Water crisis claim crops up in Cape Town infighting

Person providing advice to Patricia De Lille sitting on board of company that could bid for work on WRP

Water crisis claim crops up in City of Cape Town infighting

7 December 2017

Cape Town - Accusations continue to surface in the City of Cape Town's infighting saga and this time the Cape's dire water crisis has become a focal point.

Mayor Patricia de Lille’s executive director, Craig Kesson, alleged in a submission to the City council that she had acted in conflict of interest for getting advice on the water crisis from someone involved in the bidding for finance on a related project.

His submission - a second document which contains serious allegations against De Lille - forms part of an escalating saga involving some of the City of Cape Town’s top officials, who have made several claims and counterclaims against each other.

This infighting has also involved officials seeking legal advice over each others’ actions.

During a confidential meeting on Tuesday, the City of Cape Town council decided not to suspend three officials in a matter relating to maladministration allegations.

The three are Kesson, City manager Achmat Ebrahim, and Melissa Whitehead, the commissioner of the transport and urban development authority.

About two weeks ago, the City of Cape Town held a special confidential meeting and unanimously resolved that the City's performance audit committee be instructed to appoint an independent investigator, to probe allegations against them.

Submissions on possible suspensions

They were then given seven days to provide reasons why they should not be placed on precautionary suspension.

Kesson, in his submission on why he should not be suspended, referred to the water crisis. His submission was made public this week.

The province is experiencing the worst drought in more than a hundred years. Drastic measures and plans are in place to try and reduce water consumption.

Earlier this week it also emerged that Cape Town residents may have to pay a monthly "drought charge" for about three years from February as officials try and raise R1bn annually while dams recover.

Removed from water programme

In his submission, Kesson said, during October and November, while he was on leave to fulfil duties relating to the Municipal Finance Management Act, De Lille and Ebrahim "unilaterally removed me from my council-appointed operational position on the Water Resilience Programme (WRP)".

He said he had "personally helped craft and deliver (the resilience programme) to the public on multiple occasions".

'Conflict of interest'

Kesson said that he later learned that De Lille had a non-executive director of the Development Bank of South Africa provide financial advice on the WRP.

"(This) despite such person sitting on the board of a company that would be a competitive bidder for project finance on the WRP - which in my view is a clear conflict of interest," he said.

"I have never seen the terms of reference for this adviser and have successfully avoided meeting with her so as to avoid potential conflicts of interest on my part."

In a 42-page affidavit made public about two weeks ago, Kesson had also made several serious allegations against De Lille.

He said she had planned to publicly discredit a senior City staffer, who questioned alleged tender irregularities, and asked that a report into a possible R43m loss regarding another tender be made to "go away".

In the affidavit Kesson said that, since June 2017, he had become increasingly concerned about De Lille's attitude and conduct relating to allegations against Whitehead.

On June 3, Kesson had attended a forensics presentation on the MyCiti Bus Stations Tender contract, involving two companies.

This, he said, revealed "a multi-million rand loss to the City via the fare system of the MyCiti Bus Service".

The firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) had estimated that this loss could equal around R43m.

Investigation recommended

Commercial law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr looked into the matter and, in a preliminary opinion on August 29, they recommended that Whitehead and Ebrahim's conduct be investigated.

In her submission about her pending suspension, Whitehead said several allegations in Kesson’s affidavit were incorrect.

"I deny that the conclusions drawn in the affidavit are correct," she said.

Whitehead said she was not sure of the figure Kesson referred to in the MyCiti matter.

'R36m theft uncovered'

"I am aware that the theft of about R36m has been uncovered, and I am not sure why the allegation against me refers to R43m," she said.

"Be that as it may, the City will in due course recover those funds from the Station Management Contractor."

Whitehead said it was a pity the media had only picked up on certain aspects of the matter.

'This has harmed me, the City'

"It is regrettable that the innuendo set out in the memoranda and grievance has been absorbed by the press, who - without the correct facts and proper context - has painted a distressingly skewed picture to the public," she said.

"This has harmed not only me, but also the City, which can ill afford this type of sensational publicity."

Ebrahim, in his submission about his possible suspension, said his legal team had advised that his suspension would be unlawful.

Never been accused of misconduct

"I have to date, in my almost 40 years of service, not once been accused or charged of any misconduct. I do not intend, in the twilight of my career, with some three years to my retirement, to commit any type of misconduct, not to mention further acts of misconduct," he said.

"In the circumstances, my legal team advises that my suspension would be unlawful, and susceptible to judicial challenge."

The independent investigation into maladministration claims is set to be concluded by December 29.

A full report on it will be presented to the council.