COPE Councillor Elrick van Aswegen’s questions dominated the Section 80 Community Meeting held last Tuesday. In particular, he called for an investigation into the Electrical Department previously run by Manon McDonald but also spoke widely of rot in the Knysna Municipality.
The spark was the topic of the construction of lights at the Loerie Park Tennis Courts. Van Aswegen queried how Tuiniqua Consulting engineers got involved, how many projects they were involved in, and if supply chain management had been followed. He stated that he believed not. “There are departments in this Municipality who don’t believe in what we believe in… which is transparency and openness. We should get Legal in here. This department must be investigated. Not one person here around the table knows the total cost.”
By total cost, he was referring to the whole budget of the department as affected by supply chain management.
Councillor Gombo then said: “It’s why she resigned.”
By “she”, Gombo was referring to ex-Electrical Manager, Manon McDonald, whose reign was controversial. For the Nissan tender, she was fleet manager. Although no wrongdoing has been proven, questions still remain unanswered i.e. why were Nissan specifications allegedly sent to non-Nissan suppliers? And did McDonald and her husband get a discount on their personal Nissan vehicles they bought around the same time? The Knysna Ratepayers’ Association has apparently long chased this issue.
More directly, I discovered that McDonald’s husband, as the company Jam Electrical, was winning tenders from the Electrical department whilst she was the procurement officer.
A municipal staff member stated to me that her husband was in fact the largest contractor for the Electrical department.
As I had too many issues to deal with, I passed the information onto another who investigated further to uncover that an even larger amount of money than I’d realised was involved. I withhold that until they present their report.
Unknown to the majority of the public is that Knysna’s clean audit wasn’t clean. That it was labelled as such was a great disservice to the town’s residents. Thinking of our neighbour, the highly questionable Bitou Municipality, it’s easy to wonder if clean audits are being rigged for the DA’s marketing campaign (as this blog has shown, there’s been continuous actions suggesting politics first, public last). There were, in fact, 8 major problems listed by the Auditor General. Several involved tenders. The bonus points given to local tenderers, that resulted in the Nissan deal, was one of them. Another was the work that McDonald’s husband was receiving from the Electrical Department whilst she was not only Manager but also the procurement officer.
Although Van Aswegen never addressed these issues individually, his remarks and concern that senior people signed off on things such as this applies to all.
Why did Municipal Manager Grant Easton, then Chief Financial Officer, not query matters such as this and immediately launch investigations? Instead, for example, Manon McDonald quietly resigned [update: McDonald may have left in stealth mode but was given an arguably bigger job in the DA-led George Municipality, 60km away from Knysna].
The Section 80 Committee mandated Municipal Manager Grant Easton to investigate. Councillor Clive Witbooi queried: “Would it be wise for the MM’s office to investigate this?” Van Aswegen said that he understood what Witbooi meant. The implication seemed to be that Easton was compromised. However, Witbooi was informed that that was the procedure which had to be followed.
Van Aswegen further stated that: “We, as a Council, must ensure that we are the oversight here. This is not an isolated case.”
He repeated that when I spoke to him after the meeting. He said that there are overlaps in the budget. For example, what if both the Electrical and Traffic departments budgeted half a million rand for traffic lights? There would be double the money needed which would result in surplus cash that department heads could spend as they wanted instead of per procedure which was to have all work approved before the budget was approved. That way, there’s control and oversight. Currently, there isn’t.
It’s really about a bigger issue but since Tuiniqua Consulting was mentioned, I contacted them. They responded speedily and professionally with:
“We as a service provider support a transparent and fair tender system.
We were asked to provide a quote for the professional fee to provide bases for light masts at the tennis courts. The quote was provided on 22 Jan 2015 to the municipality. The amount off the quote was lower than R30 000-00 and the procurement system of the municipality allow them to ask quotations for projects where the amount is below R30 000-00.
We do not know if other quotations were also submitted.
We received an order for the works on 25 Feb 2015 based on the quote submitted.
Please refer further correspondence on this matter to the municipality.”
This writer suggests no wrongdoing on the part of Teniqua Consulting but the lack of IDP process can serve as a hypothetical example of how money could be spent on unbudgeted projects via favouritism if a department head, with surplus funds they should not have, wished too.
Will the Administration of Knysna Municipality be fully cooperative or delay full answers? We will soon find out. It was decided not to wait until the next Section 80 to have a report tabled but instead treat it with urgency and have it presented at the next MAYCO meeting on Thursday, June 18 at 8am.
NB: I have no contact details for Manon McDonald and her husband’s company doesn’t appear in a Google search. Was there wrongdoing or is she being unfairly mentioned? There is no verdict. Her input would be greatly appreciated so that the full story is known. This affects more than her. It’s about the conduct of the Knysna Municipality and how (or not) supply chain integrity is protected. I would welcome an interview with her so if you’re a friend or ex-colleague of her, please ask her to contact me through this website.