Barely a week at the helm of the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality and the new political bosses at City Hall have already begun interfering in jobs and tenders.
At least two senior managers were instructed by their political heads on Monday morning to put on hold the filling of vacancies and tenders.
The mayoral committee member in charge of economic development, tourism and agriculture, Queenie Pink, asked for a full list of all tenders and vacancies in the department.
This comes as the new political leadership – the UDM, ANC, AIC and United Front – faces a court challenge from the DA, COPE, ACDP and Patriotic Alliance.
The former political guard believes the council meeting on Monday last week – where a new mayor, deputy, speaker and chief whip were elected – was illegal.
Meanwhile, in a memorandum sent to executive director Anele Qaba – and distributed to directors and support staff in the department – Pink said she wanted a detailed report and presentations on all the sub-directorates that fall within his department.
“The executive mayor [Mongameli Bobani] requested that a moratorium be placed on all vacancies and tenders in the directorate and as such request the ED [executive director] to action this request.
“A report on tenders and vacancies in the directorate will also be appreciated.”
Qaba confirmed receipt of the memorandum.
“I take instruction on administration matters from the accounting officer, which is the city manager, and the request and instructions of this nature will have to be channelled through his office,” he said.
“I will advise the MMC accordingly.”
The new political head in charge of roads and transport, Rosie Daaminds – through her assistant – also asked the metro’s executive director in charge of infrastructure and engineering, Walter Shaidi, to place a moratorium on all tenders and vacancies to allow her to “familiarise herself with the situation”.
Shaidi replied that after having consulted with city manager Johann Mettler, placing all tenders and the recruitment process on hold could not be done.
Daaminds is the political head in charge of the department that runs the Integrated Public Transport System (IPTS) – a department with a substantial budget where hundreds of millions of rands have been squandered in the past.
The Municipal Finance Management Act prohibits any interference in tenders as it is a purely administrative function that ultimately falls under the auspices of the city manager.
Municipal law prohibits politicians from getting involved in the recruitment process, unless a decision is taken by the full council in the case of senior managers.
Decisions on all other staff fall under Mettler.
Asked on Monday if he was aware of the instruction to some of his senior staff, Mettler said: “I have instructed both executive directors to resist these attempts at interference.
“It is illegal to interfere in this manner in the procurement processes of the metro.
“Any moratorium on recruitment must be formalised through a proper council process and resolution.”
As word spread quickly among senior managers about the instruction from Bobani, and The Herald started asking questions, Pink swiftly retracted her letter.
She then sent out another memorandum saying that Bobani had retracted the request for the moratorium on tenders and filling of vacancies. She did not explain further. However, Bobani said it had been withdrawn because it was “premature and did not follow due process”.
“It should have been sent through the city manager’s office,” he said.
“That is why it has since been withdrawn.”
“There has been a discussion within [the mayoral committee] that we have a reason to believe that quite a lot is not going right [legally] in relation to the two areas.
“It is for this reason that the current leadership is contemplating a moratorium until thorough briefings with compiled reports have been done by the respective directorates.”
Some of the critical vacancies that still have to be filled by the city include the post of chief financial officer and executive director positions for electricity and energy, public health and corporate services.
Some of these jobs are in the advanced stages of the recruitment process.
Asked whether he did not regard the instructions as political interference in the administration, Bobani said: “If it is done through the right channels, it is fine, and that is exactly what will be done.”
He said the current government had its own strategic objectives, different to those of its predecessors.
“It is then important that filling of vacancies, more especially strategic vacancies, be monitored closely.”
Bobani said he would have grounds to ask for contracts to be placed on hold if he believed there were transgressions within the tender process.
“However, that has not happened. We will talk about it when it happens,” he said.
Pink said she was fulfilling her oversight role.
“I know that I have to play an oversight role. I need to know what is happening in the department.
“I did not want to interfere but I need to know what vacancies are there and where we are now,” she said.
“I was not going to take any decisions ... if that was wrong, I did not mean it that way.”
Asked if she was aware that interfering in administrative matters was against the law, Pink said: “Can I please not answer that one?”
She said she had retracted the memorandum after chief whip Bicks Ndoni asked her to.
Daaminds referred all questions to Bobani.
Senior managers were fuming on Monday.
“This is shocking, it’s a disgrace. I have never heard of such in my entire career. And when I have received the memorandum, I will forward it straight to the premier so that they realise they can’t do that,” one executive director said.
Another director said they were never asked to prepare reports on tenders before, not even by a city manager.
A third manager said they were preparing themselves for a fight.