The deputy head of Supply Chain Management (SCM) in eThekwini has been suspended as the city probes massive fraud and corruption involving officials at the procurement unit.
The Mercury understands that both the Internal Audit Unit and the City Integrity and Investigations Unit (CIIU) are investigating Zandile Sithole and other officials for allegations of corruption and maladministration.
A number of whistleblowers, including staff members at the unit, have also come forward with information.
They claim that not only has Sithole turned a blind eye to irregularities in the awarding of contracts, she has in some cases been actively involved in the manipulation of SCM processes for the benefit of companies linked to her.
One of her subordinates wrote to Mayor Zandile Gumede last month urging her to act on the Sithole whom they accused of trying to manipulate a multimillion rand security contract.
The staff member, whose name has been withheld, pleaded with Gumede to act, saying he was concerned that junior staff members were being made scapegoats.
“I and other junior staff are fearful for our own jobs as we can see how we are used... She has made us (do) so many irregular things in the years we were working under her,” read parts of the letter.
The staff member alleges that Sithole instructed staff to overlook some discrepancies in some of the bids for the security contract.
“Some (bidders) were missing mandatory documentation like financials. Others we checked (their) BEE (documentation) and found it was fraudulent…. We shared the info with her long before the the BEC report could be produced. She asked us to scrap the findings… as she really needed an award to go through for her companies”.
There have been further allegations that Sithole has not cooperated with the investigation. “We have become extremely worried in the last two weeks due to her suspicious behaviour. She has asked some of us to give back to her any documentation about the security contract that we have been adjudicating for a long time. She is even asking us to wipe (information) off our computers,” the staff member says in the emailed letter.
The suspension comes as this unit, which is responsible for the procurement of goods and services is also facing a probe from the Public Protector.
Cleopatra Mosina, the spokesperson for the Public Protector’s office said the matter had not been finalised.
In April this year, IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi requested the Office of the Public Protector to investigate allegations that officials were awarding tenders to companies owned by their friends and relatives.
In his submission, Nkosi provided some invoices to back up his allegations. Both the DA and the IFP have raised the issue of SCM corruption at at least two Executive committee (Exco) meetings where they claimed that the elite crime busting unit, the Hawks were “in and out” of the unit.
Some city officials have also claimed that the Hawks were looking into contracts and transactions involving SCM officials.
Hawks spokesperson Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo, however, said he was not aware of any investigation.
Two weeks ago, The Mercury sent a list of questions to city’s communications department. Specific questions were asked about Sithole’s suspension and the investigations.
However a standard response was received in which city spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said: “The city does not discuss disciplinary matters in the media. Due processes in relation to the Labour Relations Act and the Municipal Finance Management Act are applied to all disciplinary matters.”
Mthethwa continued: “The municipality has also recently appointed a Financial Disciplinary Board to provide oversight on all disciplinary matters that have financial impact."
She refused to respond to follow up questions sent this week.
City manager Sipho Nzuza, Sbu Shezi, the head of legal services and Andre Petersen the head of SCM were contacted this week but refused to comment.
Shezi and Petersen said they were not authorised to speak to the media while Nzuza said he had nothing further to add to Mthethwa's statement.
Attempts to solicit comment from Sithole failed as her phone went unanswered and she did not respond to an SMS.
Mthunzi Gumede, the spokesperson for mayor Zandile Gumede did not comment on the specifics of the matter.
He said from time to time the mayor receives leads on alleged corruption and administration and said these are then forwarded to the relevant units.
“The Mayor is committed to ensuring that the city's business is conducted according to law and (will) investigate any conduct, in the affairs of eThekwini Municipality, that is alleged to be improper ... including maladministration, corruption, abuse of power,” he said.