Bobani v Mettler: Treasury steps in
Municipal manager asked to provide details of any alleged attempts to interfere in tenders and jobs
The National Treasury has stepped in amid the spat between Nelson Mandela Bay’s political bosses and the administration, demanding answers on alleged attempts by councillors to interfere in tenders and jobs.
It points out, in a strongly worded letter, that tampering in supply chain management is a criminal offence which could lead to jail time of up to five years and asks city manager Johann Mettler to provide details of any such alleged attempts by mayor Mongameli Bobani and councillors.
Meanwhile, it also emerged on Wednesday that Bobani had, in fact, signed Mettler’s special leave application.
This was contrary to his earlier claims that Mettler had left town without informing him.
The Treasury’s intervention follows a report in The Herald earlier this week on an instruction to two senior managers by their political heads to place a moratorium on the filling of vacancies and tenders.
The instruction was withdrawn later after Mettler told his staff to resist attempts at interference, saying it was illegal to meddle in procurement.
On Wednesday, the Treasury’s chief director of local government budget analysis, Jan Hattingh, told Mettler to explain what he was doing about the alleged attempts to interfere.
“Please make available any further information, documents and explanations of these alleged interferences,” he says in the letter.
“In addition, provide us with the information on the steps that you are taking as the accounting officer to address this situation, including with respect to the procedures outlined in Chapter 3 of the Municipal Regulations on financial misconduct procedures and criminal proceedings.”
Hattingh has given Mettler until Monday to respond.
Mettler said the Treasury had been alerted to the attempts at interference from newspaper reports and radio interviews.
“The National Treasury is of the view there is prima facie indication of a contravention of the MFMA [Municipal Finance Management Act] in that there may have been criminal conduct perpetrated by the relevant councillors,” he said.
“[They] have then directed a letter to myself requesting me to disclose all the material facts to [the] National Treasury, the municipal council and also to the executive mayor.”
Mettler said the Treasury had also pointed out that if action was taken against him for disclosing the information, that would amount to an unfair labour practice.
“As an accounting officer, I have to comply with their request – I will then do a comprehensive report to the National Treasury and I have to put it to the next meeting of councillors and to the mayor in terms of the MFMA.
“The fact that they [Treasury] are adamant about possible criminal transgressions is an indication to me that they don’t intend to leave the matter here,” he said.
“It may be even driven by themselves but it’s for them to decide.”
On Tuesday, Bobani was adamant that he would suspend Mettler due to an “irretrievable breakdown” in their relationship.
Bobani said he had the suspension letter ready, adding that Mettler had gone out of town for two days without informing him.
“I was informed by the MMC [mayoral committee member] of safety and security that his executive director, Keith Meyer, was acting municipal manager,” Bobani said at the time.
However, documents seen by The Herald show clearly that Bobani approved Mettler’s special leave application on August 30.
Bobani also signed a memorandum addressed to him, approving the trip, wherein Mettler clearly indicates that Meyer would be acting city manager in his absence.
The mayor was mum on Wednesday about his stated plan the day before to suspend Mettler, refusing to comment.
At a media conference, where they were meant to make “major announcements”, according to the invitation, Bobani passed the microphone to chief whip Bicks Ndoni to answer.
Ndoni said the council had to ultimately decide if Mettler was to be suspended or fired.
“It would be misleading to suggest that one day a mayor can wake up and say that you are fired,” he said.
“It’s a matter that should be processed.
“In South Africa, generally, people are protected by law in terms of their contracts.
“Whenever there are allegations of transgressions, processes are followed to give the person a chance to respond.
“At this stage, we have a municipal manager who is still working in this municipality and, if anything, the council meeting will deal with that matter.”
Asked if he had received a letter of suspension, Mettler said he had not.
At the media conference on Wednesday, ANC councillor and infrastructure and engineering political head Andile Lungisa described Bobani as a “hands-on” mayor and said he did not interfere with the administration but simply played an oversight role.
“When you take over an institution, you must be able to infuse your own political vision, including your own plans, and if those plans won’t interface with the administration, how will they find expression in this municipality?”