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Spotlight on eThekwini’s ‘frivolous spending’

Photo: AP/ Denis Farrell

Photo: AP/ Denis Farrell

Published Aug 31, 2015

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Durban - “Useless” officials from eThekwini’s supply chain management unit are “sleeping on the job” – denting city coffers by millions of rands in frivolous contracts.

This was the scathing criticism of the unit by opposition councillors after it emerged that the city was to splurge R9 million on 34 “unnecessarily” awarded section 36 contracts.

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The revelation is contained in a report on awards made by the city for July.

Of the 36 contracts awarded through the controversial section 36, 34 were, according to the report, for “cleaning services and grass cutting in various municipal buildings and community residential units”.

Motivating for the use of section 36 for the six-month contracts, the unit said: “The co-operatives contract was … initially awarded in November 2010 and expired in November 2013.

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This contract was further extended from December 2013 to December 2014.

It then expired “without an alternative arrangement being made effective from January 1, 2015”.

This was because the city’s bid adjudication committee “refused” to extend the expired contract for a further six months “without reporting beforehand to the executive committee”, the report reads.

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And this is what has left the opposition incensed.

IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi accused the department of “letting the municipality down” for not monitoring contracts due to expire.

The lax monitoring forced the municipality to procure the services through section 36.

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City treasurer Krish Kumar blamed the delays on “political concerns in terms of how we procure the services and the fact that we were extending existing contracts”.

Between January and July this year, Kumar said, some municipal buildings had not been maintained and were unkempt.

ANC councillor Nigel Gumede said: “Initially this did not come before us (exco); it went straight to bid committees. They rejected it. It came to us, we rejected it; we interrogated it up until we came to a stage where we said, ‘Let’s give it six months while we are advertising.’ It thereafter came before exco and we accepted it. All of them are being advertised until a normal process can be pursued.”

Nkosi was not impressed, arguing that unit officials had “let down” the municipality.

“Why don’t you prepare yourself and advertise? It’s like we are a local municipality,” he said.

Councillors, including Gumede, conceded that the matter needed to be addressed urgently.

The NFP and the MF were just as livid.

The MF’s Patrick Pillay said: “It is absolutely unacceptable. This is where monitoring of contracts – expiry dates – is critical.”

He called on unit officials to take “full responsibility”.

NFP councillor Bongiwe Mtshali said: “This has all the elements of corruption and cronyism.

“There are people who just don’t want to let go of this tender…”

DA provincial and eThekwini caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango said it was about time the city appointed officials who monitored all municipal contracts.

He said there was no political will to curb the abuse of section 36.

Glen Robbins, a researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Built Environment and Development Studies, said the section’s regulation gave the city “a bit of a window”.

“It requires the chief accounting officer of the municipality to be able to make a case to the executive committee that it is either impractical or impossible to follow the procedures to make an appointment. All these go to council and councillors are able to ask follow-up questions, and call for an explanation,” he said.

Although the decision could always be reviewed, it was “certainly unusual” for such contracts to be awarded through the section.

“The audit committee can ask for an explanation or information regarding processes and provisions. Also, someone could take the municipality to court on the basis that they feel that the grounds were insufficient – and there are other contractors who could have provided the service. Previously the auditor-general has made comments to the effect that there were concerns in the use of section 36. You’ll remember that in 2010 almost R1 billion in contracts were managed through this section.”

He said the abuse of section 36 had decreased since the findings.

“But they still use it. There are instances where the municipality can provide sound cases as to why it goes this route.”

The Mercury

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