Is this the real reason acting city manager Peter Neilson quit?
Conflict with mayor on Gray Moodliar decision
Sitting in his office at the Port Elizabeth City Hall six weeks ago with then energy minister Jeff Radebe, acting city manager Peter Neilson was bombarded with messages from mayor Mongameli Bobani, threatening to fire him should he not immediately sign a letter terminating the services of municipal law firm Gray Moodliar Inc.
Intent on getting his hands on the letter, Bobani instructed Neilson four times in under two hours via WhatsApp messages to sign the document while he sat in his own office a few metres away on April 16.
Three weeks later, Neilson stepped down from the position, citing health issues as the reason.
Copies of the phone messages, along with a statement from Neilson, form part of an application in the high court in Makhanda in which Gray Moodliar is challenging the decision to terminate its services.
The firm, having represented the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality for the past 20 years, has accused Bobani of showing a keen interest beyond what is legally permissible in some of the corruption and maladministration cases it had been handling.
Bobani first messaged Neilson at 3.56pm on April 16, saying: “Peter, I’m waiting for you to sign Gray Moodliar’s letter as per the council decision.”
Neilson responded three minutes later: “I have sent the letter [to] COO [Mzwake Clay]. I am not preparing a letter.
“[The] legal [division] is instructed to deal with the resolutions.”
Bobani quickly replied: “You as the accounting officer must sign the letter, not the process plan.
“A letter withdrawing all our services with Gray Moodliar, also informing our clients that Gray Moodliar is no longer representing us in our matters, also the appointment of a forensics, Peter don’t take this lightly.”
Neilson responded at 4.11pm: “Mayor I will never take lightly.
“Let me get it done properly. “It’s why we have a legal division.
“Let me implement the resolution.”
An hour later, Bobani messaged back: “I’m still here in my office waiting for your letter.”
To which Neilson replied: “I am in my office with minister [sic].”
Bobani responded: “OK. It’s fine, write that letter. I’m waiting in my office.”
He ended the conversation at 5.19pm, saying: “I want to appoint another person tonight who’s going to implement the council resolution tonight.”
Neilson then caved and sent the letter to Bobani and it was served on Gray Moodliar Inc the next day.
These messages and the statement were submitted to Hawks investigator Captain Henk Fourie on May 6.
Fourie is the same investigator who wrote in an affidavit in 2018 how R664,000 was allegedly paid to Bobani by Heerkos Projects, run by businessman Fareed Fakir, which is accused of siphoning off money meant for the Integrated Public Transport System (IPTS).
Bobani and Fakir have previously denied the allegations surrounding the payment.
Gray Moodliar was also dealing with three civil cases against Fakir’s companies on behalf of the municipality.
The municipality is suing Heerkos Projects for R9m, Jarami Projects, along with eight others, for R15m and Erastyle for R8m.
In court papers, legal firm director Sureshni Moodliar also hinted at a relationship between Fakir and Bobani, saying this was documented in a 2015 internal audit report.Bobani and Fakir have also denied these allegations.In his statement, Neilson said he had tried numerous times to explain why terminating the services of Gray Moodliar would lead to fruitless and wasteful expenditure.“This has never been considered and the council resolution is clearly not addressing my arguments,” he wrote.He said the municipality had to implement the resolution but a proper way of doing so needed to be found.Neilson wrote that he had hoped to develop a plan before terminating the service.Bobani, meanwhile, in defending the matter, said Neilson’s statement was untested.“It is not made under oath. Its value as evidence is nil,” he wrote.“More than this, what Neilson thinks is not relevant to the question whether the council decision to exercise its right under the service level agreement was lawful, alternatively whether the decision was rational under public law principles.”Moodliar said the statement was sent to the firm by Neilson on May 6.“It deals with matters that are very germane to this application,” she said.“It sets out the circumstances in which the impugned resolutions were taken and the events that took place thereafter.”Bobani hit back, saying Moodliar failed to show where in the court papers this information could be found.“This leaves the reader to trawl though these lengthy annexures in an attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff,” Bobani said.Asked on Sunday if his reluctance to sign the letter was the reason for his removal, Neilson said the issue of Gray Moodliar had been on the city manager’s desk when he took over.“But my position has always been clear on Gray Moodliar.“There was a difference of opinion on it,” he said.“I can’t comment if this was the reason for my removal but I also had an operation for my shoulder that came up.”Bobani told The Herald Neilson’s stance on Gray Moodliar had no bearing on his being removed.“We had to replace him. He had a big operation and will be off duty for nine weeks,” Bobani said.Neilson was replaced with sports, recreation, arts and culture executive director Noxolo Nqwazi on Tuesday last week.Bobani said Neilson would not return to the city manager’s office once he was back at work.“We can’t chop and change. Nqwazi will continue to be the acting city manager.”The municipality has had three acting city managers since Johann Mettler was suspended in 2018 for alleged misconduct.His disciplinary case continues.