By Wendy Jasson da Costa

The chairperson of the ANC's biggest and most influential region in KwaZulu-Natal, John Mchunu, has been awarded tenders worth at least R40-million by the eThekwini municipality.

Mchunu recently made headlines for allegedly vetoing the completion of a R1.5m elephant sculpture project for the new Warwick Avenue interchange, apparently because it was the symbol of the IFP.

Now, The Mercury has learnt that Mchunu benefited financially from tenders awarded to two of his companies, Inyameko Trading 148 cc and Zakhele and Mondli Trading Enterprise cc.

Although he is legally entitled to tender for work in the municipality, opposition parties have slammed it as "highly unethical" since eThekwini is governed by the ANC, and have claimed nothing in the municipality happens without Mchunu's approval.

The revelation comes while the issue of lifestyle audits and "tenderpreneurship" tears the ANC and its alliance partners apart.

Mchunu yesterday acknowledged involvement in construction work and that he was a tender beneficiary, but said there was no conflict of interest and that he had declared his business affairs in the legislature's register of members' interests.

Inyameko Trading 148 cc received work totalling R37.3m from the municipality between 2005 and February, 2010.

The municipality's website lists the firm as a sub-contractor in the pipeline replacement project.

Inyameko Trading is also a Masakhe company, which is an emerging contractor development programme of the Public Works Department.

Zakhele and Mondli Trading Enterprise, which has pocketed R4.4m to date, received a municipal tender in 2008 to "rehabilitate units that are structurally unsafe homes".

Municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe said: "I have no idea what business he is part of or what his role may be. If he is involved in business, I would hope he has declared that interest as it would be illegal for an MPL to not declare his interests."

Both Sutcliffe and Mchunu denied that the ANC exercised influence over the tender awarding process in the municipality.

However, Cosatu spokesperson Zet Luzipho said: "People have gone into tenders to enhance wealth, not service delivery," and said that while he would not talk about individuals, he strongly believed that the government would solve many problems by eliminating tenders.

Other MPLs were outraged on learning that Mchunu had benefited from municipal contracts.

The ACDP's Joanne Downs said called the revelations "absolutely shocking".

"He has a huge influence and you can't tell me his position does not affect the outcome of tenders."

She said there was a problem with the way in which the ANC awarded tenders, because it consolidated its power, but not by rightful means.

The DA's John Steenhuisen said many of the municipality's officials, including Sutcliffe, reported directly to Mchunu.

"For tenders and contracts in Durban, the buck stops with him."

Steenhuisen asked why Mchunu appeared to spend "more time in city hall than in the legislature".

He said the municipality's tender board previously consisted of councillors, but that was now prohibited by the Municipal Finance Management Act.

Minority Front leader Amichand Rajbansi said he believed the municipality's tender committee should be changed every three months to ensure impartiality.

Derek Luyt, of the public service accountability monitor, said the law or code of ethics for all senior public servants should be amended to compel them to put their interests into a blind trust.

"No politician, no matter from what political party, should be tendering for government business. For us it's not a question of whether it's legal - there is something wrong if there is a conflict of interest," he said.

Responding to a list of questions from The Mercury, Themba Shezi, head of supply chain management and procurement in the municipality, said politicians were legally barred from participating or influencing the tender process.

Asked about the influence of the ANC in awarding of tenders, he said: "The law applies to everybody, including ANC members."