We keep you updated by sharing Plettenberg Mayor’s latest letter to the public and then point out which facts he’s gotten wrong (bold and in italics – discussed at bottom of page).
Letter #4 from Memory Booysen
Bitou Council’s first 100 days came up on Wednesday 14 September and it is timely that we stop and take stock of what we have achieved in these 100 days. Well, considering it took us 32 days to wrest control from the ANC, make that 68 days.
We have unfortunately not achieved all that we set out to achieve. In retrospect, our plans were perhaps a bit over ambitious and we had certainly not bargained on what needs to be fixed before we can really move forward.
But out of adversity have come some generous acts of community spirit.
Disciplinary Hearing for Municipal Manager:
The disciplinary hearing for Lonwabo Ngoqo, who has been on suspension since July is scheduled for 28-30 September in Plett. It has been a long drawn out process even involving an aborted High Court application against his suspension. One bit of good news, however, is that retired Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Pete Combrinck has volunteered his services to chair the disciplinary hearing. Judge Combrinck has an impeccable and distinguished record on the bench and his decision will certainly be above reproach. We are incredibly fortunate to have a judge of his standing volunteering his services for the good of Plett.
Obtaining the cooperation of Bitou’s administration has been one of our toughest challenges these first few months. I know that many of our residents are anxious to see people being called to account for maladministration. There are, however, a number of investigations running simultaneously and the necessary procedures must be followed in bringing charges against those who prove to have been involved in irregularities. Good progress has been made and several officials will be charged shortly. We ask your patience as we have to follow strict adherence to labour law which is slow and expensive.
The good news there is that as things progress, people are coming forward and revealing past iniquities making it far easier to hone in on those who have committed abuses and to obtain the necessary evidence to build cases against them.
The organizational design project I mentioned in my last newsletter is on the point of commencing and we are sure it will totally revitalize our administration. It will allow us to put the square pegs in the square holes and the round pegs in the round holes and to get rid of the dead wood that is sapping our service delivery strength. It will allow us to shift focus from being a bloated organization providing highly paid employment to the well-connected, to being a lean clean machine delivering top-class services to the people of Plett. We will be able to concentrate on being where the rubber hits the road. (Yes, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the company of MBAs!)
It is taking time but in the end it will be worth the effort and the wait.
We are not going to be satisfied with second best. It is our long term aim to become the first municipality which is fully King 3 compliant. We can and will do it.
Money down the drain:
One of the most troubling facts to emerge so far out of Bitou was a contract with Lefatshe Technologies. Lefatshe had, in 2008, obtained the licence to sell a municipal finance IT system developed by the Belgian state-owned agency Cipal. A decision by Cooperative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka, that all municipalities be encouraged to use the system, placed Lefatshe in a position to make immense profits.
The programme was piloted in Westonaria in Gauteng where our ex-municipal manager, George Seitisho became Municipal Manager after leaving Plett. The process has been surrounded with controversy, allegations of kickbacks, non-performance (by the vendor) and improper tendering.
Unsurprisingly, Bitou has paid for implementation of exactly the same programme. By the end of June 2011, the municipality had paid Lefatshe a total of at least R10m, a rate of R139,000 per month since April 2007. But Bitou Municipality does not in fact use the Cipal system; it does not work. The town has paid millions for something it has never used and will never be able to use. Needless to say we have cancelled their contract. The Hawks are currently investigating Lefatshe nationally and will soon be placing the Bitou contract under close scrutiny.
This has placed our municipality in great jeopardy, but once again Plett has proved to be blessed with caring ratepayers. Ex Plett Councillor and now MEC for Education, Donald Grant mentioned our predicament to Plett property owner, Jeremy Ord, who is Executive Chairman of Dimension Data, the largest IT solutions company in SA. He immediately offered to send a team down to Plett, at no cost, to evaluate our technology systems and needs and suggest a plan going forward. He has gone even further than that and will be coming to Plett personally this week to get things rolling. We appreciate his generous support tremendously.
A big concern this past year has been the previous council’s threat to close our central library. I am pleased to report that MEC Ivan Meyer, Provincial Minister for Cultural Affairs and Sport, is allocating R2.2m per annum for three years to Plett, and one of the areas this council will allocate the money will be to the central library. Its location is convenient for all and it is imperative that it stays in Plett central.
This additional funding will take the pressure off the municipality’s finances with regard to subsidizing libraries, which is actually a Provincial and not a municipal function.
Open and transparent communications:
One of my top priorities for the first 100 days was to make all municipal information open to our ratepayers and residents. To this end I have held monthly report-back meetings in our communities and sent out bi-weekly e-mail letters, but we still have a long way to go. Our goal is to put tender results, council meeting agendas and minutes, and much more information on our website.
Our website is not nearly adequate despite many hundreds of thousands being paid over the past few years to companies associated with Lefatshe to maintain it.
Despite Bitou being one of the very few municipalities in SA with a properly administered ward committee system, the system itself did not work as it should have. The main reason for this was that the committees themselves were made up almost entirely of party hacks and were used as a system to reward loyal supporters.
Ward committees are designed to form communication bridges between councillors and the broader public, to question and inform council and to advise council as to the direction it should be following. For obvious reasons that did not happen.
The Corporate Services Department, in the persons of Carl Mattheus and Alma Greyling-Jones, has put in a massive effort to redesign the entire system which they presented to councillors in a workshop. Unfortunately only the DA Ward 1 and Ward 2 councillors attended the workshop, but we are confident that all the ward councillors will come around to realizing the important role their ward committees play in the democratic governance of our town.
