Fired law firm Gray Moodliar goes after Mongameli Bobani
Mayor accused of showing personal interest in some cases
Determined to get their hands on disciplinary case files against suspended Nelson Mandela Bay officials, ANC councillor Andile Lungisa urged his colleagues to go to law firm Gray Moodliar’s offices and remove them by force if necessary.
Lungisa’s comments were made in a confidential council meeting in February, transcripts of which now form part of court papers.
In that meeting, the council discussed and subsequently decided to fire the firm which had been pursuing disciplinary cases against several officials accused of corruption or maladministration.
At the time, mayor Mongameli Bobani said not only was the firm whiteowned, it had milked the municipality’s coffers.
Challenging its firing at the high court in Makhanda, law firm director Sureshni Moodliar claimed that Bobani constantly interfered in legal matters and showed a keen interest in certain cases, beyond what was legally permissible.
The firm included in its court papers a transcript of the confidential meeting where Bobani and Lungisa were pushing to get case files in the Gray Moodliar offices.
According to the transcript, Lungisa told the council: “I do not know why we are afraid of Gray Moodliar because we can simply walk and go take what belongs to the municipality, if it needs be, by force.
“Even if I was the one sitting at home, I would be sitting praying and waiting.
“We know these workers were purged [by] the government of the DA – the majority of them.
“When they came in, they come in about these black officials, were chased out.
“You must remember we are talking about people who have been sympathetic to our own as this government.
“I am simply saying now they will see is [that] look, the Lungisas now they are MECs, they are having a plate of food on daily basis.
“They are no longer raising our own plight, because they have arrived where they wanted to go.
“It is a sensitive matter which needs all of us to be able to push it with speed.
“I don’t know why we are negotiating, negotiating, negotiating ... I think that we must be able to do, use a little bit of force [sic].
“We just set an appointment with this Gray Moodliar.
“All of us we go there and say 9am on Monday we are going to this Gray Moodliar to go take these files.
“We enter these offices. We do not send anybody.
“We go and fetch the files from Gray Moodliar.
“I think The Herald can report that, we will go ourselves and fetch the outstanding files.”
Some of the cases involving current and former municipal staff handled by Gray Moodliar included that of internal audit senior investigator Werner Wiehart, former corporate services boss Mod Ndoyana, Nobuntu Mgogoshe and housing director Mvuleni Mapu.
According to the transcript, Lungisa said further: “Yesterday, city manager reported on the question of Afrisec, [that] there were people who went there, cut all the locks, open the containers and then they were never arrested.
“I’m simply saying there you need a team.”
Gray Moodliar was told it had been fired, after 20 years of service, in a letter signed by then acting city manager Peter Neilson on April 17.
Moodliar said that, at that stage, the firm had been handling about 50 litigious and 10 other matters on behalf of the municipality.
“The decision is prejudicial to the firm and the staff employed by it,” Moodliar wrote.
The firm’s work included three civil cases against companies belonging to businessman Fareed Fakir, who is accused of allegedly colluding with officials to loot the municipality’s bus system.
In its papers, the law firm challenges the municipality to make public what it says is an internal report on the relationship between Bobani and Fakir.
"I am aware that an internal audit report dated June 8 2015 addresses the relationship between Bobani and Fakir,” Moodliar wrote.
“I am not in a position to disclose the content of the report because it was given to me on a privileged basis.
“I invite the [municipality] to make that part of the report available to the court.”
Bobani has previously denied such a relationship, even though an ongoing investigation by the Hawks revealed that one of Fakir’s companies had allegedly made payments to him before.
Moodliar said in the court papers that because Bobani was so hell-bent on getting rid of the firm, ratepayers would now have to foot the bill for new attorneys to come on board. In addition, the cases would suffer major delays.
Defending the matter, Bobani said in his responding affidavit that while cases handled by the law firm had been withdrawn, this did not mean it had been fired from the city’s legal service providers.
He wrote that he was not aware of any probe into a possible relationship between himself and Fakir.
He said it was appalling that a firm relied on privileged information and then refused to disclose the document.
“It seeks by scandalous imputation to attribute a corrupt intent or motive to me.”
Moodliar said in the papers that the firm had advised the municipality on the financial and legal implications of withdrawing the services.
“Ultimately and notwithstanding that advice, the council resolved to reinstate various suspended or dismissed employees, including Mgogoshe and [Sox] Nkanjeni,” she wrote.
Moodliar said Neilson had continuously praised the firm for doing a good job.Gray Moodliar wants the matter, set down for Thursday next week, to be heard on an urgent basis.Bobani said Moodliar’s affidavit was riddled with inadmissible hearsay evidence and allegations which were scandalous or vexatious.“Many allegations relate to me personally and seek to attack my integrity,” he said.“My interest in some of the matters handled by [Gray Moodliar] was legitimate and was fully aligned to the interest of the municipality in ensuring that a fair process was followed in the proceedings which affected the employment of certain officials.”The chief financial officer had written to Gray Moodliar on April 24 requesting that it hand over files in its possession by April 26.Moodliar said the municipality was indebted to the firm in respect of outstanding fees.“We are presently preparing our final accounts ... once settled, we shall hand over our files,” she said.Moodliar also took exception to Bobani’s comments that Gray Moodliar was a “white” firm.Being a 51% shareholder, she said: “I have to state that I was not and am not classified as white, and consequently the firm is not a white company.”To this, Bobani responded: “[The] reference to the word white must be understood in the context of equitable access to work by various firms of attorneys.”Lungisa said on Thursday: “We are losing money on those cases.“We want the file contents to assess case by case to know what decision can be taken on every case.”Asked exactly what he meant when suggesting the files be taken from Gray Moodliar by force, Lungisa said: “We must get the material.“What Gray Moodliar is doing is a tactic.“They want to continue milking the municipality which is why they ran to Makhanda.“They know litigation can take two to three years. They are trying to be tactical.”Attorney Danie Gouws, who represents Fakir and Bobani, said there was no relationship between the two.The matter will be argued on Thursday.