Municipality extends manager’s contract despite corruption probe against him
Sizwe sama Yende
A Mpumalanga municipal manager who has two corruption probes and criminal charges hanging over his head has been given a six-month extension on his contract.
Hugh Mbatha will keep his job at the Ehlanzeni District Municipality in Nelspruit until October – five months after the upcoming local government elections on May 18.
Mbatha is facing two investigations by the provincial Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department and the public protector on corruption allegations amounting to more than R200 million.
He is also facing two counts of fraud and one count of contravening the Municipal Finance Management Act in the Nelspruit Regional Court.
The department and public protector probes were launched after complaints from the South African Municipal Workers Union.
The union has expressed displeasure at Mbatha’s extended stay at Ehlanzeni.
“We do not approve,” said its provincial secretary Kgokedi Mphahlele.
“We didn’t like the fact that the department investigated without suspending him, and didn’t treat this matter with the urgency it deserved. Now his contract is extended while he has such allegations. It always happens that when the term of a council has to end, people employ their friends and relatives and leave the incoming councillors with a burden,” Mphahlele said.
Outgoing Ehlanzeni mayor Constance Mkhonto said Mbatha’s contract was extended to enable a smooth handover to the new council.
Mkhonto, however, said that it would be proper if all the investigations against Mbatha were dealt with and finished by the outgoing council.
“We’ll use Mbatha as a handover arm. On the other hand, we’ve been requesting those reports (from the department and public protector) and they have been saying that they’re still busy. Obviously, people who are supposed to answer will be gone when they’re released,” she said.
Department spokesperson Simphiwe Kunene said that a forensic audit report had been finished but the department was busy studying it.
Kunene could not indicate when they would be ready to act on it.The office of the public protector said it would release its report to the municipality once it had been completed.
On the criminal charges, Mbatha is accused of:
» Paying acting allowances worth R226 080 to himself and acting chief finance officer Belinda Mojapelo between October 24 2004 and May 25 2005 while he was seconded to work as an administrator of the municipality.
» Wrongfully advising council that it could not claim R149 000 that his predecessor Thoko Mashiane owed on a vehicle loan because any contractual relationship between the council and Mashiane stopped existing when she resigned. Mashiane was given the vehicle loan on November 25 2002 and resigned on April 30 2005.
» Unauthorised, irregular or wasteful expenditure for paying R550 000 to Three Dot Communications and Marketing on April 21 2005 for organisational development programme work for which the council had not budgeted in the 2004/2005 financial year.
Three Dot was appointed on a R1.1-million contract, allegedly without following tender procedures.
Mbatha referred questions to the municipality.