South Africa

RIGHT OF REPLY

The truth should get in the way of a ‘good story’

City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba during an interview related to service delivery on May 03, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / City Press /Tebogo Letsie)

Did amaBhungane go after a story trying to paint coalition governments as inherently corrupt, looking the other way for the sake of political expediency?

On 29 November 2018, amaBhungane published a story entitled Firm that won R1bn Jo’burg fleet contract paid Malema-EFF “slush-fund”

The story contains a number of very serious claims which I do not take lightly.

In the past, the multi-party government has taken reports of wrong-doing from the media, subjected the claims to forensic investigations and taken action without fear or favour.

This instance is no different.

Already, General Shadrack Sibiya has been tasked with running an independent forensic investigation into the claims of the article. I have committed to openly revealing the findings of said investigation.

There is nothing ambiguous about my approach, it is public record and I expect that I will be held accountable for implementing any steps that may be required.

There are, however, a few matters that arise from amaBhungane’s approach about which I take umbrage:

1. Corruption is not a cost of doing business in a coalition.

There is an alarming series of claims, within AmaBhungane’s article, which assert that the kind of wrong doing spelled out in their publication last week can simply be chalked up as the cost of doing business in our coalition environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Further, there is nothing to support amaBhungane’s claim other than naked hearsay.

2. No budget discussion has involved discussion of tenders, ever

The claim that, in order to pass our 2018/19 budget, this fleet contract was the basis of negotiations, is absurd. I, personally, chair meetings with coalition partners and never has a tender been discussed in these engagements. For good reason, the MFMA prohibits politicians from engaging in procurement processes.

The negotiations in that period leading to the third, and successful, effort to pass the budget were exclusively oriented around the tariff proposals for the budget. They were the kind of negotiations that our residents, whose household income is under siege, wanted when they voted in a coalition government.

Had the claims of the anonymous officials, to the contrary, been put to us by amaBhungane, I could have proven this. As it was, I was never afforded that right.

Every Councillor around that negotiating table would have signed an affidavit, under oath and pain of perjury, as to who was present and what was discussed.

Perhaps then amaBhungane would have realised their source was neither present nor correct.

3. amaBhungane manages to overlook the city’s record in corruption fighting

With the support of every party in council, except the ANC, we have managed to set up the most effective anti-corruption unit in the country. With over 4,000 cases, involving more than R24-billion under investigation and more than 800 arrests, the track record of this government speaks for itself.

And yet, trying to get media interest in some of these cases has proven near impossible.

A R1.7-billion investigation into the city’s broadband contract receives no attention. This is despite a 15-year build, operate and transfer model being interrupted, ludicrously, and the infrastructure bought for R1.7-billion a mere two years later. It is alleged that two national ministers and a diplomat profited, but no interest was shown.

The case of the Eldorado Park and Hopefield sub-stations saw over R100-million paid to contractors for work that didn’t take place. The result is that public money was stolen, these communities did not get their sub-stations and suffer from regular power outages. The case, as against the involved, was withdrawn by the NPA for no apparent reason. Once again, no interest shown.

I have brought some 11 cases to the attention of the media in which our anti-corruption unit has investigated and handed over cases to the SAPS that are ready to prosecute. The NPA has dropped each and every case.

Amongst those cases dropped include that of the former ANC MMC of Housing, Cllr Dan Bovu who allegedly sold city-owned land to poor families. In that case the witnesses allegedly received large sums of money and, to nobody’s surprise, now refuse to testify. Instead of adding bribery charges, the case is withdrawn. No interest, yet again.

The constant withdrawal of the city’s “slam-dunk” cases of fraud and corruption has led to the city writing to the President, the Provincial SAPS Commissioner and the Provincial Head of the NPA. No interest.

You might think this would be the stuff of a great investigative journalism piece.

There is no question that any democracy requires a free, strong and independent media. Ever so much more in our context where governments have looted with impunity.

Media should always hold governments to account – equitably. But not at the expense of facts and fairness.

Did amaBhungane go after a story trying to paint coalition governments as inherently corrupt, looking the other way for the sake of political expediency?

I will conclude as they did with the line: “You decide.” DM

Herman Mashaba is Executive Mayor: City of Johannesburg

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