for Midvaal’s corrupt officials

Blood In The Water: Hunt For Midvaal's Corrupt Officials

Alliance parties have pounced on the public protector’s report on the Gauteng’s Democratic Alliance-run Midvaal, vowing to have any corrupt officials in the municipality brought to justice.

But DA party leader Helen Zille says the whistleblowers from the ANC and the Freedom Front Plus who led the public protector to investigate the municipality “have an axe to grind” and suggested that it might be them who are, in fact, corrupt.

In the November 8 report titled “It Can’t Be Right: Remedying Self-interest in Midvaal”, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found evidence of maladministration and irregularities emanating from the role of the Democratic Alliance’s chairperson in Midvaal, André Odendaal, as the sole attorney for the council, which he has been for about 30 years.

She stopped short of making any pronouncements on fraud and corruption because they fell outside her office’s jurisdiction.

At the weekend the South African Communist Party (SACP) announced it would be spearheading a programme to further expose and counter maladministration in Midvaal, promoted by the DA ahead of the May 18 municipal election as one of South Africa’s best-run municipalities.

“Our programme of action will focus on service delivery, and also to ensure that criminal action is taken against any person involved in corruption and maladministration,” said Jacob Mamabolo, acting provincial secretary of the SACP in Gauteng.

He said the party would start consultation processes with their local structures in Midvaal, as well as alliance partners at a provincial level.

The programme of action was expected to be finalised at the provincial executive committee on November 24.

“We will ensure a sustained action against the municipality to ensure that the working class in Midvaal is vigilant and consistent, until the next round of local government elections, where we will certainly ensure the ANC rules the municipality.”

Odendaal in the middle
Madonsela’s report states that Odendaal Summerton Inc, a legal services company Odendaal ran with a partner, was appointed as municipal attorney for the Midvaal council in 2000.

She could find no proof that the firm’s services were acquired through a competitive bidding system, as required of contracts exceeding one year. Furthermore, there was no evidence to indicate that the council investigated this matter in terms of its oversight responsibilities, as stipulated in the Municipal Structures Act.

Madonsela also found irregularities pertaining to the purchase of repossessed property, inadequate monitoring of funds and donated properties and failure to collect from vendors that were providing services to the council.

According to a media release distributed earlier this month, the Special Investigating Unit has been investigating allegations of corruption and mismanagement at the municipality since President Jacob Zuma signed the authorising proclamation on May 22.

Initial DA statements centred on the fact that “the public protector found no evidence of corruption”, but failed to mention the ongoing investigation by the Special Investigating Unit.

How the whistle was blown
Former DA councillor Kobus Hoffman, now an ANC member, said he had been a member of the mayoral committee for finance in the municipality for six months before he started noticing irregularities and tried to blow the whistle in 2008.

“Freedom Front Plus councillor Corrie Pypers brought me the documents showing perceived irregularities and he also took it to the speaker, Timothy Nast, who is now the mayor. Pypers was concerned that Odendaal was the sole legal adviser, debt collector and auctioneer for the council.

“I went to the head of department for corporate services and said we should appoint a panel of attorneys. A few weeks after that they sacked me. By November 2008, I had been fired as [a member of the mayoral committee]. I was told my rates and taxes were the issue and they couldn’t protect me any more.

“In January, after compiling documents amounting to 600 pages, I sent them to the public protector and the Law Society,” said Hoffman.

Later that month he approached party leader Helen Zille at the DA’s manifesto launch in Soweto and handed her a copy of the same documents, but nothing came of it, Hoffman said.

Zille said she could not remember being handed the documents per se, but that the party did launch an investigation into the running of the municipality.

John Moodey, the DA’s provincial leader at the time, said Hoffman had not been disciplined because he was blowing the whistle, but because he had not followed party procedure in a number of issues.

“We told him that if he had any tangible evidence he should present it to the public protector, who was already investigating irregularities anyway. We were not covering up anything, we were merely looking for specifics and he had none.

“The fact that, as a public official, he wasn’t paying his rates and taxes on time warranted summary dismissal anyway. We had always welcomed any investigation and allegations of corruption are yet to be proven.”

Pypers, an FF+ proportional representation councillor, said he had initially blown the whistle in 2005 by writing a letter to then-mayor Marty Wenger complaining about Odendaal’s financial misconduct and maladministration, but was ignored.

“The DA won’t do anything to him, because there are too many people involved in his kingdom. Too many people will get hurt. You cannot be as powerful as he is and not have people owing you. There are a lot of people who took loans from him, whose properties were owing and were not summoned.

“What’s good for one is good for all. It’s not that way in Midvaal. The Special Investigating Unit report has identified 93 municipal officials who owed the municipality a combined total of R400 000 in rates and taxes.”

Au contraire
But in her weekly DA newsletter on Friday, Zille said the whistleblowers had a history of suspicious conduct.

“[FF+ councillor] Cornelius Pypers and [ANC councillor] Kobus Hoffman both have an axe to grind. And both have developed a taste for abusing public money — even as they accuse others of doing so. If anybody in Midvaal is corrupt, it is the two of them.”

Zille said Hoffman had stood as both an FF+ and ANC candidate after being fired from the DA because he “failed to pay his municipal rates bill timeously on 10 properties for 18 months”. She also said a council audit had revealed that a company run by Pypers may have colluded with other contractors to fix quote prices so that they would have a better chance of winning tenders, among other irregularities. — Additional reporting by Kwanele Sosibo