DA calls for probe into Ndlambe water tender
The DA has called on Bhisho to refer the failed Ndlambe Municipality desalination plant tender for special investigation and to suspend all officials involved in the matter.
The call by DA co-operative governance spokesperson Vicky Knoetze in the Eastern Cape legislature comes against the backdrop of a looming water crisis in Port Alfred due to fast-dwindling supplies in the Sarel Hayward Dam on the Kowie River.
It follows on the Grahamstown High Court ruling in the first week of July which declared the tender as “unlawful”, and criminal charges subsequently laid by the DA against Ndlambe municipal manager Rolly Dumezweni — whose actions the court said were “tainted with impropriety and irregularity”.
In her member’s statement on Thursday, Knoetze called on Bhisho to declare war on corruption.
“The Eastern Cape has earned the title of not only the epicentre of the virus but ‘the epicentre of corruption’.
“It is the people of the province that are the true victims of corruption, looting, theft and maladministration of public funds meant for creating a life of value and prosperity.”
Focusing on Ndlambe, she said firm action was needed.
“Refer the matter of the botched Ndlambe desalination plant tender to the special investigating unit and suspend all officials involved until the investigation is finalised.”
Knoetze said on Monday the Ndlambe tender matter was doubly unacceptable because of the grave water challenged faced by Port Alfred and to a lesser extent Bathurst residents.
“They have already struggled past one day zero in December last year and they only survived that because a bit of rain came just in time.
“The prediction now is that if they don’t get substantial rains before December they will run out of water.
“So it’s of critical importance that the municipality tenders lawfully and transparently for this reverse osmosis plant and get construction going as soon as possible.
“It’s the only plan they have on the table so they’ve got to make it work.”
The plant could take as little as eight weeks to be built and to start supplying water if a company with the necessary self-contained parts was contracted.
Otherwise it could take six to seven months, she said.
As a start, the R20m paid to Quality Filtration Services (QFS) needed to be returned to the municipality, she said.
The Ndlambe tender matter emerged after it was taken to court by MEB Energy, which also bid for the tender.
According to the July 7 high court ruling, Ndlambe Municipality advertised in November 2019 for a R20m emergency plant to be built next to the Kowie River that would use seawater and reverse osmosis technology to generate two megalitres of clean water a day.
Criteria were set down and although none of the bidders achieved the minimum stipulated standard, this minimum was set aside and QFS was named as the only compliant bidder.
The municipality then entered into negotiations with QFS related to expanding the plant to five megalitres, changing the specifications to allow for the processing of grey water as well as seawater and changing the site.
The cost ballooned to R102.6m and R20m was paid over to the company before they had begun doing any work.
Judge Phillip Zilwa said in his ruling the tender had been nullified because of the way it was managed.
“A tender cannot be assessed for functionality on undisclosed or subjective criteria ... It was unlawful and it is reviewable.”
It was not open to the municipal manager to simply ignore the prescribed minimum score for functionality as he purported to do in this matter, the judge said.
“His weak-kneed attempt to explain this serious shortcoming amounts to naught.
“His actions were tainted with impropriety and irregularity, rendering the whole process nugatory.”
“The decision by the first respondent [Ndlambe Municpality] to award the tender ... to the second respondent [QFS] is ... set aside.”
The municipality should furthermore pay the costs of the case, he said.
Dumezweni, who is himself an advocate, said he had heard charges had been laid against him.
“But I have not been summoned to court and I do not know those charges as yet.
“Council has not pronounced on my suspension and I am not going to comment on it.”
The Ndlambe council had taken cognisance of the ruling and had resolved not to appeal against it, he noted.
“Council further resolved to implement the court order, and that the municipal public accounts committee must investigate the matter.”
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