For two-and-a-half years, the DA-led Knysna Municipality has supported a seemingly illegal tender award that will determine the future of its 72 000 citizens.
The ISDF (Integrated Strategic Development Framework) is meant to be the blueprint for Knysna for the next 30 years. It determines everything from where development will be permitted and infrastructure spent. If rumours are true that Knysna is a test case for the Western Province, then the implications are far greater.
Despite loud opposition from the public, the DA and the Municipality have been determined to support a new consortium with questionable property developer links. It has led to many questioning who the DA work for.
The size of that question mark grew this week when the Public Protector gained a long sought after report with damning findings, a report Bredell signed for yet would not release. It proves what has long been suspected, that the ISDF tender process was fatally flawed.
Deepening the political mud is that it affects the recent Municipal Manager appointment which was pushed through, again against the wind of public opposition, by Mayor Georlene Wolmarans.
Chris Mulder and his company, CMAI, are the most well-known property developers in Knysna because of Thesen Islands, a 600-unit, housing development in the middle of the Knysna Estuary. It’s a remarkable construction admired by some but hated by others who believe that it’s the anti-thesis to the natural beauty the area is famous for. Whether justified or not, Mulder is a controversial figure.
On April 15 2013, the Knysna Municipality appointed Knysna Creative Heads (KCH) to prepare the ISDF for Knysna. KCH is led by Mulder and includes his CMAI as well as Urban Econ and Marike Vreken, a planning consultant also known to fight for developments in environmentally sensitive areas.
THE TENDER BID
The choice of Knysna Creative Heads (KCH) defied logic:
- Despite the importance and scope of the tender, bidders were only given 3 weeks to respond. KCH had a distinct advantage as it knew the local terrain and had already undertaken relevant work (see point 4). From the outset, it seemed as if the tender was being pushed their way.
- Of the bidders, KCH had the most conflict of interest e.g. intentions for a Waterfront development and the George Rex development (on a wetland), both beside the Knysna Estuary. Furthermore, Mulder had become known for various controversial development proposals outside the urban edge.
- Despite coming second, KCH won the tender. The actual winner should have been City Think Space, a team in Cape Town.
- KCH had an unfair, financial advantage over other bidders. In 2012, Mulder and CMAI were appointed to investigate and obtain the necessary approvals for an intended residential property development by PG Bison, a forestry company that is the biggest private landowner in Knysna. The Knysna Municipality then appointed CMAI to make a Structure Frame for Rheenendal, the same area. The deal was that PG Bison would pay CMAI the bulk of the money whilst Knysna Municipality would contribute a nominal amount. This appointment was made despite the fact that the Structure Frame would be reviewed as part of the ISDF process in early 2013 i.e. why was the work being doubled-up?
5. The ISDF tender was prepared and awarded under the watch of Town Planner, Mike-Maughan Brown. Before working for Knysna Municipality, Brown advised PG Bison’s parent company, Steinhoff, on issues relating to their property and forestry settlements.
6. The value of the ISDF public participation was also in doubt as Pat Mulder, Chris Mulder’s wife, carried it out despite having no relevant qualifications or experience. In one meeting, she defended PG Bison, CMAI’s client, regarding the contentious issue of forestry communities.
7. Keeping it in the family is her son, Steff Mulder, who prepared the Human Settlement Plan for the ISDF.
Also defying fair and impartial approach were the municipal officials involved in awarding the tender:
- Mike Maughan-Brown was a member of the Bid Adjudication Committee (BAC) that dealt with the ISDF tender. If there was a single person who should have pointed out the conflict of interest of having a local property developer head up the ISDF, it was him. Consequently, it’s notable that, previous to being a municipal official, Maughan-Brown’s town planning firm was employed by the developer of the Knysna River Reserve to obtain the planning approval for it. In 2008, along with Chris Mulder, he wished to change the proposed urban edge of Knysna. Doing so would favour property developers, especially those such as Mulder who wanted to build massive gated communities in environmentally sensitive areas.
- In 2008, when Knysna’s first SDF was prepared, Mike Maughan-Brown, Chris Mulder, Marike Vreken and VPM all delivered objections to the proposed SDF and were opposed to the proposed urban edge. Urban Econ’s projection statistics, which have now being proven wrong, supported some of their claims.
- Ilse van Schalkwyk, Knysna Municipality’s Manager of Economic Development, represented the BEC (Bid Evaluation Committee) during the BAC meeting. The decision to award the tender relied on her evaluation of the bids. But Van Schalkwyk should have recused herself as she was associated with two of the companies forming the KCH bid – she used to manage the George branch of Urban Econ and Chris Mulder was a client of Urban Econ.
According to ex-lawyer and now activist, Susan Campbell, 133 people and organisations objected to the award of the tender. Then Municipal Manager, Lauren Waring, was obliged by law, in terms of the Supply Chain Management Policy of the Municipality, to appoint an independent person to deal with the objections – she did not. Initially, the municipality’s lawyer, Melony Paulsen, dealt with the objectors. Then the Municipality appointed CJ Ballan Attorneys to deal with them. Both actions suggested defence rather than helpfulness; some objectors received no response at all; no hearings were held; a request to address the Council was denied.
Bianca Currie, from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, released an independent, 21-page report that recognised that a “significant issue emerging from the Knysna ISDF process is the unresolved conflict between the Knysna Municipality and civil environmental groups. The dispute is not being acknowledged and has been left to fester, breeding suspicion and mistrust in the process.”
