Melissa Whitehead breaks silence on charges
Cape Town - Former City Transport executive Melissa Whitehead has broken her silence on charges she faced and the investigations she was subjected to - after 19 months on precautionary suspension and drawn-out and complicated investigations and disciplinary processes.
Whitehead resigned this week, citing in a media statement the “unfathomable victimisation” and bullying by the management and leadership of the City of Cape Town.
In an interview with Weekend Argus, Whitehead said she was exonerated of any charges related to financial misconduct, corruption or incompetence.
However, she was found guilty on a charge related to the Foreshore Freeway Precinct Project, a charge which she found “ludicrous”.
“I was on the first bid evaluation committee and some of the requirements were that the proposals had to include social housing. One of the bidders proposed affordable housing units which were directly underneath the highway - no natural lighting coming in and its residents would have been exposed to toxicity from the roads.
“It was atrocious and was worse than apartheid. I vehemently opposed it as it would have resulted in slum conditions for the affordable housing. I was charged for this and was found guilty on the grounds that I tried to be unduly unfair to the bidder,” Whitehead said.
She firmly believes that her views on the project were the crux of the charges and that she was made the “fall person” when the city gunned for the removal of former mayor Patricia de Lille and her former boss, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development Brett Herron.
“I was the senior official implementing the measures to undo the legacy of spatial injustice. As part of the mandate of my department, I had to go out to check the status of urban development, transport system and housing. They tried throwing everything at me and blamed me for everything.”
Whitehead also faced charges related to processes followed in the city’s purchase of the MyCiTi buses for the N2 Express, following a decision taken to service the route and to help the city in programmes to curb its carbon emission footprint.
“The charges had nothing to do with payments as alleged in the media before. And my involvement was only in the process of doing due diligence. I was not part of the tender process and the decision to award the tender. This was handled by a team that included officials from supply chain management and the chief financial officer.
“Yes, I was part of the delegation that went to China to see the manufacturers and operators. There was a lot of noise in the media about the fact that we changed our itinerary and I was charged for not sleeping at a hotel for one night that the city paid for. It would have cost more to make the changes, anyway. Again, I have not been found guilty of any form of irregular expenditure or financial misconduct”.
The city hired the services of legal firm Bowmans to conduct investigations against Whitehead, and the firm produced two reports which were tabled before the council.
Based on the first report, which was served on January 5, 2018, she faced four charges and was slapped with more charges subsequent to the second report in October 2018.
“The processes have taken a toll on me. I had to sell my house for my legal bills. I have been hanging on but I have to walk away from a city that does not want to redress the apartheid legacy. Would I have to oppose any proposals that would take us back to apartheid? Yes, I would do it again, even if I would be found guilty of doing that,” Whitehead added.