Allegations of fraud and corruption plague Durban municipality
Durban - With just over 10 days left until the year is over, the Sunday Tribune reflects on the dominant news within the eThekwini Municipality.
While coronavirus, lockdown, masks, sanitisers and social distancing were probably the most used word during 2020, so too were allegations of fraud and corruption within the corridors at the City Hall.
Durban ratepayers had hoped for a fresh start at the eThekwini municipality following the change in leadership with the appointment of Mxolisi Kaunda as the mayor in late 2019.
He succeeded Zandile Gumede, who was recalled following charges of fraud and corruption amounting to over R400 million.
Subsequent to that, City manager Sipho Nzuza was arrested in March and released on R50 000 bail for the same charges which involved other senior officials and councillors.
Nzuza spent a great part of the year on special leave following the criminal charges and his fate still hangs in the balance. His wife Bagcinele was also arrested last month and will join the rest of the city officials in the dock when the case resumes in March.
While the allegations of fraud and corruptions haunted the eThekwini Metro, the lockdown seemingly enabled more looting in various spheres of government across the country.
This led to the proclamation by President Cyril Ramaphosa instructing SIU to probe irregularities around Covid-19 contracts.
Reports emerged that the City spent more than R400m on Covid-19 related expenditure – with the bulk of the money going towards paying the overtime of Metro Police officers.
Kaunda conceded that prices for the procurement of Covid-19 goods were inflated when compared with what National Treasury deemed permissible, and he had promised decisive action. Kaunda requested an urgent internal audit on funds spent and warned those implicated, that they would face the consequences.
While millions were spent to curb the virus, the city also spent over R8 million on entertainment and leisure through virtual concerts. The show was to “encourage the community to stay at home and educate them about health practices” during the lockdown, according to the municipality. But the success of the show could not be measured.
Kaunda denied knowing anything about it and asked for a detailed report for consequence management. However, no feedback has been given to the media or officials being held accountable for the Covid-19 expenditure.
The lack of accountability and disciplinary action was among the challenges regularly highlighted over the months – more than 300 senior officials were facing serious charges. The municipality acknowledged the backlog and had appointed a private company to conduct the hearings.
The workers strike, particularly those of Durban Solid Waste (DSW) also took the spotlight as residents bore the brunt of uncollected rubbish. The workers too action for reasons such as overtime payment and provisions of PEEs.
In terms of development, the City launched and opened some existing projects to boost the tourism sector.
The Legacy Yard in uMhlanga was among new developments for 2021 while integrated rapid bus transport known as Go Durban failed to get off the ground due to disagreements. Go!Durban was meant to have been up and running since last year.
Due to Covid-19, Durban lost billions as various international and local events were cancelled.
In an interview with the Sunday Tribune, Kaunda said his mission was to stabilise the municipality to create more investors.
He maintained his commitment to clean governance and accountability. As we move to 2021, billions of ratepayers money used in the fight against Covid-19 must be accounted for.
It would be in the best interest of Mayor Kaunda to show integrity and leadership before his tenure comes to an end as local government elections are scheduled for 2021.