An all-expenses-paid golfing trip to Paarl has landed Nelson Mandela Bay’s chief spin doctor, Roland Williams, in hot water.
The municipality has asked internal audit director Bonnie Chan to investigate the trip taken by Williams and a co-worker, which was paid for by printing giant Paarl Media.
Paarl Media received the last R7.8-million tender to print the municipality’s Ubuntu magazine – a project spearheaded by Williams’s department.
Although the city’s contract with the company expired in November, the municipality readvertised the tender last month and the closing date for submissions is on Thursday.
The municipality’s supply chain management policy states that no official may receive a gift, favour or hospitality from a service provider or prospective service provider.
It reads: “No person who is a provider or prospective provider of goods or services, or a recipient or prospective recipient of goods disposed of or to be disposed of, may either directly or through a representative or intermediary promise, offer or grant . . . any reward, gift, favour or hospitality to any official; or any other role player involved in the implementation of this policy.” Paarl Media did not indicate yesterday whether it intended to bid for the contract again.
Williams and municipal product development coordinator Basil de Lange took the trip to Paarl for the company’s annual golf day on Tuesday.
Williams’s wife, Shahnaz, also attended the event at the Pearl Valley Golf and Country Estate.
The trip came a day after the Herald published a letter from Williams in which he said he did not play golf.
Although he has moved to defend allegations about a possible conflict of interests, the Herald has seen a letter from his boss – acting chief operating officer Mamisa Chabula- Nxiweni – asking Chan to “conduct an urgent investigation into this matter”.
Chabula-Nxiweni wrote in the letter, sent yesterday, that she had only approved an application from Williams for annual leave from March 18 to 20.
As head of the communications department, Williams has influence over what the tender should entail and his office has to brief the supply chain management department on exactly what the municipality wants from the successful bidder.
However, he has no influence on the awarding of the contract.
Responding to questions about the trip, Williams said Paarl Media invited two people from the communications department to their annual stakeholders function every year. “Paarl Media invites clients from all over the country. No business is discussed. It is merely them inviting their clients to a stakeholder function, as they do every year.
“I was not involved in the awarding of their tender. My objectivity, as always, remains intact. I take offence at any insinuation to the contrary.”
Williams said later that the Times Media Group – then known as Johnnic or Avusa – had held similar events in the past, “even in the middle of tender processes”.
“The decision on the awarding of a printing tender will not be made by the communications department, as it is simply a lowest-price tender process.
“Whichever company wins the tender will then obviously liaise directly with the communications department in the operational delivery, but from a tender process, communications will not decide.”
City manager Mpilo Mbambisa said: “This municipality considers the allegations in a very serious light and referred the matter – brought to our attention by your newspaper for the first time – for an urgent internal investigation by the relevant unit of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.
“Unfortunately, we are not in a position to give you a comprehensive response until the internal investigation is concluded.”
Williams has been investigated by Chan before when he was accused of knowingly contravening a municipal bylaw by giving the go-ahead to Century Media to put up four gantries to advertise the Fifa World Cup in 2010.
He was suspended for almost a year, but returned to work in July last year when the municipality failed to hold a disciplinary hearing against him.
Paarl Media, which is part of the Media24 group, was awarded the tender to print the Ubuntu magazine in June 2010. The contract expired in June 2012, but was continuously extended until November last year.
Paarl Media Group chief executive Stephen van der Walt said yesterday the golf day was an annual stakeholder engagement for the group.
“With an event of this nature our key company representatives strive to maintain solid relationships with all stakeholders, including suppliers, customers and industry bodies, and an event such as our golf day encourages this,” he said.
“Paarl Media is currently the incumbent printer of the Ubuntu publication which is under the management of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. The invite was extended to the NMBM in its capacity as a valued client which is the same principle as our other valued guests.”