eThekwini bids Sutcliffe farewell

Time of article published Dec 17, 2011

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Gugu Mbonambi

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MICHAEL Sutcliffe – who ruffled the feathers of rate-payers, friends and foe alike – has been hailed as a great strategist and a visionary leader.

His colleagues and friends bade him an emotional fare-well at a gathering at the Durban city hall yesterday.

Sutcliffe, 57, was chairman of the Municipal Demarcation Board and an ANC MPL in KwaZulu-Natal before he became eThekwini municipal manager in 2002.

Sutcliffe said it had not been an easy road, but thanked his administration team and politicians for their support over the years.

“In the years that I have been here, the politicians have never interfered with the administration. Of course there might have been tensions, but the politicians provided good political leadership,” he said.

City treasurer Krish Kumar, who worked closely with Sutcliffe during his term of office, said Sutcliffe was leaving a great legacy in Durban, including the Moses Mabhida Stadium, Kings Park sports precinct and the beachfront upgrade.

“He is very intimidating to work for and has very high standards. His outstanding feature was his passion for the city and his energy. He would send e-mails at 2am and still be at work and very energetic in the morning. His memory and ability to grasp new issues has left me in awe at times,” he said.

Kumar listed the Warwick Avenue flyover, the Point precinct development and Durban’s landmark Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre complex extension as other major projects Sutcliffe had spearheaded.

“His work ethic, passion, commitment and tenacity are unparalleled. He was a great leader and really pulled things off. He will undoubtedly go down in the history book of Durban,” Kumar said.

He said apart from supply chain management issues fingered by auditor-general Terence Nombembe in the 2009/10 audit report, Sutcliffe was leaving with a clean record.

Julie-May Ellingson, former head of eThekwini’s strategic projects unit and now the ICC chief executive, said Sutcliffe’s leadership had made possible the municipality’s achievements of the past 10 years.

“His ability to make decision and walk that very fine line between administration and politics is something that is a skill in itself,” she said.

Ellingson said in some instances Sutcliffe had taken criticism for decisions that were not entirely his, a sentiment she shares with Kumar.

Procurement and infrastructure manager Derek Naidoo said eThekwini had excelled in service delivery under Sutcliffe’s watch.

“We have grown our budget from R10 billion to R30bn and the money we have in our budget is geared towards service delivery. Sutcliffe’s main emphasis was to deliver to the poorest of the poor,” he said.

Mayor James Nxumalo said Sutcliffe had made a mark in the history of the country and Durban.

He thanked Sutcliffe for his contribution to eThekwini’s growth and its development.

It appeared that ratepayers associations and other non-ANC executive committee members, none of whom had been invited to the ceremony, did not rate his tenure as highly.

DA caucus leader Tex Collins said Sutcliffe had been autocratic and disdainful of ratepayers’ needs and aspirations.

He said while Sutcliffe had done good work, he had also made “monumental blunders”.

“If you put your hand in a bucket of water and take it back out, the hole that’s left behind is how much you will miss Sutcliffe… He subscribes to the doctrine that ‘Mike is right’, but I don’t wish him ill,” he said.

ACDP provincial and eThekwini leader Wayne Thring said Sutcliffe had good administrative skills, but he was hated because of some of the unilateral decisions he had made.

He said Sutcliffe was leaving under a cloud because the city had incurred R532m in irregular expenditure under his watch.

Lilian Develing, of the Combined Ratepayers Association, who had been very critical of Sutcliffe over the years, wished him well for thefuture. She said his biggest flaw was not listening to what the people wanted.

“He has gone over the heads of many people in the city, such as over the street renaming issue. He is leaving a big hole behind,” she said.

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