Suspended chief financial officer Trevor Harper has been cleared of any wrongdoing when millions of rands were paid out by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality to a company to market a failed bus system.
While a disciplinary board ruled that there was insufficient evidence to warrant a full investigation into Harper’s role in the R7.8-million payments to Port Elizabeth businessman Fareed Fakir’s company Erastyle, he is not completely off the hook yet.
He is still facing an inquiry for payments to Afrisec – another company that did work for the Integrated Public Transport System (IPTS).
Harper is accused by the municipality of negligently signing off on payments worth R34.6-million to Afrisec without a lawful contract in place.
A confidential report to the council, which met on Wednesday, states Harper was employed by the metro from April 2014 and at the time Erastyle’s appointment had already been approved by the then acting city manager.
“Cognisance must be given to taking on the role of the chief financial officer within the municipality where the finance department was in a ‘shambles’.
“Mr Harper, as the new incumbent in the position, could not be expected to recheck historical approvals and authorisations made by the acting city manager whilst overseeing a R11billion budget,” disciplinary board chairman Gregory Billson wrote in the board’s finding.
He said Harper was not aware that before he was appointed, then acting chief financial officer Barbara de Scande had refused to support the Erastyle payments.
“The board has come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to warrant a full investigation of Mr Harper’s role in the payments to Erastyle, and recommends that Mr Harper be informed that no evidence of wrongdoing could be detected.
“The board further recommends that newly appointed senior officials in future be provided with comprehensive reports regarding matters that require attention/vigilance, and that all acting senior executives be instructed to provide such written reports to new incumbents,” Billson wrote.
Harper declined to comment on Billson’s report.
Meanwhile, according to council insiders, opposition parties – along with the UDM – are said to have argued strongly on Wednesday that Harper’s suspension be lifted.
They are also said to have called for De Scande’s suspension as she was acting CFO at the time.
The Herald understands that this was opposed by the DA.
Because there were no recommendations attached to the report, no decision was taken on whether or not he should return to work.
Harper was officially suspended in February after a decision was taken in November to place him on cautionary suspension.