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FINANCIAL IRREGULARITIES

Former Knysna CFO Mbulelo Memani bags new Bitou job despite incomplete disciplinary hearing and trail of complaints

Former Knysna CFO Mbulelo Memani bags new Bitou job despite incomplete disciplinary hearing and trail of complaints
Controversial former Knysna Municipality chief financial officer Mbulelo Memani (pictured) has been appointed municipal manager of Bitou Municipality. (Photo: Knysna Herald)

Knysna Ratepayers Association claim Memani resigned twice before financial misconduct investigation and disciplinary processes against him had been concluded.  

The Bitou Municipality has appointed to the position of municipal manager a controversial former chief financial officer (CFO) who left the neighbouring Knysna Municipality facing a disciplinary process relating to two issues involving the lagoon town’s “sudden and dramatic cash crunch” in 2019.

Susan Campbell, former chairperson of the Knysna Ratepayers Association and currently a councillor for the Knysna Independent Movement, speaking in her personal capacity, says Knysna Municipality’s former CFO, Mbulelo Memani, was asked to explain why R11-million was spent on water meters in November 2019 without authorisation “when there was no budget for them and the user department had not requested them”.

Campbell says the Knysna Municipality already had “thousands of the water meters deteriorating in the sun” at the time, “and that there was no need for any more”.

On 11 June 2020, the Knysna council resolved that a forensic investigator be appointed to investigate Memani’s involvement in the “water meters contract”. Separate complaints of financial misconduct against Memani had already been submitted in May that year by the Knysna Ratepayers Association to acting municipal manager Dr Michelle Gratz and the mayor. “The complaints related to properties, valued at more than R60-million, and tenders.”

Gratz and two acting municipal managers who succeeded her have since left Knysna.

Campbell says Memani resigned twice, in May and October 2020, before the financial misconduct investigation and the disciplinary processes against him had been concluded. Such actions, of “jumping before you are pushed”, says an anonymous Knysna insider, have become commonplace.  

The final draft forensic reports into the water meters, says Campbell, were provided to Knysna Municipality in June 2021 and January 2022. However, she says she is not at liberty to disclose the reports’ contents.

When asked for comment on Bitou Municipality, which is 35km down the N2, appointing Memani as municipal manager, Bitou Mayor Dave Swart said “no charges have been brought against him”, and that staff who had worked with Memani in his earlier appointment at Bitou, from 2012 to 2016, were “happy” to work with him again.

“During his interview, Mr Memani did disclose that he was part of a disciplinary hearing at Knysna that had not been concluded. Knysna Municipality did not respond to the employment history check sent to them on 10 February 2022.”

Knysna Municipality communications officer Nwabisa Pondoyi, in contrast, indicated that they had not been contacted. “Knysna Municipality would only be contacted if they were listed as a reference. According to our knowledge, Knysna Municipality was not listed as one of Mr Memani’s references.”

A source familiar with municipal functions says that the municipality would have appointed an external consultant for Memani’s application process, which would have included securing references and criminal checks.

The same source, however, says this external influence can open the door to abuse of the system.

In Clanwilliam, the seat of the Cederberg Municipality, where Memani moved after he left Knysna’s employ in 2020, Die Son newspaper reported that local residents had protested against his appointment (“Betogers ‘maak dorp toe’” — “Protesters ‘bring town to a standstill’”), with the unfinished Knysna disciplinary hearing among their concerns.

Cederberg Mayor Dr Ruben Richards, who only assumed office in 2021, told DM168 in a telephonic interview that Bitou Municipality had not asked Cederberg Municipality for a reference for Memani.  

While general staff may not have had sight of the forensic reports nor followed Memani’s career since leaving Bitou in 2016, word from Bitou Municipality’s corridors is that Plettenberg Bay DA councillor Bill Nel has seen the report.

Nel’s comment in a Weekend Post article on Memani’s impending appointment was that “Bitou was fortunate to have been able to appoint such a good candidate”.

An anonymous Knysna resident, who has been active in the town’s civic affairs for almost a decade, has described news of Memani’s appointment as “incredible, and deeply disappointing”.  

The resident added, “Deployed cadres and venal officials help themselves and/or their party to taxpayer funds, are suspended, and then resign just before their disciplinary proceedings are finalised. And get away scot-free, ready to do it all over again in the next unsuspecting town.”

Mbulelo Memani starts work as Bitou’s municipal manager on 4 April. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

 

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