Council will adopt the exciting new system at its meeting on 27 September and then it will be rolled out through a series of workshops in each community within each ward. My special thanks to Carl and Alma for bringing us so far down the road.
The Economy and Job Creation:
To put it mildly, our economy is not doing well. It is an absolute priority for us as municipality to create an enabling environment for business to flourish and to create the many jobs we so urgently need. Dupre Lombard, a town planner from Stellenbosch, recently spent some time with us to resolve many town planning issues which were long overdue, and prepared a report on how to streamline future applications. Generally we continue identifying and removing red tape wherever we can and have had some heartening successes which will start bearing fruit in the near future.
Where we are still struggling after 100 days…
For the four-year period from 2007 – 2010, the Bitou ANC council spent R10,3m on legal expenses….much of it is now being scrutinized to establish if the MFMA was transgressed.
Despite having done as much as we could to withdraw, settle etc in order to extricate ourselves from as much of it as we could, we now find ourselves embroiled as defendant in a number of new High Court cases. Ironically these are being brought against us by some of the municipality’s own councilors and officials.
It appears that this onslaught is being orchestrated by the lawyer who formerly drove the municipality’s many court cases. At first he tried to get the municipality to fund the litigation on their behalf, which would have doubled our costs and given rise to a situation where the municipality would be litigating against itself and would be paying the costs of both the winner and the loser.
Having failed at that, he and the ANC have now formed a fund, the Justice and Equality Fund, to raise funds to bring what he has referred to as a “hail of litigation” against the municipality. No matter how ill-conceived and frivolous these matters may be, they still cause a distraction and divert scarce resources preventing the municipality from focusing on real service delivery.
In the meantime we face a barrage of paper and rude and threatening correspondence.
Our financial situation is not improving. We have reduced our expenditures by R13m for the financial year by cutting all superfluous expenses such as the recording studio that Bitou was funding, overseas travel, useless consultants, etc, but we were still barely able to pay our ESKOM bill and salaries this month and must cut deeper. But, as Duppie says, “we are unscrambling the scrambled egg.”
We are pursuing a R30m loan from Standard Bank to refinance some of the capital expenditure that should have been financed from borrowings, but which were financed from revenue and reserves. We will not be taking up the total amount but will only have a facility available. This will be very closely monitored by ourselves and our bankers. We are walking a tight rope but know we cannot borrow ourselves out of trouble.
Last, but by no means least, we had hoped to be able to have commercial service restored by the season. This now appears to have been over ambitious. We have to be very careful that we take the right decision for Plett (and Knysna) as yet another aborted attempt to fix the airport debacle would probably mean the end of all hope to ever have a proper functioning airport again.
So, in our first 100 days we not only have plans but in a number of instances are some way down the road of executing these plans.
We will redouble our efforts to get our finances under control, improve our town planning department to make it easier to invest in Plett, and start to recover some of the fruitless and wasteful expenditures on behalf of our ratepayers.
I want to thank everyone again for your generosity of spirit, prayers and support. A special word of thanks to those officials who are now realizing that it is no longer a threat to their jobs to defy the conspiracy of silence and fear which has permeated our organization for so long and who are concentrating on service delivery and are now willing to expose the wrongs that have done so much harm in the past.
One day soon it will ALL be good news.
Mayor of Plettenberg Bay
Mayor Memory Booysen’s letter is littered with inaccuracies that reflect political defence rather than the truth of the situation. Herewith follows our contrary response to particular statements so that you are better informed of the real situation:
“…took us 32 days to wrest control from the ANC, make that 68 days.”
The fact of the matter is that all the postponements of the council meeting were directly caused by the incompetence of the Speaker accompanied with an arrogant and partisan behaviour. Incompetence is one thing, but if you are incompetent and arrogant it becomes dangerous. We await the court’s judgement on who’s to blame for this and who really were at fault.
“…an aborted High Court application against his [Lonwabo Ngoqo] suspension.”
Blatant misinformation as the court case on behalf of Municipal manager will be enrolled for argument as soon as the municipality complies with the rules of court and file their opposing papers in the court file. Due to their intentional and blatant disregard of the rules the matter could not be argued on the 12th of September 2011. An appropriate punitive cost order will be pursued against them. Attached is the lawyer’s letter sent to J Gillespie – 14 Sept 2011.
“We ask your patience as we have to follow strict adherence to labour law which is slow and expensive.”
Extremely ironical considering that the reason for much of the dispute is the failure by the DA-led Plett municipality to follow labour law. They have unlawfully terminated the livelihoods of many which we will prove in court. The Bitou municipality have been requested numerous times to comply with legislation which is applicable to them. In various matters such legislation has been spelled out to them. It has now been established that they are not remotely interested in complying with the law and carry on with one blunder after the other, costing the tax payer dearly.
The whole “Legal Expenses” section and the out of context usage of “hail of litigation”
A major obstacle to amicable resolution was the Bitou Council not responding to our requests and correspondences. In the exact same letter from which Booysen quotes “hail of litigation”, he fails to mention these lines:
“We wish to emphasise that litigation is not in the best interest for both sides and that the town in general suffers as a result thereof, and should thus please be prevented at all costs, especially in these types of clear cut, uncomplicated matters. I have been able to convince my clients in all the matters I currently act against Bitou Municipality to avoid litigation as far as possible, and only litigate in the cases thus far where there was no other way.”
In all the matters we repeatedly begged the municipality to simply comply with the law. These requests unfortunately proved to be fruitless. One example of this is the letter to Memory Booysen – 14 September 2011.