A detailed yet incomplete draft report has surfaced that shines dark light on Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality corruption and recently deposed Mayor Athol Trollip. Months ago, I received a copy from the Opposition to the then DA government. Considering the latest chaos in NMB, and the Opposition becoming the Leaders, I finally dug into it. This is a summary of the report with background and my observations to make the situation easier to understand….
Did Trollip protect Municipal Manager Johann Mettler from his role in giving a crooked ANC faction millions of Public funds? What made Mettler so important to the Democratic Alliance (DA), more important than two forensic investigators, employees of the Municipality, whose crime appears to be doing their job in exposing corruption?
The report is composed by Werner Wiehart, an ex-policeman who works in the Internal Audit Department of the Municipality. He and his boss, Director Bonnie Chan, are under fire and will possibly lose their jobs for seemingly no reason but to protect corruption. The cover-up allegedly implicates Trollip.
This story is another example of the Public being ruled in the dark by broken light bulbs.
ATHOL TROLLIP INTERFERES
In August 2016, the DA took over Nelson Mandela Bay and made Athol Trollip, a member of the powerful DA Federal Executive, the Mayor.
The UDM’s Mongameli Bobani was appointed as Deputy Mayor but would later be removed by the DA. Johann Mettler initially continued as Acting Municipal Manager but then took the position full time, a decision requiring approval by the Council the DA led.
Werner Wiehart was on leave when he saw in the media that Trollip had instructed that the Mohlaleng Media contract be frozen, subject to a forensic investigation. Trollip said, “I was disturbed to learn that the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality had spent in excess of R21 million on this contract, some of which was allegedly used to remunerate political appointments under the former administration.”
Returning to work, under his own initiative, Wiehart immediately began the forensic investigation. He had experience with Mohlaleng Media, his investigation into their office lease agreement causing Communications Director Roland Williams staff member Director Carlé Ritter-Erasmus to be suspended (they then resigned). Williams was convicted of an unrelated fraud in May this year, given a 3-year prison sentence.
The official instruction from Trollip via Mettler was only received 3 weeks later but by then both were aware of Wiehart’s investigation. The reason for the delay was because Trollip and his Chief of Staff had interfered by consulting those implicated – Mbuso Thabethe and the Mohlaleng Media whistleblower who was unnamed. That was an illegal interference in the administration, done without the knowledge of Wiehart and Internal Audit.
Wiehart identified the whistleblower. The whistleblower remains unnamed.
Wiehart already had the tender documents but was prompted by the whistleblower to gain all payment requisitions, invoices and time sheets.
Wiehart discovered that the Mohlaleng Media contract resulted in R21-million paid out between December 2014 to July 2016. Mohlaleng Media appeared to be merely a middleman to facilitate political needs which was done through fraudulently issuing false invoices and time-sheets to hide the purpose. Much was spent on ANC printing for the elections. It also paid for two political appointments in previous Mayor Danny Jordaan’s office.
Investigative magazine Noseweek summed it up well in 2017: “While in ANC hands, the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro council ran what was, effectively, a secret procurement wing that circumvented the open tender process, did party political work on the city’s tab – and, ultimately, did not pay debts run up with local service providers.”
JOHAN METTLER & THE INVISIBLE CONTRACT
Bonnie Chan reported the matter to then Acting Municipal Manager Johann Mettler. He allegedly failed to file charges with the SAPS.
Mettler had meetings with Supply Chain Management Director Ndimphiwe Mantyontya and Trevor Harper, the former Chief Financial Officer who was later suspended with regards a different payment without contract, then paid a secret amount, authorised by Mettler, to quit. That was in contrast to Athol Trollip’s previous claim that he was against golden handshakes.
The minutes of those meetings suggests that Mettler had never seen the main contract with Mohlaleng Media but that the work had been carried out after he’d signed approval of an “addendum” to the contract, the latter dated February 2016. This amount was R15-million of the R21-million total. That alone should have made the tender irregular i.e. in layman’s terms, illegal.
Later, according to Wiehart, Mettler admitted he’d never seen the main contract. Weihart informed him that the main contract had never existed which obviously made Mettler’s addendum approval for more work illegal.
