Yako cracks whip over high legal bill

Drawn-out disciplinary cases to blame – Mpac chairwoman

The protracted disciplinary cases of senior municipal staff are largely to blame for the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality’s soaring legal bill.

This is the view of municipal public accounts committee chairwoman Yoliswa Yako, who vowed to hold those in authority accountable.

Municipal public accounts committee chairwoman Yoliswa Yako addresses a media briefing at the City Hall
Municipal public accounts committee chairwoman Yoliswa Yako addresses a media briefing at the City Hall
Image: Werner Hills

In the last financial year, the municipality spent R50.3-million on legal fees.

The legal fees bill for the first two quarters of the 2017-18 financial year is at R31.4-million.

Yako believes a lot of the cases – particularly the disciplinary cases of staff being handled by external law firms – are tantamount to fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

The Herald reported in November that the municipality had spent more than R5.9-million on the salaries of suspended officials.

Yako said the Mpac had requested a report on which law firms had been assigned to which cases in an attempt to slash the city’s legal bill.

“We have got so many [suspended officials], and this is with the legal fees that we are paying to companies outside of the in-house legal fees.

“We want to understand exactly what we are paying to suspended officials while the cases are ongoing.
“We want to know what kind of cases are ongoing, who is gaining from them dragging on instead of us resolving those issues as quickly as possible, because I feel like it’s wasteful and fruitless expenditure,” Yako said.

Among those suspended are internal audit director Bonnie Chan and senior investigator Werner Wiehart.

This has left the internal audit department without the necessary capacity to lead investigations in the municipality.

City manager Johann Mettler said the two cases had been delayed by the officials, with one of them claiming they had fallen ill.

“I would have loved to conclude the cases already but there were all kinds of delays occasioned by them,” Mettler said.

Mettler said one of the officials had been persistently sick. He declined to say which of the two had called in sick.

He said the officials had appeared before a disciplinary panel last week.

Wiehart denied holding up the disciplinary process, while Chan could not be reached for comment.

Wiehart was suspended for allegedly failing to execute council’s policies and/or performing the functions of his office in good faith, diligently, honestly and with the objectivity required.

Yako has requested a full report from the city administration on the capacity of the internal audit department in a bid to find a solution.

Updating the media about matters before the Mpac, Yako said: “Our main concern is that we don’t have an internal audit [function], a very vital role within the municipality left vacant and hanging, because we are not resolving any issues.”

Other matters under review by the Mpac include the misuse of municipal vehicles, the cost of legal bills and the distribution of work to law firms on the municipality’s legal panel, and crafting a way forward for the dilapidated Bayworld Oceanarium.

On Bayworld, Yako said Mpac would conduct a site visit today to see the full extent of the problem.

Bayworld must be upgraded and restored to its former glory.
Yoliswa Yako

“Bayworld must be upgraded and restored to its former glory. A world-class Bayworld will attract world-class tourism,” Yako said.

She said they hoped to forge a way forward and bring the provincial department of sport, recreation, arts and culture and the municipality together to reach an agreement.

Developments at Bayworld were brought to a standstill as a result of a debate over including dolphins in captivity in the overhaul.

The Mandela Bay Development Agency, as implementing agent, also requested the revamp be removed from its managers’ key performance indicators until the municipality and provincial government decided on a way forward.

Yako said they were awaiting reports on the misuse of vehicles from various departments.