Mystery of Cango Caves millionsComment on this story
Cape Town - It is alleged that the embattled Oudtshoorn municipality has moved millions of rand out of the Cango Caves trust accounts and into its own coffers.
Now the Western Cape’s Finance MEC Ivan Meyer, and Local Government MEC Anton Bredell, are probing claims of financial irregularities and mismanagement.
It is claimed the amounts involved start at R16 million.
The Oudtshoorn municipality said it regarded the allegations in a very serious light and would comment comprehensively later.
The extensive formation of caves in the foothills of the Swartberg range is a major tourist attraction and has World Heritage status.
The Oudtshoorn town council remains in political turmoil because of a court order preventing the DA from bringing a motion of no confidence against the ANC, Independent Civic Organisation of SA and National Peoples Party executive, which is currently in charge of the town council.
Bredell told the Cape Argus that over the past year the province had engaged with the municipality on a range of governance issues, including the management of the caves.
In terms of the Cango Caves Ordinance of 1971, the former Administrator of the Cape – to whom Bredell is the successor in law – had certain powers with regard to the caves, although their day-to-day management was the responsibility of the municipality.
Bredell said: “The province has become aware of allegations regarding the misuse of cave funds for municipal purposes.
“Along with my colleague, Dr Ivan Meyer, the necessary provincial structures are now looking into the matter.”
Meyer said on Monday that the provincial government was concerned about the allegations because Oudtshoorn was the heart of the province’s rural economy, and “the Cango Caves is central in the tourism economy of Oudtshoorn and the region”.
Meyer said he would engage with the relevant authorities, including the auditor-general, to ensure that any withdrawals from the Cango Caves Trust Account were legal.
A highly placed source, who did not want to be named, claimed more than R16m had been moved from the accounts. “This is not just happening now; this mismanagement has been ongoing for several years,” she said.
The transferred funds should have been used for maintenance and infrastructure development at the caves.
Another informed official said the caves did not get any funding from the municipality or the province, and had been responsible for their own upkeep.
“It needs money to ensure that everything runs smoothly, but if funds are taken from it willy-nilly soon there will be no more caves, just a neglected old landmark,” she said.
Several local residents and businesses confirmed that rumours were rife that the municipality had been milking the caves’ accounts.
AfriForum Oudtshoorn chairman George Kersop said he knew the municipality had not submitted financial statements to the province on the finances of the caves.
“A question one should ask is why provincial government has not stepped in and investigated the financial affairs of the Cango Caves,” he added.
Local resident and DA spokesman Chris McPherson said the real concern was that money that came from the caves was being used for “God knows what” by the municipality.
Municipal staff confidence had reached an all-time low in Oudtshoorn and people were too afraid to speak up.
McPherson said locals were so disillusioned with the state of affairs in their town that nothing could surprise them any more.