Tshwane: Don't take the DA for granted

Cilliers Brink responds to criticism from Moneyweb


I wrote the following in response to two MoneyWeb pieces in which the DA-led City is severely criticised for an alleged delay in dealing with the PEU smart meter case (and other issues). The response has also been added to the last MoneyWeb piece (link here):

The respected Moneyweb journalist Antoinette Slabbert unfortunately gets way ahead of herself in reporting on DA governance in City of Tshwane. Her commentary confirms a media trend which should be called out: while the ANC is measured against failure, and the EFF against disaster, the DA’s performance is measured against perfection.

Let us start with the facts that Slabbert has failed to appreciate. The DA-led government in Tshwane has turned the R2 billion operating deficit we inherited from the ANC into a surplus. We have used the resources of the municipality to fight unlawful tenders in Court, including the PEU smart meter scam. And under DA governance the City’s credit outlook has been upgraded from “negative” to “stable”.

This means the City can borrow more money, at lower rates, to build service infrastructure. Our financial recovery has also meant that we have been able to spend more money on repairing and maintaining existing infrastructure - 21% more in this financial year to be precise. Just compare the R5 million spend by the ANC administration on fixing sinkholes in Centurion to the R25 million spent in the last financial year, and budgeted for in this financial year.

Now let’s turn to more specific issues raised by Slabbert’s reporting.

Tshwane has not failed to implement the smart meter remedy:

It started last week with a somewhat gratuitous piece (Paralysed DA-led Tshwane still merrily paying PEU millions) in which she implies that the DA-led City government has failed to implement the Court order in the PEU smart meter case, and that it blames sabotage by officials, instead of taking responsibility. This is the case on which so much of our electoral mandate is based.

The City is not in breach of the Court order, and has not failed to extricate itself from the smart meter contract. The order allows the City to trigger a four-month transition period in which the PEU meters and system are replaced with those of the City. The City determines when it is ready to trigger the transition period. Doing so before the City’s administration is ready could itself derail the entire project.

Yes, it would have been ideal if the transition period could have been triggered earlier. Much of the inefficiencies and irregularities which we inherited from the ANC two years ago have not yet been fixed. Stepping into the chaos of a nearly bankrupt, almost broken municipal administration is tough. We have been very candid with Slabbert and other reporters about the challenges we face in Tshwane. Not because we cannot overcome them, but to manage expectations of instant results and oversight perfection.

No, the delays in the procurement process do not imply that the project to replace PEU meters and systems with those of the City are being sabotaged by ANC-aligned officials. Knowing Tshwane’s history, and what still needs to be done to overturn the ANC’s legacy, the Mayoral Committee is watching the tender process with an eagle eye. If we spot ANC saboteurs, we will call them out.

One single tender remains to be awarded for the City to feel confident about announcing the transition period, and it is in the final stages of the process. But even if this tender had already been awarded, it would have been ill-advised for the City to trigger the four-month transition before the December-January construction holiday commenced.

This outstanding tender is for the supply of electricity meters. MoneyWeb sources claim that because the tender does not provide for bulk discounts, and is instead based on unit prices, it points to defective specifications.

Two facts are perhaps not so self-evident. First, the tender is not for the supply of the same kind of meter, but for different meters which offer different functionality. Second, the tender will be used to procure meters on an as-and-when basis, not only to replace the 12,900 PEU meters. Supply chain experts can surely debate whether this is sufficient grounds to specify unit prices, instead of bulk prices, but we do not think it points to an irregularity in the procurement process.

Holding the City Manager to account:

Without waiting for our right of reply, Slabbert then penned her next piece on the DA in Tshwane, partly on the strength of the first one (Vote DA, get EFF with a big shot of ANC). “It seems”, she writes about the DA’s fight with the wholly recalcitrant City Manager Dr Moeketsi Mosola, “that the DA-led city government is at the mercy of the EFF and powerless to root out corruption and maladministration among ANC-aligned officials.”

Again, one must first set out the facts before commenting on them. Mayor Solly Msimanga reported his suspicion that Mosola had awarded an irregular tender to a so-called project management service provider called Glad Africa, to Tshwane’s municipal council in September last year

The information came from internal and external whistle blowers, and the Mayor recommended to the municipal council, the only body that can decide these matters, that Mosola be suspended pending a forensic investigation. While the investigation was supported by the DA, its coalition partners and the ANC, the ANC did not support his suspension, and with the support of the EFF, blocked that particular resolution.

Mosola then obtained a labour court interdict against the investigation, claiming that the municipal council followed the wrong procedure in acting against him. The merits of the case are still to be heard, and one of Mosola’s deputies has since intervened in the case against Mosola.

To face down a powerful civil servant determined to use state resources to escape accountability, and to do you political harm, is messy and unpleasant. But in South Africa it is by no means unusual. Neither the DA nor our coalition partners in Tshwane have given up on holding Mosola to account. A second report into his alleged misconduct will serve at this month’s meeting of the municipal council.

Compare the Mosola case to how the ANC government in Tshwane treated Mosola’s predecessor, and the mastermind behind the PEU smart meter contract, Jason Ngobeni. His breach of supply chain management laws and regulations weren’t reported to Council, and the former ANC mayor defended Ngobeni as a loyal ANC cadre to the end. Imagine if Mosola had been City Manager under the ANC, and you will appreciate that the DA has made a difference in Tshwane.

Whether this suits the EFF or not is beside the point. It did not deter Solly Msimanga from executing his mandate, and it will not deter his successor as Mayor of Tshwane.

Cilliers Brink is a member of the mayoral committee, City of Tshwane.

This article first appeared on Moneyweb.