Media firm’s uncapped Nelson Mandela Bay tender

Mettler defends multimillion-rand deal which included politically related work

A multimillion-rand communications tender involving a Johannesburg-based company has come under the spotlight after it emerged that the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality had given the firm carte blanche to spend as it pleased.

The city has lifted the cap on what was initially a R10-million tender given to Mohlaleng Media over a three-year period, with the company now having an unlimited cap.

This is for media and communications services.

Only halfway through the contract, the metro has already dished out more than R20-million to Mohlaleng to supplement the work of the city’s communications department.

Their contract ends in December next year.

Included in the payments to Mohlaleng is an amount of R771 552 paid to two media specialists – Grant Pascoe and Vukile Pokwana – over five months to “beef up” the communications unit.

Pokwana is a former journalist, while Pascoe is a former DA heavyweight in the City of Cape Town who defected to the ANC in recent years.

Both were contracted, largely, to former mayor Danny Jordaan’s office, raising questions about why the city did not hire them in political posts as is allowed by law. Last year, Mohlaleng’s contract with the municipality came under scrutiny after word got out that the company was using municipal office space, telephone lines and equipment at Kwantu Towers.

They later moved their staff out of the municipal offices shortly after former communications director Roland Williams was suspended.

The contract was also used by the metro to acquire other services not related to communications, such as transport and catering.

This was to avoid the lengthy supply chain processes, the municipality said. Acting city manager Johann Mettler said Mohlaleng’s services were procured to reduce the red tape that came with tender processes.

He said Mohlaleng had been paid R20.8-million since the beginning of last year.

“The cap [of the original tender] has been lifted because initially the R10-million cap was arrived at based on the budget of the communications sub-directorate only, which was R5-million,”Mettler said.

“Since more directorates wanted to make use of this service provider, it became more prudent to increase the cap."

“There is no cap on the contract currently, but with the hiring of more staff in the communications sub-directorate, more and more work is going to be undertaken internally until the contract ends.”

Mettler said there was strict oversight. Pokwana and Pascoe were brought in, through Mohlaleng, because there were gaps in the communications department, he said.

Throughout Jordaan’s 15-month term, there was a vacancy in the mayor’s office for a media liaison officer.

The municipality also has about 15 staff working in the communications division, two of whom do secretarial work.

Time-sheets for Pokwana and Pascoe – which The Herald has seen – were submitted to Mohlaleng and detail how they tallied up hours of work in the metro attending a number of meetings, including some held at the ANC’s regional offices, Florence Matomela House.

Other hours accumulated include attending an ANC fundraising dinner at the Tramways Building on March 4 and attending a private dinner with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan the same night.

In the same month, they clocked hours holding several other meetings with municipal staff, ANC councillors and other stakeholders.

Mohlaleng Media chairman Mbuso Thabethe insisted the metro was never billed for political activity.

“The city has never been billed for anything that does not relate to the metro’s deliverables as per our contract,” he said.

“We have never and will never use a metro contract for political activity of any kind. “With regards to the time-sheets, the only charges that themunicipality has paid for relate to work done for the municipality.”

Thabethe said his company was appointed for a “360 degrees communication service” which had been adhered to.

He did not respond to questions about what exactly Pokwana and Pascoe’s duties entailed. However, Mettler said the two were working on communication programmes in most of the metro’s departments, including the mayor’s office.

“NMBM requested two media specialists to beef up the communications unit at the time because there were gaps in the communications subdirectorate because of disciplinary suspensions,” he said.

“The quickest way to source them was through an existing media contract. “Their [Pokwana and Pascoe] work included rendering communication support to the office of the executive mayor,”Mettler said.

Asked why ratepayers had to, ultimately, fund their meetings for politically related work, Mettler said:

“In working with the executive mayor’s office, the media specialists would be where the executive mayor was, most of the time.”

He confirmed that R771 552 was paid for the services of Pokwana and Pascoe over the five months.

Pokwana and Pascoe did not respond to requests for comment.