Msunduzi urged to sell forestry because of crime

By Thami Magubane Time of article published Apr 7, 2021

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He said that it was a concern as the council was losing millions of rand in revenue that could boost its coffers because of the widespread theft of timber.

DURBAN - THE Msunduzi Municipality has been urged to “off-load” its forestry because the timber is being looted and council is deriving no benefit.

The municipality’s administrator, Scelo Duma, briefed councillors on the state of forestry recently.

He said that it was a concern as the council was losing millions of rand in revenue that could boost its coffers because of the widespread theft of timber.

At several council meetings, opposition party councillors have told how they had witnessed or received reports of municipal timber being hauled off by thieves in broad daylight.

In the previous financial year, the municipality lost R15 million in potential revenue.

At least one opposition party has called for the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to look into the matter, saying some of the shenanigans were as a result of maladministration, which could be deliberate to further criminal ends.

However, the opposition parties are against the sale of the forestry.

Duma revealed that the city’s internal audit had highlighted numerous concerns about the management of the forestry.

It found that a company had been appointed to manage it in 2017. The contract was extended to 2019 but there was no service level agreement dealing with that extension.

In addition, due to the appointment of the company not going through a competitive bidding process, the money paid by the city for its services will be classified as irregular expenditure.

Duma said the municipality should consider “off-loading the forestry”.

“During the 2019/2020 financial year overlapping to 2020/2021, the municipality awarded a contract to a contractor to harvest the forestry. As at December 31, 2020 Msunduzi

Municipality had only received R5m from this contract instead of R18m.

“Currently, a security services company has been retained to guard the forestry from vandalism.

“The forestry is currently not managed properly and the municipality has no employees allocated for this purpose.

“There is a likelihood that poor management may increase the risk of fire during the fire season,” said Duma.

DA councillor Ross Strachan said they were not in support of the forestry being off-loaded as it had the potential to generate revenue for the municipality.

He said they would prefer for the city to appoint a competent service provider to manage forestry.

Strachan said numerous reports on the matter have painted a picture of maladministration and the DA was calling for the SIU to investigate.

“The lack of management over the years has left this entity in a shocking state that could develop into a serious fire risk that may result in a disaster similar to that of the devastating fires in Knysna in 2018.

“The DA believes that the situation is completely illegal and those responsible must be investigated and charged accordingly.

“The potential and value of our forestry is undisputed and could fund the city’s coffers with much-needed revenue,” he said.

Rienus Niemand of the African Christian Democratic Party said selling the asset would be a knee-jerk reaction.

“This is a big asset that council has been able to generate a lot of money from in the past, the first prize is to fix it and if that fails, then we sell it to the highest bidder.

“The company that was managing the forest continued to cut timber until this month despite there being no contract in place, we have instructed the municipal manager, Madoda Khathide, to recoup the money lost and discipline the officials that should have stopped this company.”

THE MERCURY

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