I live in a city that moves differently – thanks to the vision and hard work of City officials, political leaders, dedicated subcontractors and 78 million people who have “voted” by paying their bus fare for an efficient reliable, safe commuter transport service.
I am an accidental politician. I never imagined being elected to public office and I never sought to serve in an executive political leadership position. At the same time, I am also extremely proud of the role that I have played in the success of the MyCiTi bus service.
Sadly, I also never imagined that my name – or any project with which I am involved – would ever be associated with any wrongdoing, never mind linked, in even the most tenuous manner, with totally false and often malicious allegations of corruption.
It has been my greatest honour and privilege to serve Cape Town since 2011 as the Mayoral Committee Member responsible for implementing South Africa’s flagship Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the public transport transformation project known as Cape Town’s MyCiTi bus service.
It’s not perfect but it is remarkable and it has changed the lives of those who have access to it. MyCiTi has also become a service that is much in demand by those who are not yet served by it; and we are getting to them.
As a child, my father taught me a simple lesson about leadership and responsibility: that “those who are able to speak out have a duty to do so for those who cannot”.
Of course, at that time it had a different context and meaning, but it is a lesson I have lived with, and up to, my entire life. It is this value that motivates me to write this to dispel some of the inaccurate reporting and rumour-mongering about the MyCiTi bus project.
It distresses me that the MyCiTi project is subjected to often flippant, ill-informed and often woefully inaccurate reporting that portrays the project as riddled with corruption. This is simply not true.
But first allow me to offer some background: A few months ago I celebrated my 51st birthday. I am a South African who grew up during apartheid with all the benefits of being a privileged white male. I am fortunate however that I grew up in a family that exposed me to the realities of apartheid.
I went to the then University of Natal to become a lawyer. I got involved in student organisations opposed to apartheid. I marched. I was shot at. I got the purple dye stains from police water cannon.
I graduated around the time Madiba was released from prison and the transition to democracy commenced.
In 2007 I read Andrew Feinstein’s book After the Party – an expose of the Arms Deal and the hugely disappointing path our democracy was heading down. I decided I either had to get involved in defending our democracy or I had to leave. I could not remain a spectator.
I joined the Independent Democrats as an ordinary member who was willing to help wherever I was needed. I helped establish branches, helped at by-elections and took part in whatever campaign or event I was able to.
I had no intention, nor any expectation, that I would become a public representative. I was eventually persuaded by a party leader to make myself available for election.
Decent, affordable and reliable public transport has the power to change people’s lives. And every single day our MyCiTi bus system, even though it is still in its first phase of development, provides access to our city to thousands of people, most of whom were excluded through apartheid spatial planning.
In many respects the MyCiTi service is regarded as the most successful BRT system in Africa and is identified by the National Department of Transport as the flagship.
By the end of December 2017 the service had provided 78 million passenger journeys since its inception. Every weekday it provides about 65,000 passenger trips and our N2 Express Service from Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain have seen MyCiTi’s monthly passenger numbers double over the last year to about 220,000.
MyCiTi revenue has steadily grown from R4.6-million in 2011 to R228-million in 2017 and to a grand total of R842-million by the end of January 2018.
So, given the latest events in the City with many, if not most, media stories referencing “MyCiTi losses” or “MyCiTi irregularities” or even “corruption”; have the wheels come off?
I make no excuse, nor offer any defence, for any official or City employee who may be accused of misconduct. But as political head of the department, I believe it is my duty to correct the inaccurate reporting that has left the impression that the MyCiTi bus service is “riddled” with corruption.
In the first place, there is no current allegation of corruption against anybody associated with the MyCiTi bus service. There is no allegation that anyone acted out of, or for, personal gain. To label any of the allegations being investigated as part of some corrupt system is patently wrong and has a negative impact on the MyCiTi service itself.