Furthermore, the contract was for 3 years yet Mohlaleng Media had been overpaid by R1.5-million by the time Mettler was allegedly illegally authorising them more millions.
Wiehart states that, “The City Manager is one of them. How can an Accounting Officer with a Masters in Law go and sign an addendum informed by contract when he has not even seen the contract, and what makes it worse is the fact that the contract (Service Level Agreement) never existed?”
DR CRISPIAN OLVER
Dr Crispian Olver was COGTA Minister Pravin Gordhan’s proxy as a member of an intervention body that tackled corruption in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality during 2015 and 2016, an ANC governance period. It was city split not only between the ANC and its opposition but by ANC factions too. Olver presence was owed to Werner Wiehart submitting a report to Gordhan and then ANC Mayor Danny Jordaan. In PE, Wiehart supplied a more detailed report to Olver. It’s interesting that Olver is considered a distinguished corruption buster yet Wiehart and Chan, who did most of the work, are being cast as villains instead of superheroes.
Olver’s investigation report was entitled ‘State Capture at a Local level’. He would go on to write the bestseller, ‘How to Steal a City: The Battle for Nelson Mandela Bay’.
The DA, who took over NMB for two years, starting in 2016, seem enamoured with Olver whereas behind the scenes, without proof, it has been claimed that Olver represented a faction of the ANC that never controlled the municipality.
Earlier this month, Trollip said, “Listening to Dr Crispian Olver talking to Eusibius McKaiser on the mid morning show was so illuminating. The people who are part of the current political coup in NMBM really did control the network of corruption in the NMBM. Our city needs to be saved from Bobani and Lungisa.” Trollip, however, never provided proof against Bobani.
In the same week, Premier Helen Zille hosted an anti-corruption forum in Mossel Bay with Olver as the speaker.
What no one mentions is that Dr Crispian Olver, an ANC supporter, wished to do business with NMB in 2016, before the Local Government Elections happened. He wanted to conduct a pre-election survey which would have cost the municipality in the region of R11-million. Mettler knew about this but failed to disclose the information to Internal Audit.
Olver’s questionable involvement began when he sent Mettler an email in July 2016. Olver’s email contained falsehoods regards the Mohlaleng Media contract and two related appointments in the former mayor’s office. Investigations revealed that those individuals were ex-DA heavyweight turned ANC Grant Pascoe and journalist Vukile Pokwana. They’d never worked for Mohlaleng Media but were suddenly placed as staff in then Mayor Danny Jordaan’s office without a service level agreement. They were political appointees allowed by Mettler and supported by Olver (as he wanted their jobs extended).
On September 7 2018, Dr Crispian Olver shared the letter that National Treasury’s sent to Mettler, wanting to know if its true that councillors have interfered in the running of the administration. Considering the timing, just after Bobani took over, they’re interested in Bobani’s alleged interference that hasn’t had any repercussions except media coverage, not Athol Trollip’s which has had significant impact.
Olver is lauded by the DA and allegedly favoured by the ANC Ramaphosa faction not in power. Was his presence in Nelson Mandela Bay for any motive besides fighting corruption? Is Dr Crispian Olver an election tool as some have claimed to this author? That’s unclear because in July Olver was complaining that the City of Cape Town was refusing him permission to research their housing policy for his PHD yet next moment’s hanging out with Helen Zille.
AN AWKWARD INVESTIGATION
Johann Mettler has a long history with the DA, having become their Municipal Manager of Drakenstein in 2012. NMB Mayor Athol Trollip may have initially supported investigation because he never realised how it would implicate Mettler whom he voted for as Municipal Manager (whom he is now seemingly protecting).
Wiehart was involved in the investigation. He realised that he was in an impossible situation, that Mettler was possibly implicated but that he was also Wiehart’s boss and thus had to be kept informed of the investigation. He decided to keep Trollip informed too, BBCing emails to Mettler to Trollip’s Chief of Staff Kristoff Adelbert.
Running concurrently was that Internal Audit had been non-performing for years under the ANC. This led to a argument between Wiehart and Assistant Director Forensics Siyabonga Gwija. Both fell under Director Internal Audit Bonnie Chan.
