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MUNICIPAL (MIS)MANAGEMENT

Two municipal bosses in court on R60m Garden Route fraud charges

Two municipal bosses in court on R60m Garden Route fraud charges
Former Knysna municipal manager Dr Sitembele Vatala (left) and Garden Route District Municipal manager Monde Stratu. (Photos: Supplied)

Garden Route District Municipal Manager Monde Stratu and suspended Central Karoo District municipal manager Dr Sitembele Vatala were each granted bail of R15,000.

Garden Route District Municipal Manager Monde Stratu and Sitembele Vatala, the suspended Central Karoo District municipal manager and former municipal manager of Knysna, appeared in the Knysna Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, 9 March, on charges of fraud, forgery and uttering involving more than R60-million.

Stratu (47) and Vatala (56) were each granted bail of R15,000 under strict conditions. The case was postponed to 12 May for further investigation.

Spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Eric Ntabazalila said the two men had been ordered “not to make contact with witnesses and report to the nearest police station weekly”.

“It is alleged that between April and December 2019 the accused failed to declare seven municipal contingency assets to the Auditor-General which were previously reflecting on the 2012 and 2017 financial year audit reports of Knysna Local Municipality,” said Hawks’ spokesperson Zinzi Hani.

“These properties were supposed to be transferred from the Knysna Local Municipality to the Garden Route District Municipality but the transfer could not take place.”

Hani said the value of these properties was R64-million. As a result of this fraud, Knysna’s municipality had suffered potential loss.

“It was further alleged that the accused falsified the 2018/2019 audit report,” Hani said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Gayton McKenzie confirms suspension of municipal manager over ‘tender irregularities’ ”

Garden Route District Municipality Executive Mayor Memory Booysen said in a statement that a docket had been opened on the treatment of properties belonging to the Garden Route District Municipality in the annual financial statements of both the Garden Route and Knysna municipalities.

“Both municipalities have, for years, been engaged in discussions regarding the properties of the [Garden Route District Municipality] that are situated in the Knysna municipal area,” he said.

‘Malicious prosecution’

Booysen said he was disappointed by how the matter was being handled by law enforcement agencies “and that it flies in the face of the fruitful discussions that are taking place between the two municipalities”.

“The executive mayor of Knysna, Aubrey Tsengwa, has reiterated that both municipalities agreed not to declare any disputes, but to continue with discussions to find an amicable solution,” he said.

He said that according to Knysna Municipal Manager Phineas Sebola, the Knysna municipality had not received any legal documents relating to the impending case against the Garden Route district’s municipal manager. 

“He believes that the matter does not need to go to court, as negotiations between the two municipalities are already proving to be productive,” Booysen said. 

“Furthermore, Knysna municipality took a resolution on 21 July 2021 to continue with engagements to find amicable resolutions in the spirit of cooperative governance… [Sebola] was astounded that despite the ongoing discussions a criminal case was opened against Stratu.”

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He said a delegation from Garden Route District Municipality had met Knysna officials on 1 February to discuss the properties in question. The meeting had been positive, Booysen said.

“Knysna municipality’s delegation, led by Deputy Mayor Alberto Marbi, Neil Louw, Susan Campbell and the municipal manager agreed to write an item to the Knysna Municipal Council and recommend a possible solution for these properties. It is extremely surprising that during or after deliberations, the information regarding a case opened against Stratu was not disclosed,” he said.

Booysen said Tsengwa and he agreed this amounted to malicious prosecution, marred with procedural flaws, that was aimed at tainting the reputation of the two institutions and further embarrassing Stratu.

“Tsengwa and I have come to a mutual agreement that the actions being taken against the two institutions are an act of malicious prosecution.

“Furthermore, we have noted that there are significant procedural flaws in the process, with the intention to harm the reputations of these organisations and to cause further embarrassment to Stratu,” he said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Bail???? Put the f…ers in jail!

  • Gordon Bentley says:

    I reiterate, put strict controls on ALL Tenders/Procurement in South Africa, immediately, before many more millions disappear !

  • Manfred Hasewinkel says:

    This article is not clear at all.

  • Gregory Scott says:

    The incompetence of cadres deployed to the public service is staggering.
    A crime against the people should be dealt with efficiently to the full extent of the law.
    Hard labour, breaking rocks, should be the punishment whilst in an orange overall for such a crime against the people.
    In Ekurhuleni there are plenty of stormwater drains to be cleaned, parks to be cut, and potholes to be filled which all could be done by chain gangs clad in orange. The public will get a return on their investment in tax and stolen goods/money.

  • Johan Buys says:

    This seems confused. If the gents transferred the properties to the wrong person, then it is simple and clear fraud and actually simple also to revert the property. If this is an issue of what appears on which set of financial reports then the whole court case is a waste of time and taxpayer money.

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