While driving to the gym last Friday, I turned on the radio and leading the 5am news bulletin was a story claiming that the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality “had instituted criminal charges ” against stadium operators Access Management.
I will not go into the details of the news report, save to say that much of it was inaccurate and is perhaps a symptom of a broader lack of understanding of some significant events that have unfolded in our city’s corridors of power in recent years.
To be fair, the intricate details of the systemic rot we became accustomed to boggles the mind. Yet if we are properly to hold leaders to account – as we should – we need to understand what went down.
For this reason I wish to lay out in this column how we got here. I do this so that, as one wise man once said, we tell no lies and claim no easy victories.
Dear reader, please indulge me: In March last year, a man called Mpilo Mbambisa, then our city manager, signed a document allowing Access Management to continue to manage the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for another year.
Access had already been in charge of the stadium for a number of years. Mbambisa figured he would skip the required tender processes, put pen to paper and let Access hold on to the stadium keys for another 12 months.
Only he hadn’t thought of Kobus Gerber – a local panel beater who leads the ratepayers association and is known to be a tad obsessed with how public money is spent.
And so, in November last year Gerber asked the Port Elizabeth High Court to force the metro to cut ties with Access.
In fact, Access was the latest in a string of companies Gerber was going after, legally, to try to recover money spent in the name of the failed bus system.
On this occasion, not only was Gerber irked that Mbambisa did not follow due process to extend Access’s contract, he believed the company was corrupt.
The thing is, Gerber had stumbled upon some papers that showed that back in 2012 one Nadia Gerwel, a municipal bean counter, had transferred bucket loads of our money to Access.
Access then paid other people in a series of questionable transactions.
These included a loan to the Eastern Province Rugby Union as well as other amounts paid to business woman Andrea Wessels to organise a music concert.
That concert never happened. You see, to receive municipal money, you need to be on its database. Access was on the database, but Wessels and crew were not.
You get why poor old Gerber was cheesed off, right? And so he asked the court also to force the metro to appoint an accounting firm to look into the payments.
This is despite the fact that the national Treasury, auditing firm Delloite and – we were told – the Hawks were already on it.
Only by then, our friend Mbambisa had been forced out of the municipality because, well, he sucked. It then fell upon his successor, Johann Mettler, to respond to Gerber.
In December, Mettler told the court that regardless of what he thought of Access, he wasn’t about to be ordered around by Gerber.
This was now his mess to sort out and he would do it his way. But Gerber wasn’t done. While you lay on the beach, enjoying the January sun, he went to the police to open a criminal case against Access, EPRU and Gerwel, accusing them of fraud.
He was bolstered by a report from Delloite which claimed the said payments made were part of one big conspiracy to siphon money from the municipality.
Meanwhile, remember what Mettler said about doing it his way? In March he went after Erastyle, a company that was previously paid at least R7.6-million to market a bus system and another project, at a time when not one bus was on the road.
Mettler sued Erastyle as well as seven officials, past and present, including finance boss Trevor Harper who he blamed for the stuff-up. And then came August.
The people turned the tables on the ANC and a new guard took over. While you were caught up in the election results hype, that month Access finally responded to Gerber and told the court it had done nothing wrong.
It said every payment it made was on instruction of the metro and in accordance with its contract. At this point, I should say that I have seen the municipality’s contract with Access and there are some questionable “do-as-we-say” clauses there that make me uncomfortable.
But whether these clauses would shield Access from liability should the court declare these payments illegal, I do not know.
Nonetheless, on Spring Day, two weeks after Access’s response to the court, the Hawks swooped on its stadium offices. We were told that they raided files and cupboards in search for evidence to help them with Gerber’s fraud allegations filed in January.
That night, Gerber’s North End office was broken into and ransacked. His computers were stolen, but not the R2 500 in cash that was also there. Days later, there was another break-in.
This time a municipal office was hit and two laptops stolen.
The office belonged to official Barbara de Scande, who, together with Gerber, had given statements to help the police investigation. On November 4, Mettler struck again.
He sued a Port Elizabeth security firm, Afrisec, and seven metro officials, past and present, who were involved in paying the company R94-million to buy CCTV cameras for the non-existent bus system.
Only, according to Mettler, there was no contract in place and therefore no basis for the payments. Remember how they say all good things come in threes?
Well, Mettler struck again last week, suing Access. He believes the metro overpaid Access by R200-million over the last six years. He wants that money back.
He wants our bean counter, Gerwel, as well as Wessels, the bogus concert lady, to pay their share. The outcome of these cases, as well as others I have not mentioned, lies in the hands of our courts.
It is that which will help us determine the real heroes and villains of this ugly chapter.