In November 2016, Mettler called Wiehart to his office to address both matters. Mettler had been told of the BCCied emails (which suggests that Mettler was Trollip’s or his Chief of staff’s ally). Mettler reminded Wiehart that the communication protocol didn’t allow him to communicate with the Council. Regards Gwija, he told Wiehart not to be provoked into confrontation, to rather go for a walk to calm down. Mettler also allegedly said that he would suspend Gwija.
Chan provided Mettler with evidence against Gwija which should have resulted in disciplinary actions against him. That and the suspension never happened because Mettler was lying. There was a greater agenda at play.
Nelson Mandela Bay is in a staff crisis. How much of that is the result of faction fights? The big winners are the legal firms contracted.
In May 2018, the Herald Live reported that:
“In the last financial year, the municipality spent R50.3-million on legal fees. The legal fees bill for the first two quarters of the 2017-18 financial year is at R31.4-million. Municipal public Accounts Committee Chairperson Yoliswa Yako believes a lot of the cases – particularly the disciplinary cases of staff being handled by external law firms – are tantamount to fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The Herald reported in November that the municipality had spent more than R5.9-million on the salaries of suspended officials.”
BOBANI VS TROLLIP & METTLER
On June 4, Mongameli Bobani published an open letter that essentially accused Athol Trollip and then Speaker Jonathan Lawack of not acting on his previous revelations of corruption and maladministration.
“In view of the above, the UDM unequivocally re-iterates its demand of tabling and considerations by council of all the following allegations of serious misconduct against the City Manager, Mr Mettler:
a) Unlawful extension of scope of work of Mohlaleng Media
b) Irregular appointment of the former Acting Executive Director: Corporate Services through her company – Logodisa
c) Irregular termination of employment contracts of senior managers
d) Irregular appointment of Senior Managers (section 56 managers)
e) Misappropriation of municipal funds for the implementation of M-SCOA
f) Irregular appointment of Sebata Municipal Solutions
g) Irregular appointment and improper conduct of Gray Moodliar Attorneys
h) Political Interference in municipal administration particularly on forensic investigations and human resources management matters
(h) Irregular purchasing of Murray and Roberts building by a municipality
(i) Misappropriation of funds on N.U 29 Housing demolition Project
(j) Irregular commissioning of Wi-Fi Project through High Mast Light”
In controversial circumstances, the DA’s Athol Trollip was removed as Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay on August 27 2018. The UDM’s Mongameli Bobani became Mayor, supported by a coalition including the EFF and the ANC.
Bobani has a score to settle. Trollip used a PricewaterhouseCoopers draft forensic report to get rid of Bobani at the time he was serving as Deputy Mayor of the Metro. The UDM was cast in poor light as an associate to corruption. Trollip shared that confidential report with DA Leader Mmusi Maimane, an act against the law, putting his party before the Council and Municipality. Maimane then slated Bobani publicly. Bobani labelled it as a dirty tricks campaign.
The problem for Trollip and the DA is that the final report never mentioned Bobani at all. But it did mention Mettler.
On September 20, Trollip will fight in Court to try regain his position as Mayor, and dethrone Bobani.
The DA, Hawks and local media are allegedly also in possession of the same Weihart document or versions thereof but have failed to act. Instead, forces appear to be attempting to get rid of Wiehart and Chan through disciplinary hearings, Wiehart’s having begun on September 10. Whether the charges are valid or intimidation, they would not invalidate the need for investigation into allegations of serious corruption.
Before the hearing had begun, the cost of obtaining a warning letter against Wiehart had cost the ratepayer an absurd R600,000. That alone deserves investigation.
My informant tells me that the Hawks have failed to investigate, and that the DA’s national leadership has failed to respond.
