Maverick Citizen

AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

DA asks Eastern Cape premier to appoint commission to probe State Capture in Nelson Mandela Bay

DA asks Eastern Cape premier to appoint commission to probe State Capture in Nelson Mandela Bay
Former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor and now DA municipal caucus leader Retief Odendaal has highlighted how corruption has affected service delivery in the metro. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The DA has asked Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane to appoint a commission of inquiry into State Capture in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro as a matter of urgency. The metro has racked up the highest accumulated amount of unauthorised, fruitless, irregular and wasteful expenditure of any municipality or provincial government since 1994 and serious allegations of corruption persist. The DA has also accused corrupt city officials of abusing expanded public works programme funds.

The Democratic Alliance has asked Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane to appoint an urgent commission of inquiry to investigate State Capture in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro. 

“We want, once and for all, to be able to expose and successfully prosecute the complex criminal networks that exist within the municipality and are fuelling the administrative and political instability that is ultimately compromising service delivery to residents in Nelson Mandela Bay,” the leader for the DA in the Eastern Cape, Andrew Whitfield, said on Tuesday.

“It cannot be done on a piecemeal basis, it cannot be done by the municipality, it cannot be done by politicians. It needs to be an independent commission of inquiry appointed by the premier in terms of the Provincial Commissions Act.”

The criminal networks that exist within the metro were first highlighted in the book, How to Steal a City, by Crispian Olver.

Political turmoil

Nelson Mandela Bay is being run by its third coalition government since the 2021 local government elections. The first was controlled by the ANC, the second by the DA, and now an ANC-controlled coalition government is leading the metro – but with a mayor from the National Alliance.

Executive Mayor Gary van Niekerk is currently under investigation for fraud and contravention of municipal finance laws after he admitted to procuring a firm of attorneys for legal services – on official council stationery – after his seat in council had been declared vacant, meaning the former speaker was unable to legally procure services. 

Van Niekerk’s ouster was later overturned by the courts and he returned to council. He has admitted to procuring the legal services while his seat was officially vacant, but claims he was acting “in defence of the council”.

Whitfield said, “Nelson Mandela Bay could have a new government every other month and it would not necessarily bring about the stability that is required. We need professional civil servants… that are fit for purpose. Those civil servants need to be protected and immunised.”

He said this would include a permanent city manager and permanent executive directors. The current city manager, Dr Nxolo Nqwazi, is on trial for corruption but is still employed by the metro. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges against her.

‘Ongoing interference’

state capture nelson mandela bay

The Democratic Alliance’s Dr Vicky Knoetze (left) has written to Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane asking him to appoint a commission of inquiry into State Capture in Nelson Mandela Bay. She announced this at a press conference alongside provincial leader of the party Andrew Whitfield, metro spokesperson Georgina Faltein and the caucus leader for the metro and former mayor Retief Odendaal. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Dr Vicky Knoetze, the DA’s provincial spokesperson on cooperative governance and traditional affairs, said the party had asked Mabuyane to respond to its request by Friday, 29 September. She said there were legislative measures that could be taken if Mabuyane refused to comply.

Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Yanga Funani, said the premier had not yet received Knoetze’s letter.

Knoetze said in her letter that a commission was needed to investigate several allegations of ongoing interference by politicians in the appointment of service providers and municipal officials, as well as in disciplinary matters and legal disputes, irregularities within municipal supply chain processes, the capturing of municipal entities such as the Mandela Bay Development Agency, the evergreen municipal contracts, and failure and/or lack of progress in dealing with the R20-billion accumulated unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

Leader of the DA’s Nelson Mandela Bay caucus Retief Odendaal said the abuse of funds from the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), meant to provide work and a stipend to the poorest families in the metro, was an “egregious” consequence of State Capture within the metro.

At the time of writing, municipal officials had not responded to Daily Maverick’s request for comment.

‘A duty to act’

Other issues Mabuyane is urged to include in the proposed commission of inquiry’s terms of reference are corruption within the electricity and energy and human settlements departments.

“We trust that the premier will agree that these matters carry the weight of extreme public concern and extreme public interest and go in line with good governance,” Knoetze said.

Odendaal said unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure in the metro stood at an accumulated R20-billion.

“The metro has the highest amount of unauthorised, irregular, fruitless expenditure of any municipality or provincial government in the country since 1994,” he said.

He said this was proof of why corrupt forces in the municipality needed to break down supply chain management safeguards.

“We know that the provincial government has a duty to act when municipalities are failing, and in this case where there could be prima facie evidence of State Capture,” Odendaal said.

“The last couple of months, we have seen irrefutable proof that close links create the perfect breeding ground for corruption. I have said this before and it is something that is foreign to me. When I came back to Nelson Mandela Bay, I saw how politicians were fighting for administrators – almost as if they represented those administrators. We still witness that today.

“Certain politicians look like they are willing to sacrifice their political career for administrators. That is untoward. It leads us to believe that certain politicians have been captured by these administrators,” he said.

Odendaal said that at the council meeting to be held on Wednesday, 27 September, opposition parties would move for delegated powers to be removed from Van Niekerk and given to deputy mayor Babalwa Lobishe until the Hawks had completed their investigations into the mayor.

Odendaal maintained the Hawks were making good progress in their investigation into irregularities in the electricity department. These were uncovered after an explosion at the Coega substation left large parts of the city, including a crucial industrial zone, without electricity for days.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Seven officials suspended for alleged supply chain corruption after explosion at Nelson Mandela Bay substation

Odendaal said among the issues they wanted to be included in the commission of inquiry was the abuse of the EPWP. He claimed that money from this programme was used to pay city officials up to R30,000 a month. 

“It is immoral,” Odendaal said. “This alone could provide at least 10 families with an income.”

‘Criminal charges aren’t enough’

“We share the frustration of the political turmoil, the ups and downs and the ins and outs,” Whitfield said.

“When we were in government, we pursued corruption to the full extent available to us and it cut too close to the bone… we were ultimately removed from the government. Every time we touched a nerve… political instability ensued.

“We don’t believe that laying criminal charges on an ad hoc basis, and allowing investigations to continue and run their course in the manner that they have done, is sufficient action to root out endemic and systemic corruption in Nelson Mandela Bay, which is compromising service delivery and also fuelling political instability in the city.

“In our experience, there is a direct link and relationship between certain political actors and senior administrators within the municipality,” Whitfield said.

“As long as senior administrative instability and the revolving doors of the city manager’s office continue, it allows a culture of no accountability, no consequence management and, ultimately, for corruption to spread like a virus in the institution.

“It is long overdue for the corruption to be dealt with in a holistic fashion. We believe fundamentally that the institutions that are in the municipality to deal with corruption have failed,” he said.

These include the municipal standing committee on public finance, the internal audit department and the disciplinary board.

“They failed either due to a lack of capacity or they failed because they have been captured themselves,” he said.

“As much as we respect the separation of powers, there comes a time when one sphere of government not operating the way it should, requires another sphere of government to intervene,” Whitfield said. DM

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