The R1.5m secret report council didn’t want you to see

A FORENSIC report commissioned two years ago by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality into allegations of maladministration against then municipal manager Graham Richards – which cost R1.5-million – was never properly completed, rendering it worthless and a waste of ratepayers’ money.

The secret Ramathe Fivaz Forensic Report, which has finally been released by the municipality after legal action by The Herald, does not contain any responses by Richards to the claims made against him, leaving unanswered questions as to whether the probe into his conduct  was justified, or merely a political witch-hunt.

The release of the report has resuscitated  and strengthened claims that the municipality bungled the Richards investigation, which cost ratepayers a total of R5.45-million after he was put on paid leave for 15 months before being given a R2.6-million golden handshake last November.

Allegations made against him in the report include claims of negatively influencing the Madiba Bay project, not keeping council informed of service delivery protests, allowing the promotion of black business development to falter and delaying the Motherwell Urban Renewal Project (Murp).

The allegations were published in The Herald last February after a draft report was leaked to the newspaper. However, the final report – which was completed in three months allegedly after the municipality put pressure on investigators to hurry it along – shows very little changes to the draft report and does not contain any comment from Richards.

According to the  Public Service Accountability Monitor  at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, it is the “norm” for forensic investigations to include comprehensive statements from both parties.
Richards yesterday labelled the report a “waste of time. If Ramathe Fivaz had interviewed those who knew the facts instead of sticking with those with vested interests, this whole thing would have collapsed far earlier”, he said.

“In many instances political failures are being blamed on me, or failures which were a result of very frustrating factors beyond my control.”

Richards lashed out at political meddling by the ANC. “I was far from incompetent. I had to work with a staff which I  largely had no control over selecting, riddled with political appointments from a previous political leadership.

“But I turned around a failing organisation which immediately prior to my arrival had received an adverse audit opinion and 18 qualifications, to three successive  unqualified audit reports. I left a healthy organisation with  good prospects.”

The municipality released the 108-page report last week following a Public Access to Information Act application by The Herald and its sister newspaper, Weekend Post.

The newspapers have also gone  to the high court to force Local Government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane, to make public a second – and potentially explosive – forensic report into allegedly irregular municipal deals, compiled by East London firm Kabuso CC.

Ramathe Fivaz, based  in Johannesburg, have admitted  the timeframe of three months – November 2009 to January 2010 –  given by the municipality for them to complete the report was too short.

Company chief executive Peet Pieterse said yesterday they would have preferred to  include Richards’s responses to the allegations in the final version.

Although Pieterse said the company gave Richards a chance to respond to the allegations, he  yesterday denied this. He said only once, in December 2009, were “vague questions” sent to him, but they had no context and were “interrogatory and unrelated to the allegations, without background of where they arose”.

He informed the municipality that although he was willing to cooperate, he needed to be given more information about the context of the questions, but they “refused to change their stance”.
Municipal spokesman Roland Williams said the municipality had been fully committed to the investigation. “Irrespective of the cost factor, the public and stakeholders will appreciate  the allegations made were quite significant and …  it was absolutely imperative (they) be properly investigated.”

He said due to the settlement agreement with Richards, the municipality was not allowed to comment on the details of the allegations and the investigation.
Acting municipal manager Elias Ntoba appointed Ramathe Fivaz in November 2009.
Richards, through a high court application last year, contested that the investigation was illegitimate and therefore moot as it failed to go out to tender.

A week before Richards’s court application was to be heard in October last year, the municipality approached him with a R2.6-million offer to drop the court action and resign, which he accepted.
It was his second golden handshake in less than 10 years, with the previous payment believed to be about R3-million. 

Part of the settlement between the metro and Richards included that the metro drop any outstanding claims or allegations against Richards and that he in turn drop his legal bid to gain access to the Kabuso report and have the Fivaz report declared null and void.

Coretta Nanto, a director at Pagdens Attorneys who represented The Herald and Weekend Post in their court action, welcomed the release of the report but said she would need to scrutinise its contents before  commenting.

The report would also need to be compared to the Kabuso report. “It’s a step in the right direction for the citizens and for the benefit of people in the city. Ratepayers are taking an interest in the affairs of their city,” she said.

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