One hundred days into the job and Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga has already uncovered a series of get-rich-quick schemes led by officials in the previous administration.
In one scheme city officials hid waste removal trucks to award an illegal contract and then take a kick-back.
Another scheme saw perfectly sound police vehicles disappearing for “repairs” that were never required.
This week Msimanga outlined some of the progress he and the members of his mayoral council have made. These include handing over close to 2 000 title deeds, the restoration of the sewage-contaminated Rooiwal Water Treatment Plant and the construction of more than 800 RDP houses.
But most of Msimanga’s time during the 100 days has been spent fighting corruption and undoing the financial disaster he says was left by the ANC government.
“We’re sitting with a R2-billion deficit here. Ours now is to make sure that we turn the ship around, to ensure that we are able to get on a healthy financial lifeline,” Msimanga said.
Attempts to achieve this healthy financial lifeline have started with the cancellation of suspicious contracts and probes into dodgy deals.
One such contract is the city’s smart meter agreement with Peu Capital Partners that has seen more than R2-billion paid by the municipality since 2013. Although Msimanga believes the contract is irregular, pulling out from the agreement will set the metro back R950-million. In July lobby group AfriBusiness successfully approached the high court in Pretoria to stop the R950-million payment by the city. Now further litigation is underway to have the controversial contract declared invalid.
Msinamga is also investigating renovations to the Pretoria City Hall amounting to R90-million as well as the R100-million contract for the construction of a power substation in Mamelodi, which was never built.
In the syndicate of officials hiding waste removal trucks, investigations led to the discovery of 45 trucks. Further investigations revealed that a contract has been awarded to an external service provider to supply trucks to the city in the event of an internal shortage.
According to Msimanga, this service provider took advantage of the system by renting out the vehicles at exaggerated rates to make more money.
“People were deliberately parking our trucks [in undisclosed locations], trying to hide them away and then they were milking the system, trying to get as much money as they possibly can through renting trucks at inflated amounts of money.”
Vehicles from the Tshwane metro police department had also disappeared from the city’s fleet when Msimanga took office.
Investigations implicated some city employees in a scam to defraud the metro by colluding with a service provider who was carrying out unnecessary repairs and maintenance on some of the vehicles.
Now the metro has taken steps to identify and act against those behind these acts of malpractice. To date three city officials have been dismissed for maladministration and investigations are underway into 15 others who have been suspended.
All these officials were stationed in the city’s procurement department.
“We have already gone and suspended 15 officials that have been working in that department. They will be facing a disciplinary inquiry or action if our investigations are concluded the way that we think they will be concluded,” Msimanga said.
Added to this, to cut down on employment costs, the city has proposed clearing out a bloated top structure to employ more people who will do the necessary manual work. This means some directors, heads of department and deputy city managers face a nonrenewal of their contracts to allow the city to employ more plumbers, electricians and refuse collectors.
“We are changing the system now to make sure that we don’t have as many deputy city managers, we don’t have as many heads of department and that we will at least have a lot more people who are doing the actual job,” Msimanga said.
Some of the changes proposed by Msimanga are ambitious and still need the approval of the ANC-led provincial government before they are officially recognised.
One such change is the scrapping of the use of blue-light vehicles to transport officials. Msimanga has been lauded for this cost-cutting measure, but he was criticised for making a promise that is not in his power to execute.
A decision of this nature would have to be approved by Gauteng Premier David Makhura and transport MEC Ismail Vadi.
Msimanga says his government will not use blue lights, irrespective of whether or not he can successfully have them removed.
“It would have reflected badly for them [Makhura’s administration] to say ‘well, if in Tshwane they can get by without these blue lights, it means that everybody can get by without them’,” he said.
“We haven’t been using them and we will not use them ever. Even if there is an emergency,” he added.
Despite the financial difficulties former ANC mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa left behind, Msimanga paints a positive picture of his work with Makhura and members of his provincial ANC administration.
“Paul Mashatile, for example. We have been able to resolve the issues of the housing and land invasion and other issues. Like when members of the ANC were busy being violent in the sitting of council about a month ago, I was able to call on him,” he said.
“We have been able to separate party politics from what government has been able to do and I’m hoping that will continue to be the case.”