News

Councillors caught on tape ‘soliciting bribes’

2015-11-09 11:24

Critical water shortages, an outstanding Eskom bill of R121 million, faulty office toilets and now a voice recording of councillors allegedly soliciting bribes.

Welcome to North West’s Ditsobotla Local Municipality in Lichtenburg, which also hired a chief financial officer after he was placed on suspension from the provincial public works department following allegations of corruption.

City Press is in possession of a recording of a meeting that took place at the Lichtenburg Golf Club on August 28, where eight councillors – including the council speaker – met with Fikile Bili, the owner of a debt-collection company called Zandile Management Services that had been contracted by the municipality to collect outstanding service bills. Ditsobotla’s administrative woes saw it being named as among the top 20 defaulting municipalities who were warned of possible power cuts by Eskom unless they made arrangements to pay.

The recording reveals how the councillors demanded “two-fifty” – or R250 000 – for their help in ensuring his invoices were paid and that he retained his contract.

Bili subsequently laid a complaint of bribery and corruption against the councillors, and now several investigations are under way into the their conduct, including one by detectives from the police’s provincial headquarters and another by the ANC in the province.

North West police spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko confirmed that the case had been opened and was being investigated.

In his police statement, which City Press has obtained, Bili details the bribes he alleges were demanded from him by the councillors and municipal officials.

He alleges that even before he was awarded his contract on August 1, Ditsobotla’s chief financial officer, Leeto Dintwe, asked him for a bribe of R150 000.

Dintwe was hired in his new role despite the North West public works department placing him on suspension as their financial officer following allegations that he had been involved in an irregularly awarded tender for a 50km stretch of road between Lichtenburg and Koster, which cost a massive R250 million.

Dintwe, Bili wrote in his statement, visited his Johannesburg offices a few days after Bili had made a pitch to mayor Lesego Holele and acting municipal manager Solomon Nnete to offer his services to the municipality as a debt collector.

He didn’t pay Dintwe the bribe and the council went on to accept his proposal in any case. He was offered a 36-month contract that said he would receive 20% of the municipal money he collected.

In the meantime, Bili resolved to record his future meetings with council officials, the first of which was in late August when he met eight councillors at the Lichtenburg Golf Club.

According to the recording and Bili’s affidavit, a number of councillors attended that meeting. They included speaker Pogisho Maitshotlo, ANC councillors Letlhogonolo Mothibedi, Vincent Dila and Molefe Morutse, as well as municipal manager Nnete.

Holele, Dintwe, two DA councillors and an ANC councillor, who asked not to be named, have recognised and identified their voices on the recording. The three councillors have signed transcripts of the recordings, confirming that the voices they heard belonged to the people they had identified.

A senior official at the golf club, who asked not to be named because of a dispute with the municipality over an incorrect bill, also confirmed to City Press that the meeting had taken place on August 28 on the clubhouse veranda. He signed a statement to that effect.

Although Maitshotlo denies attending a meeting at the golf club, the employee said: “One of the people I remember is Pogisho; he visits here quite often. He’s a member here.”

The bartender, who also asked not to be named, also remembers the meeting well.

On the recording – which is inaudible in places because Bili used his phone to record the conversation and placed it in his jacket pocket – the businessman can be heard telling the gathering that Dintwe asked him for a bribe. At the 5.12-minute mark on the recording, he clearly says: “To my surprise, the chief financial officer left my office and came back and said to me that he’s not going to appoint me until I give him R150 000, and I kicked him out of my office.” Bili says he was unaware of the “dynamics of the council” and did not know who to deal with, because other councillors had also asked him for bribes. He complained that his invoices were not being paid.

“If I have to invoice R200 000 by the end of this month, how much must I pay you out of R200 000, or whatever I need to pay? Is it a once-off payment or is it month to month?” asked Bili.

At 7.04 minutes, two voices respond “two” – apparently meaning both options.

At 10.40, Bili asks for clarification about this: “You are saying … let’s say you are invoiced for R500 000, I must give you two-fifty [R250 000] now, and then how do I get my money back?”

Dila then threatens Bili that he and the council will “part ways”, and he will lose his contract: “We are sitting here with the pretext that Bili is onside; all of us sitting here are under the impression that we have moved ... we thought he was invested into this thing and yet we have not received niks [sic].”

Between the 16th and 34th minutes on the recording, those at the meeting discuss administration issues relating to Bili’s contract. Maitshotlo becomes adamant that Bili needs to make an upfront payment (a bribe) to the councillors who ensured he got the contract.

Maitshotlo is heard saying: “What makes it difficult now is … speak to administration and see to it that I get paid, because as we are sitting here, we are very much unsatisfied ... We are saying that we want a once off ... I heard you saying where you are sitting you don’t have upfront money – that statement is very offensive…

“I’m not expecting you to say ‘I’ll give R30 000 each’, but for now, on the basis … this is what I have here and give it out and say ‘let’s move forward’,” adds Maitshotlo.

HOW THEY RESPOND

. Speaker Pogisho Maitshotlo denied that he had asked for a bribe, claiming Bili was the one with the problem.

“He’s been calling me, sending messages, calling my wife and telling her I am corrupt. I have never been at a meeting with Bili at a golf course. I know him from the council chambers where he made his presentation.”

When City Press had him listen to the recording in his office, Maitshotlo said he didn’t recognise any of the voices, including his own, and told City Press to stop asking him about a meeting he had never attended.

“This isn’t the last you’ll hear from me,” he fumed.

. Councillor Vincent Dila told City Press that he never asked for a bribe and denied attending the meeting at the golf course. He said he was furious at Bili’s allegations, which he said were groundless.

“Bili must not think our council chambers are a golf course. Bili is a small boy,” he said.

. Municipal manager Solomon Nnete denied that it was his voice on the recording. He claimed he had never attended Bili’s meeting, and insisted he could not identify anybody else’s voice either.

Nnete said Bili complained to him that his first invoice wasn’t being paid because he wasn’t willing to pay a bribe: “But he did not make a formal complaint and so we did not investigate it. I did ask him to put it in writing.”

. Chief financial officer Leeto Dintwe confirmed a number of the voices on the recording, but has denied soliciting a bribe from Bili. Dintwe has now ordered an investigation into how Bili got his contract.

. Councillor Letlhogonolo Mothibedi said he would not comment on allegations he knew nothing about. “If you want comment, go to the administration,” he said.

. Councillor Molefe Morutse claimed they were the victims in this case.

“He [Bili] tried to bribe us. We set a trap for him on that day; I don’t know who tipped him off, and then he set a trap for us,” he said.

“He told us it was the provincial ANC that had sent him to trap us. [North West ANC secretary-general] Dakota [Legoete] doesn’t like us. The tape he has are voices he took from the council chambers.”

Morutse added that he, Dila, the speaker and the chief whip, Isaac Mogonediwa, had resolved about two weeks ago that they would open a case against Bili. But when asked to produce the case number, Morutse said the chief whip had given him only an OB number [a record of an occurrence at a police station] of Dila writing a statement on Friday at 11pm, which stated only that they wanted to open a case against Bili.

“This is proof he was the one trying to bribe us. We have messages. We will open a case,” he said.

. Mayor Lesego Holele, who indentified Dila’s voice, said she was unable to comment on a situation that did not involve her.


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