GEORGE NEWS - With the spotlight on George Mayor Melvin Naik's looming suspension as well as criminal charges brought by the DA against Naik and others implicated in the War on Waste corruption exposé, opposition parties are questioning the DA's motives asking why the role players in the Old Mutual investment saga did not get the same treatment.
In a strongly worded statement earlier this week by Brett Herron, Secretary-General of the Good party and a member of the Western Cape Legislature, he said allegations of a corrupt investment practice involving the DA Portfolio Councillor for Finances, Stag Cronjé, had been brought to the attention of Provincial Minister for Local Government and DA Western Cape chairperson, Anton Bredell, in July 2018, but that the minister had failed to act.
Herron said Good party leader, Patricia de Lille, reported the matter to the Public Protector in April last year claiming the investment scheme involved the alleged unlawful investment of R350-million of George municipal funds with Old Mutual Wealth.
"DA Councillor Cronjé facilitated the opportunity for his son, an Old Mutual Mandating Agent, to receive a referral fee of approximately R152 000 for introducing Old Mutual Wealth to George Municipality and its 'surplus funds'. Despite the substantial evidence that supports these allegations, the DA has failed to act against Cronjé," said Herron. "Cronjé continues to serve as the Portfolio Councillor for Finance and has not been suspended by the DA."
ANC Southern Cape regional secretary Major Sokopo said the DA is giving the impression that the forensic investigation into War on Waste was their own initiative, but that it was in actual fact an initiative of the ANC and PBI.
Sokopo also demands an immediate probe into the Old Mutual Wealth case.
Adv Gert van Niekerk of the Freedom Front Plus said he doubts whether there is another city in the Western Cape where the mayor and municipal manager have found themselves in so many crises. "All of these crises amount to millions of dollars a year spent on legal fees and forensic investigations to expose these people, while we could have been spending money on infrastructure. This is only the first part of the forensic investigation report. The FF Plus is very much looking forward to the forensic investigators' findings regarding Muravah, the Nelson Mandela Boulevard (NMB) project and the connection between the role players in the War on Waste and the NMB projects. Residents need to prepare for a bombshell."
Provincial leader of Icosa, Dawid Kamfer, asked why the DA always blames black and coloured councillors when there is corruption. "The George saga is deeper than just the mayor. We believe more people within the DA are involved in the alleged corruption," he said. "The question is why did the DA take so long to address the matter? We know that it would have had a major impact on their 2019 election. The DA had no choice to make it known now, to show the voters they are fighting corruption, but actually they are deceiving voters."
Herron further referred to a matter involving DA Mayoral Committee Member, Cecil Noble, who has allegedly benefited from an illegal electricity connection and owes the municipality an estimated amount of R38 000. "He is still in arrears with the municipality - which is unlawful (a councillor may not be in debt to a municipality) - but is yet to face any DA disciplinary procedures or action," said Herron. He also mentioned the current Minister of Human Settlements, Tertuis Simmers, who was alleged to have benefited from an illegal electricity connection at his home in George while he was an Eden District Councillor.
"Instead of prosecuting electricity theft and taking action against their public representatives for electricity theft, the DA changed the Electricity Theft policy to prevent the municipality from lodging criminal complaints. The DA tried to 'decriminalise' theft of electricity," he said.
"If there is evidence to suggest that Naik is guilty of misconduct, the DA must take action against him. They must also take action against others implicated in corruption. Handpicking who in the George Municipality to take action against exposes the DA leadership for pursuing factional battles and scrambling to protect patronage within the George Municipality."
Matters taking their course
When approached for comment, Noble said the matter of his alleged electricity theft is in the legal domain. Cronjé said the report pertaining to the alleged investment scheme will serve in Council. "I can't jump the gun. It's common knowledge that I, Keith Jordaan, Noble and many others were framed to shift the focus away from those who are corrupt. My attorney responded to the report that will serve before Council. We gave our full cooperation - also to the Hawks and the Public Protector."
Word from the minister
In a statement yesterday, 22 January, Bredell reacted on comments made by opposition parties who are "seemingly seeking to cast aspersions on [his] intent to root out corruption".
He referred to an earlier statement released on 4 April 2019, addressing the issue of the alleged Old Mutual Investment scheme. "The Provincial Government is in fact fully aware of the allegations pertaining to a possible investment scheme at the George Municipality. A criminal matter has been reported to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI) in George - known as the Hawks. The DPCI office in George can be contacted for further information. In addition, the municipality has procured the services of a forensic firm to investigate the allegations."
Bredell said it appears that some opposition political parties are attempting to score "cheap political points by grandstanding". He urged politicians to act responsibly. "At the very least, desist from spreading unverified rumours. My department and myself are always available to any member of the public, including opposition politicians, who are genuinely interested in moving the province and the country forward. I invite anyone with concerns about corruption to approach me at any time. As we have clearly demonstrated, we do not sit idly by in the Western Cape and we act without fear or favour. We also firmly believe in sticking to the rule of law and not play-acting in the court of public opinion."
He called upon the national government to "better capacitate the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to ensure criminal activity is speedily and thoroughly addressed".
"My department has over the past ten years called the Hawks and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) in to investigate several cases in several municipalities across the province, but with little to no outcomes to date. And in fact, the head of the NPA, adv. Shamila Batohi, stated in Parliament in October 2019 that: the SIU had reported 293 nationwide cases of corruption and fraud at municipalities to the NPA, cases of which the NPA was only able to handle nine. This is obviously a major concern if we wish to make real headway against wrongdoers in our municipal system."
'We bring you the latest Garden Route, Hessequa, Karoo news'