Municipal vehicles in Rustenburg were without fuel for days and some were not operational, in a matter that mayor Mpho Khunou described as a dispute with the service provider after the council discovered contractual irregularities and a string of suspicious payments including two recent invoices totaling at least R21 million.
Khunou said last Friday that the process to find an alternative supplier at competitive rates was finalised by the end of last week, adding that a deal would be sealed soon and municipal workers would have clear information in terms of where to get fuel.
Although municipal whistleblowers told City Press the “fleet management crisis” that affected services had been going on for a couple of weeks and linked it to the municipality’s historical financial troubles, Khunou said the matter was purely contractual and it was only on Monday last week that the service provider was told to stop operating pending a forensic investigation.
Municipal fleet ordinarily ranged from light motor vehicles to construction equipment involved in the provision of services like public safety, waste management, water and sanitation, as well as the general day to day running of the affairs of the administration and council.
“We have uncovered a number of very serious irregularities in terms of the entire process that led to the appointment of the service provider and payments that had been made. We have written to the service provider to alert them that we are conducting a forensic investigation and in the meantime we are suspending their services,” Khunou said last week.
He said the municipality had put in place an alternative arrangement to allow municipal staff to continue to fuel.
“We have suspended their services and we are not paying them until the investigation is concluded. And then there is this interim arrangement because the alternative arrangement has taken a few days because there is some process to follow”.
Municipal insiders told City Press that as part of the interim arrangement, the municipality’s MMC of infrastructure Lucky Kgaladi was seen at various fuel stations in Rustenburg where he was giving “selected” municipal workers petrol money. However, Khunou said the impact on service delivery was minimal because “some vehicles would have had full tanks from the day before and therefore still operational”.
Khunou said the municipality could not justify continued payments to the service provider — whose name is known to City Press — on the face of glaring irregularities.
“There were these two invoices of R21 million and when we went through the entire process, it then warranted that we go back to the beginning, starting from the bid specifications and the service level agreement to check what services are they delivering in line with what we are paying for. And there is serious questions arising and we said we are not paying until we are clear.”
On Friday when he spoke to City Press Khunou said he had just stepped out of a boardroom where a team of forensic experts was hard at work to swiftly expedite the case.
He added: “It is just that in the nature of government processes you cannot just the same day do an arrangement and switch to another supplier. And one of the things we must do is to check who offers competitive rates and then once you have exhausted that you then enter into an agreement”. But all of that was done and we will communicate in terms of where people should refuel, he said.
In April, Rustenburg municipal manager Nqobile Sithole resigned, amid claims from the opposition that she had been stripped of her powers and pushed out to allow the ANC administration access to municipal resources for electioneering — an allegation that Khunou then dismissed.
In her resignation letter, Sithole said she left because of constant attacks on her office, faceless propaganda, interference in her work and tribalism.
In March last year the North West Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) heard that the a previous fleet management contract worth R390 million in Rustenburg was dubiously awarded and up to R822 000 in bribes paid to employees.
Scopa heard that a company made R16 million fixing municipal vehicles while bribing municipal workers to ensure there was even more work. Municipal workshop workers were also bribed to say they were not well-equipped to do certain things and told to ask for vehicles to be referred to this particular company.
The municipality said the police had decided not to continue with the case, saying even with the existence of the affidavit there were no prospects of successful prosecution. The matter has since been referred to the Hawks, Scopa heard.