Busisiwe Mkhwebane
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane needs to speed up her investigation into allegations of tender irregularities, maladministration and corruption against the City of Cape Town.

ANC leader in the city council Xolani Sotashe warned it was a matter of urgency, as he feared the issue could be swept under the carpet and later blamed on outgoing mayor Patricia de Lille.

The appeal comes as the engineering consulting company Pragma Africa, initially contracted by the Water and Sanitation Department, racked up a R93million bill over a three-year period.

When the contract was awarded to the company it was valued at R12m, excluding VAT, for the period July 1, 2015, to June 30 this year.

“I appeal to the Public Protector’s office and National Treasury to force the city to co-operate. This matter can’t go on open-endedly because taxpayers’ money is being misused and I suspect the DA-led city is waiting for the mayor to leave office before it finds a way to point fingers at her,” Sotashe said.

According to National Treasury rules, variations in contracts, like the one given to the company, were limited to 15%.

Any increase in excess of the threshold was to be treated as a contract amendment and tabled in council after the public had been given an opportunity to comment.

Sotashe said none of those steps were taken.

A senior manager, who did not wish to be named, said one of the reasons the costs escalated was a failure by the Water and Sanitation Department to conduct a gap analysis.

That would determine the needs assessment before calling for a tender.

Weekend Argus has seen emails from senior managers written in July last year, seeking to initiate the gap analysis after the paper broke the story.

Sotashe blamed the Water and Sanitation Department at the time for not showing any prudence in its expenditure, while it slapped ratepayers with tight water restrictions and subsequent, hefty tariffs.

In the 2016/17 financial year, Pragma Africa received in excess of R35m for work that sources said was not needed as the department had enough skilled employees.

The public protector’s investigation was first launched in March last year and, between October last year and May this year, it asked the city council to respond to the allegations levelled against it.

The city council requested an extension of the deadline, which was given on two occasions, because a report it was preparing was being “quality-reviewed”.

But the report has yet to reach Mkhwebane and the office was now in the process of writing to the city council “one last time”.

“The public protector has the power to subpoena people and documents as a way of enforcing co-operation with her investigations, but she uses such powers as a last resort,” spokesperson for the public protector Oupa Segwale said.

Mkhwabane is investigating allegations of maladministration, wasteful, fruitless and irregular expenditure related to the contract with Pragma.

The probe includes:

The need for their appointment.

The appointment of a senior manager in the Water and Sanitation Department.

Allegations that the job specifications were amended and the incumbent was appointed without meeting benchmark requirements at a cost of R1.4m an annum.

Pragma was appointed to compensate for the lack of qualification and inexperience of the individual.

In addition, an engineering manager was appointed to perform the functions of the manager at an additional cost of R100000 a month but this amount would total R4m for the duration of the tender period.

“We now have a situation where it appears managers have outsourced their mandate to consultants but are being paid salaries,” one source said.

Last year mayoral committee member for informal settlements, waste, water and energy, Xanthea Limberg confirmed the consultants were awarded a three-year contract in 2015 but that due process was followed.

Limberg said the contract was for asset management services based on a set of individual rates for different services “as and when required”.

But Sotashe rejected this saying the consultants were given space at the department’s building and were there on a “full-time” basis.

The contract with the company was renewed despite the ongoing investigations.

City council spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said the matter was “under forensic investigation” and the city manager’s office was dealing with it.