It is also incorrect to suggest that the alleged fare revenue losses were being covered up. The MyCiTi stations are managed by a facilities management company appointed through a tender process. The kiosks from where MyCiTi travel packages are sold and loaded onto the MyConnect card, and the cash management thereafter, are part of their contract.
The facts of the matter are that in early 2016 I was alerted that the department had discovered fare revenue losses through theft. This had been picked up through the department’s reconciliation processes and by the developer of the fare collection system.
They advised me that they had already alerted the City Manager who had initiated a forensic investigation and that the contractor had been put to terms since they would be responsible for losses. Our Legal Services department was also instructed to appoint external attorneys to advise on a claim against our service provider.
The extent of the fare revenue loss is the subject of an external audit investigation – those auditors were appointed by the City Manager on 7 September 2017. The facilities management company took action against their employees – and a number of cashiers are awaiting trial in the Atlantis Magistrate’s Court.
The entire process of discovering the losses and taking action to recover those losses was done by senior officials within the fare collection management system. The fare collection system is a complex and unique one – regulated by National Department of Transport – and was still under development during this period. System changes have since been implemented to address these vulnerabilities to theft.
Concerns raised internally, and by the Auditor General, about the frequency of internal reconciliations have also been addressed. What remains is an allegation that the commissioner, who is on precautionary suspension pending these investigations, failed to put systems in place to adequately monitor the service provider and the contract.
Then there is the Volvo and Scania bus chassis “scandal”.
Again, the allegation is not that any City staff member acted corruptly. The facts are that the City has acquired about 450 buses since the beginning of the project. All of those buses were supplied through multiple tenders issued as the service expanded.
Volvo and Scania – both international automotive businesses – were awarded contracts for the supply of 12-metre and 18-metre buses for the N2 Express Service and the remainder of Phase 1 of the MyCiTi project.
They manufacture their bus chassis outside of the country and then import them for local assembly. The local supply and assembly is a substantial job creation project and resulted in several hundred bus assembly jobs being created in Cape Town.
Volvo and Scania had imported their chassis and delivered them to be assembled into buses. At the time there was a strike and the assembly of the buses was delayed. This would have resulted in a significant capital budget under-spend in that financial year.
The team decided to check the contract to see if it allowed for payment of that part of the bus that had been delivered – the chassis – as this would reduce under-spend.
The bus acquisition project manager interpreted a clause in the contract as allowing for payment for the chassis, even though the full bus had not been delivered. That project manager checked his interpretation with another manager in the department – who agreed that the clause allowed for Volvo and Scania to invoice for the parts already delivered.
Volvo and Scania invoiced the City for the chassis and these invoices were paid.
Subsequently, the City obtained a legal opinion that the contract could not be interpreted as it had been. This would make the payments for the chassis “irregular”. By this time the buses had been fully assembled and were already operating on the new N2 Express MyCiTi route from Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain to Cape Town. Thus, these very same buses are operating on the MyCiTi routes across Cape Town as I am writing this article.
The commissioner and the officials face charges of misconduct related to alleged irregular payment for the chassis.
This does not mean that the money was stolen or that the City incurred any financial loss. The allegation and possible misconduct charge is based on whether they were entitled to interpret the contract as they did and then authorise payments based on that interpretation.
Local government is a complex environment with a myriad challenges, pressing needs, and expectations from those we serve.
Being a politician in local government means being very close to the coalface, as it should be. Although I find myself serving at this coalface accidentally, it has been a privilege and honour to do so.
To lead programmes that can redress the injustices of apartheid that I was exposed to early in life and to continue to speak out for those who cannot, as I was taught to do, is what motivates me every day.
Investigations into all of the allegations must continue and anyone who has committed an act of misconduct must face the appropriate consequences. However, it is important that we continue to celebrate the huge achievements of the MyCiTi service and to remain excited about its potential to change our city as it is expanded in the future. DM
Brett Herron is City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Transport & Urban Development Authority. Since 2011 Herron has been political head of the Cape Town Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, named MyCiTi.
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