Opinionista Faiez Jacobs 12 January 2018

Maimane must explain the DA’s contradictions in fighting corruption

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane must explain to South Africans why it is that Patricia de Lille has remained in her position as Mayor of Cape Town for so long whilst facing very serious allegations involving taxpayers’ money.

Maimane’s hypocrisy in calling for stringent action against his political opponents but treating his own party members with kid gloves calls into serious question his apparent stand against corruption.

The DA leader must also explain why Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and Human Settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela have been left untouched by similar scandals. The ANC suspects Helen Zille is still very much in charge of the DA – and Maimane is simply being used as a front to attract black votes.

To be clear, the ANC is in no way defending Patricia de Lille. The seriousness of the allegations of corruption in the City of Cape Town and cover-ups by de Lille are well-documented, yet the Democratic Alliance (DA) has for too long ensured that the Mayor remains firmly at the helm of one of the biggest Metros in the country.

Maimane should have suspended De Lille months ago but was so shaken by his battle with Madame Zille over her disgraceful defence of colonialism that he is now too scared to act against de Lille himself.

The recent pronouncements by the DA’s Cape Metro chairman Grant Twigg, that De Lille should be fired, makes clear that the DA caucus is caught between varying instructions from the DA’s headquarters.

Once it became clear to the DA that they could not contain the fallout of De Lille’s disastrous tenure in the city, even going to the extent of holding behind closed doors a crucial Council meeting about the corruption scandal, they are now trying to kick out De Lille out as Mayor through party structures instead of dealing with her in a Council meeting which should be held in full view of the public.  

Maimane’s silence is ominous. The African National Congress in the Western Cape calls for her immediate suspension as mayor, as well as City Manager Achmat Ebrahim and the Executive Director for Transport, Melissa Whitehead (the City’s transport commissioner). The Mayor should be suspended immediately because she has made no secret of the fact that she is not fazed by the very serious allegations against her by no less than her right-hand man in the City, the Executive Director in the Office of the Mayor, Craig Kesson.

Maimane seems to have adopted the posture of a deer in the headlights. Instead of tolerating a situation in which the City of Cape Town and citizens are kept guessing amid a slew of legal moves which appear to be aimed at confusing the electorate, the Leader of the DA must act boldly. Maimane is very good at pointing fingers at the ANC and shouting from the top of the mountain about corruption, but his actions don’t match that talk. It is not enough to have suspended De Lille from taking part in DA activities as the City of Cape Town is a government structure run with taxpayers’ and ratepayers’ money; it is not a party structure and so De Lille’s suspension from the DA is entirely insignificant from the perspective of good governance. 

The fact that the Council discussed this scandal behind closed doors on Friday 5 January, out of the public eye for the second time in as many months, makes a mockery of transparency. The multi-party Parliamentary inquiry into allegations of corruption in state entities such as Eskom has been conducted in public, in full view of journalists and television cameras. The ANC is firmly of the view that the City’s attempts to deal with this scandal in secret is part of the DA-led Council’s attempts to cover up this scandal and further protect De Lille. 

Given the serious nature of the allegations levelled by Kesson against De Lille, dating back two months to early November 2017 already, Maimane and the DA leadership must ensure that De Lille is suspended as Mayor. The Mayor, the City Manager and the very senior managers embroiled in this scandal will do whatever they can to cover up the corruption in which they have been implicated. It is not inconceivable that De Lille and her senior officials would by now have attempted to tamper with evidence and intimidate witnesses. In fact, the Council meeting of 5 January noted that a report by law firm Bowman Gilfillan contains “allegations…that the Executive Mayor prevented the City Manager (Achmat Ebrahim) from reporting the allegations (of corruption) against Commissioner (Melissa) Whitehead to Council”.

It is good and standard practice in corruption cases as serious as this that those individuals implicated, no matter how senior, are placed on cautionary suspension so as to protect the integrity of investigations, to ensure that evidence is not removed, and also to ensure that witnesses are not intimidated. In fact, the more senior those that are implicated, the more the need for them to be suspended.

Bowman’s reportedly found that De Lille and her City Manager conspired to cover up corruption related to R72-million for tenders for busses and, separately, losses of R43-million related to the MyCiti transport system. The report also allegedly names Mayco member for transport Brett Herron and the former Executive Director for Corporate Services, Gerhard Ras, who was reportedly given a golden handshake of R3.5-million to leave the City.

To its credit, the Council of the City of Cape Town has set a deadline of Friday 12 January (seven days from its meeting behind closed doors last Friday 5 January) for Ebrahim and Whitehead to explain why they should not be placed on “cautionary suspension”. The Council took this decision “in view of the possibility that individuals may jeopardise the investigation into the misconduct and influence witnesses.” However, in spite of instructing that further investigations be conducted into the allegations against De Lille, the Council inexplicably stopped short of taking similar action to suspend her. The lack of determination to act against her is bizarre given the DA’s apparent crusade against corruption.

The ANC wants to state clearly that it is now an urgent priority for De Lille and her senior officials to be held to account. De Lille must, as with Ebrahim and Whitehead, be given a reasonable chance to explain why she should not be placed on cautionary suspension. A fair, independent and even-handed investigation should be speedily concluded and criminal charges should be laid without undue delay against those who have made themselves guilty of wrongdoing.

De Lille and Ebrahim are the most senior figures in the City of Cape Town and this scandal helps us to understand why the impending water crisis was ignored for so long. It is now clear that the two top leaders of one of the most widely recognised Metropolitan cities in the world were so preoccupied with sweeping corruption under the carpet that they neglected to heed many warnings over several preceding years about the severity of the drought which has now struck at the heart of the region’s economy. Agriculture, tourism and industrial development are all suffering because the City failed to act timeously. All the ‘urgent’ measures which are now being procured at massively inflated rates to supplement the City’s water sources could and should have been implemented long ago. This corruption scandal also calls into question the decisions and actions which De Lille, Ebrahim and some of their senior managers took regarding the restructuring of the City.

Maimane’s lack of resolve in dealing with De Lille mirrors his failure to act decisively against the untouchable Premier. In the case of his predecessor as leader of the DA, her disingenuous defence of colonialism dragged on for almost three months before Maimane announced her suspension from party activities. Notwithstanding the fact that he had stated unambiguously that Zille’s comments on colonialism in March 2017 were “completely unacceptable and indefensible”, it took months before Zille reluctantly appeared at a press conference alongside Maimane mid-June to again apologise even after she had repeatedly defended her actions following her initial apology for the offending Tweet. In the process, Zille showed the middle finger to millions of South Africans who continue to suffer the consequences of centuries of colonialism and apartheid, but she continues to serve as Premier of the Western Cape, a province where the disparities between Black (African, Coloured and Indian) and White continues to be shockingly stark.

It is also interesting that, in stark contrast to the investigation launched into De Lille’s conduct, there has been no independent investigation into the serious allegations that individuals in the construction industry who funded a birthday party for Madikizela at the exclusive One and Only hotel in Cape Town. By her won admission, Zille conducted her own investigation and found no wrongdoing. Which law empowers the Premier to investigate her MECs and to which Constitutional structure did she table the report? This, too, makes a mockery of the DA’s persistent calls for independent investigations into similar allegations in ANC-run government structures. However, in the only province which the DA controls, such serious allegations are not subjected to independent scrutiny and are swept under the carpet.

The DA leader should not only pay lip service to corruption and pretend that he is offended by racism when, in fact, he fails to deal with the most senior leaders of his party whose actions go against the grain of what Tony Leon’s creation claims to stand for. DM


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