An amount of R19.6 million that an alleged syndicate of corrupt municipal officials in Limpopo has siphoned since last November is just the tip of the iceberg, says Mayor Stan Ramaila, adding that tens of millions of rands are suspected to have vanished.
The Greater Sekhukhune District Municipality in Groblersdal had a few incidents of money being stolen in small amounts of R5.4 million, R12 million and R2.2 million since last year, but Ramaila is certain that more missing millions will be detected through his corruption-busting efforts.
Last July officials deposited R5.4 million in two tranches of R4.5 million and R900 000 into wrong accounts.
The Hawks have since frozen the accounts and R4.7 million has been recovered.
Officials had also deposited R1 million instalments for 12 months last year into a wrong account purportedly belonging to the labour department’s compensation fund.
And a service provider was paid double the R2.2 million he was supposed to receive.
Forensic audit investigations are ongoing and cases have been opened with the police.
The rural municipality has been losing money to corruption and, on top of that, it has acute service delivery backlogs, especially water.
Water scarcity agitated communities in the Moutse area to such a degree that they blockaded roads last week.
They said a R560 million water project they were promised in 2010 had still not materialised.
Ramaila told City Press last week that new fraudulent transactions were being picked up in the municipality’s systems.
The municipality was trying to recover R27 million that was wrongfully paid to a toilet contractor in the 2014/15 financial year before he became mayor; he said millions more could have been paid to ghost employees.
An amount of R220 000 was found to have been paid to an advocate and not an attorney who had a contract with the municipality.
The detected total amount siphoned from the municipality’s bank account so far was R44.2 million, but more fraudulent activities could be exposed, Ramaila said.
There is a syndicate in this municipality that we must uproot
Mayor Stan Ramaila
Unscrupulous officials had allegedly used loopholes in the financial system, enabling them to change recipients’ account numbers to divert funds to wrong accounts and make double payments to contractors without it being noticed.
When the municipality conducted a verification of employees last year, it found that it was paying R1.5 million annually to 490 general workers.
Ramaila said he doubted the municipality, the job of which was to provide bulk water and infrastructure, had need of such a “high” number of general workers.
Ramaila said all Sekhukhune employees would be paid by cheque this month to try to find out how big the problem of ghost workers was.
“There is a syndicate in this municipality that we must uproot. Last week I told officials that my life is under threat because I’m fighting corruption but, like a soldier, I will die with my boots on,” Ramaila said.
The DA caucus leader and member of the public accounts committee in the municipality, Solly Maile, said that the administration was “factionalised” as just about every official was an ANC member.
“There’s no external hand because one would need passwords and codes to access the system. Certain ANC politicians are involved in this but there’s no evidence,” Maile said.
The missing millions have earned Ramaila the nickname “Mr Ma-Millions” from his political detractors.
My biggest wish is to stop fraud and corruption, bring stability to the institution and deliver services.
Mayor Stan Ramaila
The ANC in Sekhukhune is preparing for a regional conference scheduled for June this year and Ramaila is going to stand for re-election for a second term as regional chairperson.
But his political rivals have been propagating an allegation that he knew about the stolen money and that it was being channelled towards his election campaign.
“Yes, I’m contesting for chairpersonship, but I cannot raise money fraudulently. It’s an allegation that they must prove and the implicated officials can explain if the stolen money goes to me or not,” Ramaila said.
“I understand that we’re in conference season and people make allegations. The fact of the matter is that I do not hesitate to act against corruption and those who are implicated.”
Ramaila, for now, is set to contest against outgoing regional secretary and MP Jerry Maseko, and chief of staff in Limpopo Premier Stanley Mathabatha’s office, Mogale Nchabeleng.
ANC leaders in Sekhukhune – as in the whole province – are now divided according to their stance relating to the VBS Mutual Bank scandal in which municipalities lost millions in investments.
It is those who allegedly benefited in the VBS scandal against those who did not.
Ramaila is known for his anti-VBS stance.
Sekhukhune is influential in determining who becomes the next ANC provincial chairperson because it is usually not ravaged by too many factions, unlike other regions.
Provincial ANC chairperson and Premier Mathabatha comes from Sekhukhune, as does provincial treasurer Danny Msiza.
“The significance of this conference and Mogale’s hat being thrown in the ring,” said an ANC insider, “is that it will give an idea if Mathabatha has lost grip of Sekhukhune or not.
“Should Mogale win, it means that Mathabatha might as well anoint his successor.”
Ramaila said he could not rule out a possibility that ANC activists employed in his municipality could be sabotaging him.
“There are those who came through ANC deployment and they might have a different opinion to mine and therefore might do wrong things,” he said.
Ramaila said that all the cases were reported to the police, but no one had been arrested.
Eleven officials in the municipality’s finance, corporate services and information technology divisions had been suspended but, due to the slow pace of the disciplinary processes, some of the implicated employees had been reinstated in new units.
Only one official had resigned following the corruption busts.
Maile said it was concerning that no action had been taken against the implicated officials.
“My biggest wish is to stop fraud and corruption, bring stability to the institution and deliver services,” said Ramaila.