Council fights reinstatement of VBS accused municipal manager

2020-01-28 02:00

The Moretele Local Municipality in Makapanstad in North West is fighting the reinstatement of its municipal manager, Isaac Maroga.

He has been on precautionary suspension since December 2018 pending a disciplinary hearing over the R50 million irregularly invested in the VBS Mutual Bank.

During the disciplinary hearing which concluded in August last year, Maroga was reinstated after he presented evidence that he had played a minimal role in the municipality’s irregular investments in VBS.

As part of his reinstatement he was docked three months’ salary – about R210 000 – and given a final written warning valid for six months.

But last November the ANC-led municipality decided to overturn that sanction and have him dismissed instead as it felt it was a slap on the wrist.

Last Wednesday a council meeting decided to reverse the dismissal and instead take the disciplinary sanction on review at the labour court.

They want the finding set aside and substituted with a dismissal.

R1.57 billion
The combined loss suffered by 14 municipalities across the country that invested in VBS

While the decision effectively meant Maroga was reinstated, council on the same day extended acting municipal manager Thabo Makwela’s contract.

City Press learnt that Maroga’s salary was R106 311.

Makwela’s package is R75 323 per month but is being paid the difference between his and Maroga’s salary.

The cash-strapped municipality was among the 14 municipalities that lost R1.57 billion when the VBS collapsed.

Between March and October 2017 Moretele officials deposited R188 million into the VBS, but last year when the bank was placed under curatorship there was only R50 million.

In August 2018 City Press reported that the North West standing committee on public accounts was pressing for punitive action, including criminal charges, against the errant municipal managers behind the illegal investments of service delivery funds into VBS.

This week Maroga told City Press that the decision to reverse his dismissal had not been communicated to him and he was forging ahead with his court challenge.

“We are only waiting for the court date,” he said.

However, in the council resolution seen by City Press, the municipality said it would defend the court challenge and seek a punitive cost order against Maroga.

“The municipal manager and his attorney prematurely applied for a review to the high court to have the council’s November 14 2019 resolution rescinded. The attorney did so despite advice given to him that the resolution had not yet been implemented,” reads the resolution.

“This is so, despite the municipal manager’s belief that he had been dismissed, he had continued to receive salaries for November and December last year from the employer.”

A legal opinion sought by the municipality had confirmed that Maroga’s dismissal was unlawful.

“On the face of it therefore it is clear that the in altering the imposed sanction by the presiding officer, instead of implementing it, the council acted ultra vires its powers and by so doing usurped the powers of a reviewing judge,” read the legal opinion by Advocate Job Molapo.

“In order to avoid losing a case where the order may be made for the payment of the total balance of his contract and punitive costs order – that is if the resolution is implemented – the council may negotiate an exit package by way of mutual separation with the employee.”

Molapo said the second option the council had, though it may be costly, was to approach the high court and seek that the presiding officer’s outcome, particularly the sanction, be reviewed and set aside.

“In the review application, council may also seek an order substituting the sanction of a fine with a sanction of a dismissal given the seriousness of the offences for which the employee was charged and pleaded guilty to.”

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April 5 2020