Over to you, Mr Mettler

Acting city boss gets job after selection hiccup

After forking out more than R500 000 to recruit a new city boss, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has decided to stick with the man who has been at the helm for the past year – Johann Mettler. His appointment was approved by the council yesterday.

The municipality, which decided just a month ago to hire Vuyo Mlokothi, backtracked on the appointment because he allegedly failed to disclose crucial information relating to his previous job.

Mayor Athol Trollip said this had created a breakdown in the trust relationship before Mlokothi even set foot inside City Hall.

He said Mlokothi had been given five opportunities to come clean about his alleged suspension by the State Information Technology Agency (Sita).

An upset Mlokothi lashed out at the “unprofessional” way the recruitment was handled, saying he had heard of his appointment – and the decision not to hire him – from the media.

“I am also getting these latest developments from the media,” he said.

“If [it] is true . . . this recruitment process – particularly around my name – has been handled very unprofessionally by the powers that be and [has been] clumsy to say the least.

“I will await a formal communication from the council ... before making any substantive comment, which could possibly also clear some misinformation either on the side of the council or the media.”

Mettler, 51, a law master’s graduate from the University of the Western Cape and Sweden’s Lund University with a wealth of experience in local government, said he had accepted the job.

“I’m really happy [it has] turned out the way it has,” he said.

“I would like to continue with the work that I started here.

“I look forward to adding value to Nelson Mandela Bay. It’s something I’m very serious about.”

After yesterday’s special council sitting, Trollip and his deputy, Mongameli Bobani, also announced that chief financial officer Trevor Harper had been placed on precautionary suspension pending the outcome of an investigation into dodgy payments he allegedly authorised.

The decision follows two disciplinary tribunals, which looked at whether any laws were broken when millions of rands were paid to companies that either did not have a lawful contract in place, or were not appointed through proper supply chain processes.

The companies – Afrisec and Erastyle – were paid for work related to the troubled bus system.

Trollip said Harper was innocent until proven guilty, and should he be cleared of any wrongdoing he would return to his job.

“Mr Harper must be placed on precautionary suspension so that investigations can happen without any interruptions or interference, and so that the information required in that investigation is not tampered with in any way,” he said.

Harper could not be reached for comment.

It emerged yesterday that Trollip had received a tip-off on October 26 – the day before the council approved Mlokothi’s appointment – that he might have been suspended at Sita.

Trollip said he had asked Mlokothi repeatedly about the reasons for his premature departure from Sita in July and he had been assured that the departure was amicable.

“On the strength of that and his score, I had no reason to doubt Mr Mlokothi and I went to council to ask to endorse his appointment on the 27th,” he said.

When he eventually managed to get all the details of the alleged suspension, he found there had been serious non-disclosure.

Asked why recruitment firm Oceana HR Professionals – which came with a price tag of R534 090 – had not picked up on Mlokothi’s job history, Trollip said it did competency tests and background checks.

“One thing . . . about discovery is that if somebody hides something deep enough, you only discover it when you discover it,” he said.

“We paid Oceana to find candidates, which they did and we shortlisted.”

The ANC complained they had not been given information pertaining to the recruitment process prior to the council meeting.

ANC chief whip Litho Suka said they had nothing against Mettler, but were opposed to the process, which they believed could be challenged legally.

Suka said Mettler had scored fourth in the interviews and they wanted to know why the second and third candidates were not considered.

“Surely there would be financial implications if they are challenged,” he said.

“Even Vuyo Mlokothi will challenge the municipality if he uses his common sense. “It shows the DA coalition is in a shambles.” Trollip said a legal opinion said the decision to appoint Mettler was protected by the law.

Although Mettler had not scored the secondhighest during the interview, his experience of managing a metropolitan municipality was an advantage over the two runner-up candidates.

Trollip said he had apologised to him for being put through such a difficult time and experience.

“I said I take full responsibility, but I had to be 100% sure that the person we were going to appoint as city manager was someone I could have full trust in,” he said. – Additional reporting by Yoliswa Sobuwa