The most detailed, critical and damning objection was prepared by Campbell. Her 29-page report (as related at Knysna Keep) was dismissed by then Municipal Manager Lauren Waring in a single letter that failed to address the serious allegations mentioned in this article (and many more). Mayor Wolmarans and other politicians were approached with similar failure. From the outset, the Knysna Municipality and Council, particularly the DA, were determined to push the ISDF tender to KCH – the politicians failed to fulfil their oversight role and, instead, looked the other way.
This author made appeals to Premier Helen Zille, MEC Alan Winde, Mayor Wolmarans and many on the Knysna Council – all were ignored. As was a petition sent to Zille and Wolmarans. Even when Zille came to town for a public meeting, she would not answer my questions. At a meeting the next day, MEC Alan Winde was supposed to give answers or get answers – not only didn’t he but he refused to hand over a copy of the recording of the meeting.
Through my websites, I led an online campaign to promote The Campbell Objection, educate the public and object. The goal was also to ensure that the topic never died in the public’s mind. Through this effort and those of others such as the Western Heads Protection Group and the Knysna Ratepayers’ Association, it didn’t. Public pressure stopped the ISDF from being implemented… but not cancelled – millions were spent and municipal meeting after municipal meeting has mentioned the ISDF as if it were imminent.
In May 2014, Mayor Wolmarans sent a request to MEC Alan Winde for the ISDF allegations to be investigated. She would only announce this to a shocked Council in August, coincidentally the same month the assessment was completed (something that would only be discovered much later). Her action was odd because no facts had changed and the local DA could have called for a local investigation at any time the previous year. As she was a supporter of the controversial tender award, it was seen by some as a way of her protecting herself whilst getting a green light from higher government.
MEC Anton Bredell’s department took over and kept delaying the report without adequate reasoning. What eventually arrived in November 2014, but only revealed to the public in February 2015, was a summarised version. No reason was given for Bredell not supplying the full report into the ISDF. It’s importance compounded as it affected the appointment of Grant Easton (then Chief Financial Officer) as the new Municipal Manager. Mayor Wolmarans had stated that his appointment required Bredell’s full report before being enacted. That implied that Easton needed to be cleared of any wrongdoing regards the ISDF tender. Despite that, and without the full report, she conflicted with her own statement by appointing him the following Council meeting.’
Bredell’s summary, nevertheless, seemed to emphatically concur with the public – he listed 10 major points against the ISDF. It seemed like a conviction BUT-
-in total contrast, and without explanation, Bredell stated that he saw no reason why the ISDF could not proceed as it had not affected the process. The report, his email and decision blatantly didn’t add up.
Susan Campbell pointed out that Wolmarans likely had the report (and had had it for months): “For reasons best known to her, the Mayor has decided to annex only the letter from Bredell, rather than the full report, to the agenda for the meeting of the Mayoral Committee scheduled for 19 February 2015. Considering that the letter was sent on the 25th of November 2014 and it refers to ‘a report which is attached for your consideration’, we have to assume that the Mayor is in possession of the report.”
Facing a blank wall that, according to her, made no sense unless it was to favour the interests of a few over the many, Campbell sought the full report. Her requests to Bevan Ellman (Knysna Corporate Services Manager), Anton Bredell and Graham Paulse (Chief Director of Municipal Performance, Monitoring and Support) failed for a year but an application through the Public Protector succeeded after 6 months.
The report into the tender process was undertaken by Graham Paulse. His 16-page assessment showed repeated compliance errors that made his choice of words in his conclusion seem tame: “The assessment showed that there are procedural deficiencies in adherence to the SCM [Supply Chain Management] prescripts and regulations. Furthermore, the Municipality should guard against the possible future conflict of interest.”
Summarily, the tender for the future of Knysna wasn’t awarded to the highest-scoring bidder and isn’t compliant with SCM [Supply Chain Management]. Local and provincial government suspiciously would not share the full report with the public and had to be forced to do so through the Public Protector who, in turn, was forced to wait a long period.
Knysna’s most well-known property developer, employed by the town’s largest landowner, is managing the process in which Knysna’s future will be determined. The process will be overseen by the Town Planner who was previously a consultant to the landowner. The DA was made aware of all the conflicts of interest but instead of investigating defied due process and seemingly white-washed the situation in favour of property developers over the Public they are meant to serve.
Did the DA illegally give Knysna’s future to property developers?
PS: After 2 and a half years of ISDF work, no ISDF website is live. Knysna Creative Heads only has a holding page.
PS2: As at the 10am deadline today, Premier Helen Zille, Chris Mulder (KCH/CMAI) and Marike Vreken (KCH/Marike Vreken Town Planning) had not responded to queries sent. Bredell’s office was previously asked to respond by Monday but, at their request, it was extended till Tuesday… but they also never responded.
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- Update #1: The Hop, The Skip & The Jump (by MEC Anton Bredell)
- Update #2: Over 100 000 Reached With Knysna Tender Scandal Story
- Update #3: The Mayor, The Spokesman, The Editor & The ISDF (feature)
- Update #4: Cape Times & Argus Report on Knysna ISDF Tender
- Update #5: Cape Times gives follow-up Front Page
- Update #6: The ISDF: The Liars and Their Supporters
- Update #7: Knysna ISDF Controversy Continues: Request for More Money (feature)