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Disciplinary action at errant KZN municipalities ‘being deliberately undermined’

Cogta MEC Sipho Hlomuka participated in the Scopa hearings. File Picture.

Cogta MEC Sipho Hlomuka participated in the Scopa hearings. File Picture.

Published Oct 14, 2020

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Durban - A REPORT on consequence management in 34 errant KwaZulu-Natal municipalities, presented to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), has revealed the deliberate undermining of disciplinary action to deal with employees involved in alleged acts of fraud, corruption, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and maladministration.

The 34 comprise 25 local and eight district municipalities, and the province’s only metro, eThekwini.

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Nine of the municipalities in the report are those under intervention, as per Section 139 of the Constitution (administration).

All of the municipalities have been subjected to Section 106 of the Municipal Finance Act, which allows an MEC to authorise investigations into the entity, although the entity is able to choose who conducts the investigation, including by outsourcing or often inefficient in-house investigating teams that are authorised to do so through council resolutions.

Section 106 does not allow for enforcement mechanisms through Cogta, which places the department in the position of ensuring implementation through “co-operative measures”.

The KZN Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ (Cogta) head of municipal investigations, Sheetal Govender, told Scopa that when reports had been supplied by the municipalities, “they do not adequately respond to each recommendation made and, even when this is the case, the results are disillusioning”.

She said that, in many instances, particularly when it came to disciplinary action against those allegedly involved in wrongdoing, “many officials resign prior to disciplinary matters being finalised, civil recovery proceedings are delayed and not many are instituted, as this is often linked to criminal liability in terms of section 300 of the Criminal Procedure Act”.

Most reported criminal cases remained pending for prolonged periods, without any successful prosecutions, she added, and cases were withdrawn for lack of evidence.

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Also taking part in the presentation were MEC Sipho Hlomuka and head of department Thando Tubane.

Tubane said that municipalities “choose which recommendations they want to implement, and that presents us with a challenge”. There was also a “serious lack of co-ordination” among law enforcement agencies when it came to acting on recommendations that needed to be dealt with at a criminal level.

He said that in one instance, Cogta “invoked” a forensic investigation at the troubled Ray Nkonyeni Local Municipality, tabled the report to the municipality, and the municipality in turn submitted the report to the Hawks. The Hawks then asked Cogta to start another investigation.

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He said consequence management was being undermined in some municipalities, as was evident by the “pattern” in the presentation to Scopa.

“Municipal officials, when they are faced with disciplinary action, resign, or the implementation of these recommendations takes time and gives space to those who are affected to manoeuvre so that they can avoid sanction.”

He said that amendments to Section 106 were needed in order to give Cogta more teeth.

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“There is no provision that empowers the MEC to proceed and implement and enforce the recommendations, and we are saying that space is reserved for yourselves, as lawmakers.”

He said disciplinary action was consistently subverted and light sanctions given “which have no consequence when you consider the level of the crime or the misconduct, and we know it is done deliberately so as to undermine the recommendations. Also, we are seeing an attempt by municipalities when we present our reports, they want to challenge them and take them to court. And we know why – because they do not want these reports to be tabled or to deal with the painful exercise of discipline.”

A case in point was Zululand Municipality, he said, which was the subject of litigation.

“The trend of resignations, during or before the implementation of disciplinary or consequence management processes, is a challenge.”

Asked if Cogta had a database of blacklisted individuals who had worked for municipalities, Tubane said: “At some stage there were attempts by the national Cogta department to establish a database, but to the best of my knowledge, that database does not exist or has not yet been completed.”

On Monday, Cogta KZN confirmed to The Mercury such a database did exist at a national level.

Tubane said Scopa might get better responses on consequence management from errant municipalities when or if they were called to appear before the committee.

“Some of the responses we are now giving the committee are speculative. We do not know whether what we are being told by the municipality is the correct information.”

He said that some responses given to Cogta by municipalities were “generic and similar in nature”.

“We are looking to the committee to assist us in grappling with these matters, and maybe further enhancing the legislative environment that governs this area of work.”

The Mercury

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