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A Durban businessman who says he exposed the “corrupt” awarding of a R3 billion contract to a company with links to former mayor Obed Mlaba, has gone to court claiming he is now being “punished” by the city’s withdrawal of two major contracts.
Tadek Tomaszewski, the managing director of Re-ethical Environmental Re-engineering (Re), says his waste removal contracts for Moses Mabhida football stadium and Ushaka Marine World were cancelled because he reported his allegations regarding Mlaba to the Manase forensic auditors and is “deadly serious” about taking the issue further.
The city is vigorously opposing his application, saying the two contracts were cancelled lawfully.
Tomaszewski says in May, the city accused the company of having owners or shareholders employed by the state and terminated the contracts. He said this was “a trumped-up cancellation” based on outdated facts.
Bathabile Mzoneli, an employee of the housing department, held shares with one of Re’s former BEE partner companies.
That partnership ended in 2010 and Mzoneli resigned the same year.
In an affidavit submitted yesterday, the city says Mzoneli is still listed as a director.
“We contacted her … she says she has not resigned,” said Danny Ramlahl, the manager of Durban Solid Waste.
The tender Tomaszweski refers to in his affidavit was for a project to reduce waste volumes at the Bisasar Road landfill site. He says his company and two others, EWS Pty Ltd and Interwaste, were shortlisted for the tender.
His company was the only one that complied with the requirements, according to a report by city officials, and was ranked first.
EWS was ranked third, with officials noting it had not been “forthcoming in its communications”, was making claims it could not substantiate, had altered its original offer and appeared to have “changed” as it had a completely different |letterhead.
He said during the bidding phase, he had been contacted by Leon Boshoff, the managing director of EWS, who asked to meet to discuss possible future co-operation.
When he arrived at the meeting on November 30, 2009 Mlaba, who was Durban’s mayor at the time, was there.
He chaired the meeting and made it clear he was driving the project “which was his pension fund” and that he had a major interest in EWS.
Tomaszweski said the discussion centred on EWS’s lack of expertise and need for a partner.
“It was abundantly clear that the tender had not been awarded yet and while we were willing to consider a joint venture with EWS, it was a major concern to me that Mlaba was involved. Mlaba then said that ‘this meeting had never taken place’.”
There was discussion around a 50/50 deal, but Mlaba at one point indicated he wanted a 60/40 split in favour of EWS.
Tomaszweski said these issues were not taken any further because in February 2010, EWS was awarded the contract and suddenly it was no longer interested in any partnership.
“To say that I was surprised and flabbergasted is to understate the case. The city’s own investigations had revealed that EWS’s bid was the worst of the three and their dishonesty had been established.
“It was immediately obvious to me that there must have been interference by Mlaba in the process,” he claimed.
Tomaszweski said he lodged an appeal but before it was considered he had a meeting with Durban Solid Waste head Raymond Rampersad who told him “in no uncertain terms” there would be serious consequences if he pursued it and the city would ensure that all Re’s contracts with the city were cancelled.
He said after “anxious consideration” – and not believing the appeal hearing would be fair – he withdrew the appeal, but a month later municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe suggested he report the matter to the Manase investigators.
When the summarised Manase report was released, Tomaszweski said he was “vindicated”, as it stated sufficient documentary evidence existed to confirm Mlaba’s involvement in the tender, that there had been collusion between city officials and EWS and recommending the (tender) process start afresh.
He said officials were also annoyed that the company was suing the city for over R14 million in damages after it was forced to close down its recycling project at the Mariannhill landfill site when the city entered into a recycling contract with Mondi.
One official, in an e-mail to a company employee, had stated that this “will affect whether we are actually allowed to continue to do business with Re”.
“It became manifestly apparent that the city intended punishing us in any way it could.
“And our fears have proved justified,” he said.
Mlaba told The Mercury yesterday that he viewed the matter as a “non-issue” and would not comment without speaking to his lawyer.
The application was adjourned by consent to allow the city to file further affidavits.