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Opinionista

Nelson Mandela Municipality turns into Bay of Brazen Banditry

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Xolisa Phillip has had quite an adventure as a journalist in the roles of subeditor, news editor, columnist and commentator. She pretends to be Olivia Pope during the day, while still maintaining a presence in journalism – a passion project she cannot shake away. Journalism keeps finding Phillip no matter where she is and somewhat manages to hold its own space no matter where she is professionally.

The winds of corruption are blowing strong in this troubled metro as thugs resort to extreme measures to evade accountability.

Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality keeps delivering administrative plot twists which can rival even the best of Hollywood’s whodunnit productions. But there is only one problem: this is real life, the stakes are high and lives are at risk.

In this coastal city on the western half of the Eastern Cape, known for its pristine beaches and strong wind, the simple beauty belies the ugly and terrifying reality. This is the backdrop of an increasingly brazen brand of thuggery that at one time stalled the work of the Office of the Auditor-General.

In addition to political instability, the metro is one of the hot spots where safety is a major concern for staff in the Office of the Auditor-General. Here, if you are an auditor and you carry out your duties diligently, you face potentially deadly consequences.

However, unlike in Hollywood, there is no script nor is there a director in the tragic drama unfolding in Nelson Mandela Bay. There are no props, nor are there end credits. And the most important distinction is that at least in a Hollywood production, everyone on set goes home safely at the end of the day when filming wraps. This is not so in the Windy City.   

Late last year, auditors were hard at work combing through the metro’s books when an unwelcome package arrived. It was a sealed envelope that had an ominous message enclosed inside: “newspaper clippings aimed at threatening the team while auditing Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality,” according to an account given to lawmakers this past week in Parliament. One of the clippings was of an article about assassination attempts in the municipality.

The nature of these audits is such that face-to-face interviews on site with key municipal staff and other officials are a necessity to corroborate what is contained in the paper trail. But when faced with the hanging threat to its constitutionally mandated work, the Office of the Auditor-General in the province called off the audit in the Friendly City. It was just too risky to continue. In such instances, safety is paramount and supersedes all else.

Following that incident, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality officials stepped in and provided an alternative and secure site for the auditors. Although this assisted in ensuring the audit was completed and signed off two weeks ago, the metro missed its statutory deadlines, its officials confirmed in Parliament.

Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality’s audit saga, as well as those of other councils around the country, gripped parliamentarians, who were especially horrified that what happened in the Friendly City is not the subject of an official police investigation.  

The auditors had every reason to put the brakes on that potentially ill-fated audit. Consider that 18 people have been killed in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality under mysterious circumstances suspected to be assassinations. So that article clipping was no empty threat. It was a warning.

Elsewhere in the country, assassination bids connected to council contracts being audited are not an anomaly. Municipal officials often expressed surprise that auditors audited contracts without protection, Vanuja Maharaj, the corporate executive in the Office of the Auditor-General, told MPs this past week.

Two years ago, the Office of the Auditor-General scored a huge legislative coup when both houses of Parliament passed the Public Audit Amendment Act. The act gives the Office of the Auditor-General more teeth in the way of going after accounting authorities who are responsible for financial irregularities at state institutions.

Crucially, the revamped act is designed to make consequence management a living practice, instead of a theoretical nice-to-have. Furthermore, the act contains a suite of measures that bolster the powers of this Chapter Nine institution. These renewed powers are intended to ensure the Office of the Auditor-General conducts its work in line with the vision set out in the Constitution for this important institution for administrative accountability.

Bizarrely, however, these changes have given rise to a new problem for the Office of the Auditor-General. Corrupt thugs have become even more desperate to conceal maladministration and are resorting to extreme measures not to get caught.     

As for Nelson Mandela Bay, the political chaos, which fuels administrative irregularities, continues. BM

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