There’s much more to this story, other players involved but it would be exhaustive to include all now. Dr Crispian Olver allegedly was responsible for the irregular appointment of Grey Moodliar Attorneys, friends from his activism days. There’s the seemingly negative involvement of Advocate Richard Buchanan and Attorney Nico de Villiers of BBV Attorneys who were contracted to conduct the Mohlaleng investigation. Their subcontracted investigator Advocate Bruce Morrison had known Mettler from Drakenstein Municipality where the last mentioned was the Municipal Manager. This was allegedly only disclosed by Morrison after he was appointed
Without Chan and Wiehart, the knock-on effect is that the Internal Audit Department hasn’t had the ability to to lead investigations into further maladministration and corruption in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. That probably means more consultants have been used which, in turn, means more cost to the Public.
Where Bobani is, and where he truly stands, is difficult to determine but Bantu Holomisa, his UDM party leader, is very clear. This morning he posted an open letter to the Auditor General that’s entitled ‘Nelson Mandela Bay: DA’s Trollip allegedly interfered with an internal audit to protect Mettler and Olver. UDM hands over a dossier with information’. I’ve also been informed by the party that Weihart’s report was attached to the emailed version, slightly different to the one this article was based on..
Johann Mettler’s days are rumoured to be numbered. He’s become a major liability to both Trollip and the Democratic Alliance. Guns are out for him. If he’s to have any redemption, he needs to provide the original contract with Mohlaleng Media and explain why he gave them many more millions after they had already been overpaid.
Strangely, when I contacted Bobani through Ayesha Hoffman, his personal assistant who’d previously worked for Trollip, I had Mettler respond instead. It’s obvious that the intended separation between the Council and Administration is compromised i.e. who does Ayesha work for? Mettler was deflective, wanting me to look into the charges against Chan and Wiehart whilst pretending he had no contact with the report into Mohlaleng Media that Trollip had previously commissioned.
Athol Trollip’s words in October 2016 were: “While corruption in political leadership stopped on Election Day 2016, there is still a legacy of corruption in some existing contracts and possibly even syndicated criminality, all of which we are going to stop.”
Bobani’s earlier words to Trollip were:
“All the above allegations of serious misconduct against the City Manager, Mr Mettler have been elaborated upon in my letter dated 22 May 2018 addressed to the Executive Mayor and copied to you Your attention is specifically drawn to the fact that the Executive Mayor has already conceded in public that the act of irregular conduct by both the City Manager and Ms Zitumane has been committed. It is with this in mind that the UDM directs this correspondence to you as the Speaker of council so as to ensure that a report containing all the allegations of serious misconduct against the City Manager, Mr Mettler are tabled in council for its consideration as provided for in both the Disciplinary Regulations for Senior Managers, 2010 and the Municipal Regulations on Financial Misconduct Procedures and Criminal Proceedings, 2014. I also wish to remind you that the continuation of the alleged irregular expenditure as highlighted above in respect of all the allegations against the City Manager is costing this municipality enormous amounts of money and the sooner these allegations are tabled in council, the better. I must not hesitate to mention that this is a legal requirement which must be adhered to by everyone and not an individual opinion seeking exercise.”
Trollip illegally interfered with the Administration of the Municipality. I contacted the DA Federal Executive for theirs and Trollip’s response but they’ve chosen silence.
What happened, Athol Trollip, what really happened?
It was difficult for me to understand the complicated situation described in Wiehart’s report which appears to be an unfinished copy. My intention to compose a ‘quick’ article failed miserably. If I hadn’t built background and glued bits together, it would’ve been difficult for readers to follow. Hopefully I’ve made the report comprehensible to the Public.
Olver had only 100 minutes to respond as I included his role late, and pushed up my intended publishing date in light of the UDM’s action today. Olver’s response is encouraged. I’m happy to provide a full article on him alone, with his input and other info I have.
I was unable to get contact details for Bonnie Chan however its unlikely she would’ve cooperated being in the same situation as Wiehart who wouldn’t cooperate whilst fighting for his job. Inexcusable is the failure by Athol Trollip, Johann Mettler, the DA Federal Executive and others to respond to my queries. That raises bigger question mark over their behaviour in this mess.
Even with 3033 words, this story is incomplete. That’s often the cloud the Public are ‘gifted’ by those in power. We are ruled in the dark by broken light bulbs.
Update: On Sept 27, Mettler was suspended – www.heraldlive.co.za/news/politics/2018-09-27-mettler-placed-on-precautionary-suspension