/ 18 November 2011

Midvaal council whistleblowers allege witch-hunt

Sworn affidavits by several whistleblowers have alleged the systematic victimisation of council employees who dared to report wrongdoing in the Democratic Alliance-controlled Midvaal municipality.

This has emerged following an investigation of the council by the public protector, who found evidence of maladministration and irregularities. A criminal investigation by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is being undertaken.

The affidavits include one by Kobus Hoffman, in 2008 a DA member of the mayoral committee for finance, which he sent to the public protector and the Law Society of the Northern Provinces. It claims that André Odendaal, the council’s debt collector and former DA constituency chairperson, was instructed to collect rates and taxes of R5 240.99 owed to the municipality for a stand in Henley-on-Klip, Meyerton, in 2008. The stand was part of the estate of CCC Hennops and the executor allegedly offered the stand to the municipality in exchange for writing off the debt.

The affidavit claims Odendaal, using his and his partner Vaughn Summerton’s company, Meyerton Opspoorders CC, bought the stand from the estate for R10 000, paid the municipality R8 011.15 and resold it for R180 000. Hoffman’s affidavit was also allegedly hand-delivered to DA leader Helen Zille.

Hoffman claims the information about the deal was disclosed to him and later to current municipal manager Albert de Klerk by the council’s former director of finance, Ralie Poggenpoel. She was suspended and claims that she accepted an exit package under duress.

The notice of intention to suspend her, signed by De Klerk on April 16 2009, states that she failed to “timeously, appropriately and adequately deal with and address the envisaged donation of stand 1491 Henley-on-Klip to the municipality by the executor of the estate — and possible other similar cases”.

Her husband, Barry Poggenpoel, a former municipal manager who also blew the whistle on irregularities in the use of council property and debt collection, claims he had sexual harassment charges brought against him and was offered a package.

‘Perceived irregularities’
Sources in the council claimed that the report of a council commissioned inquiry into “perceived irregularities, criminal actions and omissions” reached damning conclusions about the council leadership but that the report was never released.

Another whistleblower, Riaan Lubbe, the chief town planner in the municipality’s department of development and planning, said in an affidavit he was suspended for 120 days in 2009 before receiving his first charge sheet. The charge sheet accused him of failing timeously to report wrong­doing in the department after reporting “discrepancies” in a private development called Uitvlugt, which was allegedly proclaimed without services being installed.

This week, Lubbe said: “In mid-2008, the council distributed a document called the “Municipality Fraud Awareness and Prevention Policy”, which everyone signed on receipt.

“After the policy came out, I became aware of discrepancies regarding Uitvlugt, which I reported to my superior, Henry Human. In March the following year I was suspended for failing to reveal wrongdoing in the department timeously and received my charge sheet only in October.”

After being put on forced leave for a further 90 days and later being suspended indefinitely in 2010, Lubbe was found guilty in December of that year. He also lost the appeal against an internal investigation process he claims was a sham.

Zille said that she did not remember receiving documents from Hoffman about the alleged victimisation of the Poggenpoels and Lubbe. She said the party’s Gauteng disciplinary committee had visited Midvaal and “found that the evidence proved that no corruption had taken place in the municipality” and that Hoffman had an axe to grind after being fired by the party for irregular payment of rates and taxes while a public official.

Hoffman has laid charges against Zille, former Gauteng DA leader John Moodey and federal executive chairperson James Selfe at the Meyerton police station under the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

Midvaal mayor Timothy Nast said Ralie Poggenpoel had chosen to resign rather than face an inquiry into her alleged use of council resources for private work, while her husband was fired for reasons that included his handling as municipal manager of a botched R8-million sewerage contract, for which he was being sued.

Nast said Odendaal continued to provide debt-collection services to the council but, following the public protector’s report, he had instructed the municipal manager to review the contract “with the aim of compiling and advertising a new tender as a matter of urgency”.

Reacting to the allegations Odendaal said: “I have a summons against Hoffman and [businessman] Corrie Pypers and there is a case coming soon regarding all the lies they have spread about me. I have welcomed the public protector’s report and the SIU investigation and I will co-operate with it. But that is all I’m willing to say.”

Kwanele Sosibo is the Eugene Saldanha Fellow in social justice and inequality reporting, supported by CAF Southern Africa