Whilst Oudtshoorn and Bitou stagger through a carnage of politicians bent on gaining power at all costs, Knysna has, relatively, escaped the negative spotlight it deserves. No resident wants to discourage tourists, business ventures or new homeowners but the sheer scale of the problem insists that it be addressed before it reaches a point of no return. The implementation of the ISDF (Integrated Strategic Development Framework) maybe that tipping point.
What is the ISDF? It’s a plan to shape the future of Knysna. It will decide where houses and businesses go, how cultures will integrate, what areas will be protected, the border of the urban edge etc. It will decide the plan Knysna will embark on. It decides everything. Mayor Georlene Wolmarans stated that we’re the first. If it works, it could be implemented in your town. Worse, if it doesn’t work, it could still be implemented in your town.
The standoff between environmentalists and developers is a common issue in our pressurised, modern times. Both aim for the future but find it difficult to reach compromise. Knysna is different because instead of respecting both parties and seeking a solution, the government of Knysna has acted with bias, siding with developers, big business and staff involved in maladministration. They have displayed a blatant disregard for all objectors, not just environmentalists. There have been outright lies encouraging public participation…lies because there hasn’t been any of meaningful value with the Municipality choosing participants who will agree with them.
As discussed in Hear No Evil, See No Evil, their undemocratic attitude is not restricted to the ISDF tender. Here are further examples of both:
- The date for objections was May 7 2013. To seemingly restrict queries and naysayers, the date was changed to May 2. Some objectors were met with legal jargon from the manager of legal services, Melony Paulsen, stating that they were too late to object. A responsible government would have acknowledged the error and simply extended it. Only someone with something to hide would have skipped the logical decision.
- Objectors did not receive feedback which makes this an outright lie by Lauren Waring to the Knysna-Plett Herald: “The municipality did not ignore comments and its legal department has formally responded to all registered objectors.” In response to an objection to their handling of the issue, Waring’s response was curt and unhelpful: “Your correspondence is hereby noted.” The law compels her to respond yet she has chosen to disobey it.
- Susan Campbell, an environmental lawyer, has repeatedly made attempts to meet with Lauren Waring, Knysna’s Municipal Manager. Her extensive objective is grounded in the laws suppose to protect South Africans and represents the Western Heads-Goukamma Conservancy, Western Head Protection Group, Belvidere Homeowners Associations, Knysna Environmental Forum, Buffelsbaai Homeowners Association as well as Uitzicht Homeowners Association. In desperation, she turned to the PAIA (Public Access to Information Act) which Lauren Waring was illegally dismissive of. It’s possible that the Knysna Municipality is attempting to force a costly high court action where an applicant would be hard-pressed to match the money the Municipality could spend on legal fees (ironically, taxpayer’s money). Or, maybe, they have the undemocratic attitude that none would dare challenge them under those circumstances.
- The tender is not allowed to be given to anyone with a conflict of interest. Waring’s statement that it would be hard to find anyone without some connection to Knysna is an excessive overstatement and no excuse to swing in the opposite direction and hand the project to the biggest property developer in Knysna whose gated community of 600 houses shut out the public from the centre of their own town. Not least to mention is that a huge number of those houses stand empty after the financial boom collapsed. Chris Mulder, head of CMAI, is that man. Here are conflicts of interest regards the tender award that has been mentioned previously:
- Mike Maughan-Brown previously headed CNDV Southern Cape, who held an interest in redefining the urban edge for development at the same time as CMAI. Broadening the urban edge means less protected areas, fewer laws for developers and, consequently, more money for them. In greater conflict is that he is now Knysna Municipality’s Planning Directorate and was a member of the Bid Adjudication Committee (BAC) for the tender.
- Ilse van Schalkwyk, the adjudicator of the bids used to manage the George branch of Urban Econ, a partner in the Knysna Creative Heads Consortium. Chris Mulder was a previous client.
- In 2006, Chris Mulder headed the Forum for Sustainable Development (Forum). The Forum presented a detailed submission, in support of their opposition to the draft Spatial Development Framework (SDF). Redefining the urban edge for his proposed developments was obviously self-beneficial. How can that be irrelevant now?
- Marike Vreken, like Chris Mulder, is obviously highly involved in Knysna development. Her experience is not in dispute but in no way compensates for the legal requirement that anyone awarded the tender not have a conflict of interest.
- Knysna Creative Heads Consortium did not tender the lowest price.
Puppet Mayor, Georlene Wolmarans’ response to objectors was to threaten to sue them. No leader of quality would act this way so I dared her to do so. Her attitude is representative of the contempt the Knysna DA, who forced her upon Knysna, has shown the public. After all, she had only been a DA member for a year and lost her Ward in the suburb of Hornlee to the ANC but became Mayor of Knysna anyway! The only way that was possible is if Helen Zille, leader of the DA, lied when she said that there was no trade made for the ID (Independent Democrats) to join the DA.
Then there’s Patricia de Lille, the ex-ID leader who i once respected as well. There are rumblings of discontent in the belly of Cape Town that owe their poor digestion to her, similarly, autocratic attitude.
Another of those ID-become-DA-mayor types was Wessie van der Westhuizen. This week, he was today found guilty by a disciplinary committee on 4 of the 5 charges he faced. His wife got the same verdict last week and was dismissed. What makes Wessie worse is that he is the Executive Mayor of Eden District i.e. a Super Mayor which means that Knysna Municipality falls under him. It’s no wonder that when i emailed him and all the Eden managers regard the ISDF tender irregularities and the Knysna Tourism financial disaster that NOT ONE RESPONDED. That could only happen, as I’ve long asserted if undemocratic orders were being sent from the top of the Western Cape government. That’s democracy at work, ANC style – oops… sorry ANC… I meant DA style.
Back on the local front, there was a shuffling in the DA and Councillor Esmé Edge was promoted to Deputy Mayor. This despite her having been on the infamous Tourism Board that mired Knysna Tourism.
The salaries budget of Knysna Municipality has increased by 50% in the past 3 years.
Are you getting the picture? It’s not the DA poster version of virtue. There is something fundamentally wrong with the government of Knysna which begs an even more worrying question about the leadership of the Western Cape who has not only allowed it to happen but is quite possibly the originator of our ills. The only reason why they’ve gotten away with it so far is that the ANC has been so disastrous that the media forgot to be real media and the public reached for false hope.
View Part 3, ‘Sounds Like A Plan’.