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Zondo zooms into corrupt municipalities

2019-07-15 01:07

The Zondo Commission into State Capture looks set to shift focus to corrupt municipalities after its legal team sent a letter last week to the struggling Matjhabeng Local Municipality requesting that its investigators be furnished with the municipality’s financial records and email archives from July 2008 to June 28 2018.

The municipality in the Free State is in desperate financial straits and its workers embarked on a shutdown after their medical aid, death, funeral and disability policies lapsed because the municipality failed to pay over their contributions late last year.

It comes as no surprise that a Free State municipality will be the first to face scrutiny since this is the province that introduced South Africans to the now-infamous Gupta family.

In the letter sent by the acting secretary Peter Pedlar, the commission’s legal team also requested that the municipality hand over crucial information contained in its department of finance laptops, “mobile handsets for the finance department staff, all backup files for the municipality and network file server for the municipality”.

Commission spokesperson Mbuyiselo Stemela declined to comment on whether a whistle-blower had approached the commission for it to investigate the municipality, or if the commission had through its own investigations uncovered links between the state capture project and the struggling municipality. Stemela also refused to be drawn into clarifying if more municipalities would be investigated and what criteria would be used to accomplish this.

“The commission will not discuss ongoing investigations,” said Stemela.

Matjhabeng Local Municipality spokesperson Kgojane Matutle also declined to comment on the matter and directed all questions to the Zondo commission.

Matutle only said the municipality would do everything in its power to cooperate with the legal team’s requests.

The EFF in the Free State, through its provincial chairperson Mandisa Makheseni, has called on an independent commission of inquiry to investigate what has led to the dire state of affairs in “all 18 of the province’s municipalities”.

“We have seen the letter that the Zondo commission has sent to Matjhabeng municipality, but we don’t know if there are investigations in to the rest of the municipalities in the province. All 18 of these municipalities are on the verge of collapse, thanks to corruption, and we want those responsible to be held accountable,” said Makheseni.

“After being identified, we want all those people that had a hand in looting these municipalities to be blacklisted and to never get employed in any municipalities again. Currently, we have a situation where people steal from one municipality and are moved to a different one to continue in their ways. As the EFF we will not stand idle while this becomes a norm,” said Makheseni.

She added that if the Zondo commission was acting after being approached by a whistle-blower about the Matjhabeng municipality, then it would be disingenuous to wait until “17 other whistle-blowers report the rest of the struggling municipalities in the Free State”.

She called on premier Sisi Ntombela to urgently set up a commission of inquiry into the struggling municipalities.

“She [Ntombela] should do this with the guidance of the other political parties of course, since she herself has been implicated,” Makheseni said.

City Press last month reported that Matjhabeng Local Municipality had on June 24 joined a number of Free State municipalities and government departments which informed workers that it did not have enough money to pay salaries.

An internal memo to workers stated that “salaries for employees from job level 18 to eight” would be paid on the day, while “those from job level seven and six up to councillors would only be paid on June 28 due to financial constraints” as it “was not possible to pay all workers at once”.

The municipality’s woes grabbed the headlines in November last year when municipal workers embarked on a shutdown after their medical aid, death, funeral and disability policies lapsed following the municipality’s failure to pay over these benefits to service providers.

All this came after Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu’s annual municipal audit report which named the municipality as the country’s most wasteful spender, with a collective waste of R818 million in the past three years.

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August 18 2019