Facebook researchers creeped out the world this month by revealing they had been manipulating users experience on the site to control their emotions  for science. File picture: Karly Domb Sadof

Durban - Two Facebook status updates a week. Upload three pictures on Facebook a week. Send a bulk e-mail. Tweet with the hashtag #weloveDurban. Upload YouTube videos. Upload 20 images to Instagram. Advertise on the website.

That is all that is required from a media company contracted by the city for a mere 10 days for which they will be paid R500 000.

The eThekwini Municipality this week splurged half a million rand on a contract to promote Durban on social media, despite having its own bloated communications team with nearly 50 employees.

The contract was awarded under the controversial section 36 of the Municipal Finance Management Act, allowing the department to skirt normal tender processes.

The communications department justified using “emergency” regulations because Carver Media was the only such provider of a social media service and because social media platforms were not on the city’s database of service providers.

The purported aim of the contract is to garner votes for a “#weloveDurban” campaign, of which Durban is a finalist in a competition to promote sustainable energy across the globe.

The city’s executive committee awarded the Umhlanga-based company the contract on Tuesday. It will be paid R50 000 a day to do the following:

* Two Facebook status updates a week

* Upload three pictures to Facebook a week

* Send a bulk e-mail

* Tweet with the hashtag #weloveDurban

* Upload YouTube videos

* Upload 20 images to Instagram

* Advertise on its website

Calculations by the Sunday Tribune show Carver Media will earn R6 250 an hour or R104 a minute.

The city communications department has an operating budget of R48 million a year, and has a specialist web team.

Department head Tozi Mthethwa defended the contract, insisting the city was relying on the “I love Durban” brand, which Carver Media owns. “It is intended to use the brand to leverage votes for the #weloveDurban campaign. This can only be offered by Carver Media – South Africa, the owners of the trademark.

“Voting closes on Thursday, with the winner being announced on March 27. It is therefore impractical to follow a full procurement process,” she said.

While all social media platforms used by Carver Media are free, Mthethwa said they could not be utilised because they “are not registered as service providers in the municipality’s database”, while curiously asserting that “there are dedicated, competent staff able to manage social media for the city”.

Carver Media director Praneetha Aniruth would not comment and directed questions to the city.

DA caucus leader Zwakhele Mncwango said that while the party supported the campaign, it questioned the need to outsource the contract.

“We all love Durban and we believe it’s (a city) with huge potential if those in power can get governance right. But the DA does not believe this work can only be done by one service provider.

“The communication department has many employees and some solely employed for web-related duties and if they can’t do work such as running social media pages, rather close down the department.”

He called for city manager Sibusiso Sithole to conduct a skills audit of the department.

IFP caucus leader in eThekwini Mdu Nkosi said that the communications department was “hopeless”.

“They have all the resources at their disposal and they want for nothing. Are the people employed there capable of doing their jobs or has the ANC just deployed their cadres?

“The money will run out at some point and the taxpayer will be the one to suffer,” Nkosi said.

NFP caucus leader Bongiwe Mtshali echoed these calls. “They are supposed to be multi-disciplined. This is a blatant misuse of funds,” she said.

Bheki Ntshangase, the ANC’s regional secretary, and regional chairman Sibongiseni Dhlomo could not be reached for comment.

[email protected].za

Sunday Tribune