GEORGE NEWS - A former mayoral project, War on Waste, has now given rise to a war on graft.
George Municipal Manager Trevor Botha, former mayor Melvin Naik and three more municipal officials of George Municipality will appear in the George Magistrate's Court on 9 October on charges of fraud, corruption and contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act.
Apart from a report on the War on Waste project awaited by Council, the municipality is also investigating irregularities regarding the controversial tender and construction of Nelson Mandela Boulevard; issues with the Expanded Public Works Programme; and the appointment of officials.
In response to a query from George Herald about the pending War on Waste court case, both Botha and Naik proclaimed their innocence, saying the allegations are untrue. Botha said he has appointed a lawyer and will defend "the baseless allegations" in court. Naik said he and his legal team welcome the chance to once and for all put to rest the "untrue and unfounded" allegations.
The five were served with court summonses by the Serious Commercial Investigation branch of the Hawks.
According to Hawks spokesperson, Lieutenant-Colonel Philani Nkwalase, the former mayor allegedly offered work to a company on a planned project long before it was formally registered with the municipality.
"He [allegedly] further colluded with the municipal manager and senior personnel within the Community Services Department of the municipality and appointed other associated companies to do work under the War on Waste project in 2017," he said.
"These service providers allegedly received payments long before the project was formally registered or a project budget allocation was made. About R9-million was [allegedly] paid between May 2017 to December 2017."
Nkwalase said a chain of gratifications were allegedly paid to the officials involved in the form of cash payments, holiday accommodation and donations for school functions.
"The matter was reported to the Hawks for investigation in 2018 after one of the company directors reported fraudulent and corrupt behaviour of the officials in 2018," said Nkwalase.
"This was due to the [alleged] failure to deliver on the promises made to the companies, when the relationship between the former mayor and his councillor allegedly turned sour."
The Hawks started their investigation into the War on Waste in 2018. Their investigation was handed to the National Prosecuting Authority in April last year. While waiting for action from the NPA, Western Cape Minister of Local Government Anton Bredell ordered another forensic investigation in September last year.
The "Bredell investigation", as it was called, was finished within five months. The report was released in January this year and shortly thereafter the DA set the wheels in motion to unseat Naik as mayor.
Botha: 'Utter lies'
On a request for comment shortly after the news broke last Saturday, Botha said the allegations that he received money are utter lies. His full comment is as follows:
"The allegations are unfounded and untrue. I have appointed a lawyer and will defend these baseless allegations in court. The aggrieved person making the allegations did not tender for the cleaning and garbage removal project and was therefore not eligible.
"Prior to the tender process, urgent quotations were requested according to which the aggrieved person was appointed to perform work according to a deviation process. That work was performed and the Procurement Processes took place according to legislation.
"The R6m was indeed fruitfully used to address illegal dumping as well as the maintenance of the landfill site, as was required. The sensation seeking public announcement of the R6m is absolutely untrue and will be proved in court.
"The so-called aggrieved person making the allegations is also closely linked to the senior official who was previously fired for fraud involving the investment of R359m. Inexplicably, nothing has been done about the matter by the relevant authorities. This makes one seriously wonder.
"The evidence and relevant supporting documents have been made available in respect of all allegations and investigations. Of course, the politicians will gain publicity from this, but some of their actual corruption and manipulation of processes will emerge. The issue of the landfill site and clean-up actions was fully investigated and the R6m was for services performed and rendered. The evidence is available."
Naik: 'I am innocent'
Naik confirmed last Saturday that he has received a summons to appear in court, saying he and his legal team welcome the chance to once and for all put to rest the untrue and unfounded allegations. His full comment is as follows:
"One thing that I am happy about is that these faceless, spineless people (some of whom are in the current council's leadership) who politicised the allegations will be identified in public. He/she who made these allegations will have to prove their unfounded allegations beyond reasonable doubt, and that is what we are waiting for.
"I stand firm in my conviction that the municipal manager was correct in not awarding a tender to someone who never put in a tender. Nobody talks about this. It is untrue that the objector/aggrieved (beswaarde) gave me any money and his allegation that he also paid officials he will have to prove in court. My name has been dragged through the mud for too long for political gain by my opponents.
"I maintain that I am innocent and will do everything in my power with the help of God to restore my good name."
The aggrieved person referred to is Myron Bruiners, a contractor from Mossel Bay, who claims that he was promised a contract by the Mayor and MM and paid them to deliver on their promise. He claims they then did not keep their end of the bargain.
Responding to queries about how the municipal council would deal with the summonses served on the municipal manager, a senior manager and the two other implicated officials by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, Mayor Leon van Wyk indicated that an internal disciplinary process has been underway for some time already and that a report in this regard is expected to serve in Council before or on 9 October.
He said the content of the report will determine any future action against the officials. "The criminal case and the internal disciplinary process are completely separate."
Van Wyk said there is a defined process to be followed for allegations of misconduct against a senior manager and how these allegations are dealt with, including the process to be followed where precautionary suspensions are to be considered, as well as the holding of disciplinary hearings. He said this process will be finalised within three months. The court case is likely to take many years.
He confirmed that the three (as yet unnamed) officials who must also appear in the dock on 9 October have asked that the municipality pay for their defense.
"We are getting legal advice about this, as it is unclear what the position is as the charges against them relate to corruption and fraud. If an official is taken to court because of work related services rendered by the municipality, we would be in a position to pay for the defense, but this is a different matter." This was an item that was deferred during a special council meeting yesterday.
The ANC and the PBI told George Herald that they were unhappy about the short notice - one day- they received of the meeting. They also believe that the officials are entitled to legal help from the municipality.
DA Constituency Head of George, Geordin Hill-Lewis, said the DA has been expecting this announcement by the Hawks for a long time. "We were waiting for it. The investigation took very long, and there was an enormous amount of evidence. We now look forward to the case proceeding and to seeing justice being served, hopefully quickly," he said.
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