'I am totally innocent' – Under fire Ekurhuleni COO denies wrongdoing in parks project after report notes irregularities
13 March 2019
Embattled City of Ekurhuleni municipality chief operations officer (COO) Lesiba Mojapelo has denied any wrongdoing in the handling of the City's Lungile Mtshali Community Development Project, instead suggesting he is being targeted by some of his colleagues after a report noted irregularities in the project.
The project was aimed at giving each of the 112 wards in the municipality R1m for the development of parks.
Among some of the adverse findings in the preliminary review report by Meodi Chartered Accountants was that out of thirteen parks the City had been invoiced for work done, four were non-existent. The City was billed R1 095 306.06 for the four sites.
The report also found that work at eight out of the 13 sites "was of either poor quality and standard or was not performed as claimed on the invoices". This work amounted to R3 776 169.69.
On Tuesday Mojapelo took journalists on a tour of some of the parks developed through the project. News24 joined one of the site visits in Kempton Park.
In an attempt to clear his name, Mojapelo painstakingly listed the processes and challenges his office experienced in rolling out the project.
Accountants' work 'very bad'
He said the City's suspended chief financial officer (CFO), Gugu Malaza, had no right to commission an investigation into the project in the manner that she did.
"The work they did was very bad," said Mojapelo of Meodi Chartered Accountants.
"We didn't even know there was an investigation," he continued.
Mojapelo said the parks each have a different look because of the various wards' needs and should be judged beyond what can be seen with the "naked eye".
Mojapelo admitted some wrongdoing on the City's part, which he said included allowing councillors to dictate how they wanted the parks built in their wards.
"We acknowledge that this was new and there would always be some shortcomings. We must take responsibility sometimes. We underestimated the understanding. Yes, there was a process where we engaged with councillors but gave them too much liberty."
A source of tension
He said the City thought giving councillors a scope for the project was sufficient but it had since learnt it wasn't.
The COO, who is no stranger to controversy, has previously been the subject of a Special Investigating Unit probe into fraud and corruption allegations related to the City's 2010 legacy project. The Public Protector also investigated his return to Ekurhuleni after he left with a cloud hanging over his head.
He has also been the source of tensions between the ANC and its coalition partners in council, resulting in the ANC having to fend off attempts to have him suspended through a motion of no confidence.
Just last week, EFF leader Julius Malema questioned Mojapelo's role in the City, claiming he was being protected by Ekurhuleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina.
While Mojapelo dismissed this claim, he acknowledged he was part of the politics playing out in the only metro not governed by the DA in Gauteng.
"I am working in a political environment, none of us are exempted from politics when working in a political environment," he said.
While Mojapelo called the CFO "silly" and declared his "total innocence", he said he knew he was being targeted but refused to divulge any reasons why or who could be behind the plot.
"They say the tallest tree catches the most wind. As to why people do this and ulterior motives, I don't operate like that," he said.
Some in the City have previously called for Mojapelo to step aside so that it could deal with some of the troubled tenders, but he has refused.