Will Mettler bite the dust?
On Thursday November 12 2015 the Nelson Mandela Bay council appointed Johann Mettler acting city manager.
At the time Mettler was brought in from Paarl’s Drakenstein Municipality by then corporative governance minister Pravin Gordhan to help fix what was a broken administration, notorious for its revolving door at the city manager’s office.
Qualified and with a sterling record, the ANC then believed he was exactly what it needed to legitimise its efforts at turning the city around.
The DA, then in the opposition seats, said it was “quite comfortable” with Mettler’s appointment.
So too did COPE. The UDM was not impressed.
Its councillor, Mongameli Bobani, said the party would have preferred someone else, “not someone from a small municipality ” to be acting city manager.
In his first media briefing, Mettler made one thing clear – he was not a politician and he had no intention of being sucked into the messy world of politics.
I laughed a little when he said that.
This is Mandela Bay, I thought.
He would come to learn that his entire job would precisely be about managing the mess that is our politics.
In November 2016, the DA-led coalition government appointed Mettler on a fixed five-year contract.
That decision would exacerbate the fractious relations between the DA and the UDM, thus beginning the end of Bobani’s contentious stint in the coalition partnership.
Fast forward to today.
The council will sit to discuss allegations of misconduct leveled against Mettler.
Contained in the confidential section of the agenda are two letters from Bobani listing at least 10 allegations against Mettler.
The allegations revolve around the hiring and firing of senior managers, the signing of contracts and the management of some municipal projects.
Ultimately Bobani alleges that Mettler was involved in or passively allowed fraud and corruption which has cost the city truckloads of money.
For space reasons, I am unable to delve into the details of each of the allegations.
Suffice to say that they are typically just the right mix of fact and fiction which, in this political climate, may be all that is needed to see Mettler slapped with a suspension letter by next week.
For example, Bobani accuses Mettler of fraudulently signing an addendum to extend the scope of work for Mohlaleng, a communications company that worked during ex-mayor Danny Jordaan’s time.
Bobani claims Mettler conspired with Jordaan’s then right-hand man, Crispian Olver, to appoint two political appointees to do work that had nothing to do with the municipality.
The two were paid in what seemed to have been part of a spending extravaganza by the company at the time.
Following reports in this newspaper in 2016, mayor Athol Trollip commissioned an independent forensic investigation.
Its findings are, perplexingly, yet to be made public.
But, according to Trollip, the Mohlaleng matter has been handed over to authorities, suggesting indeed that there is reason to believe that procedures may have been flouted and/or laws broken.
If this is the case, the question then would be whether Mettler had actually been directly involved in the potentially unlawful activities or his liability, if any, would be by virtue of his constitutional obligations as accounting officer.
Two, if indeed any finger points to Mettler, why would Trollip allow him to continue running our city knowing full well that he was implicated in serious wrongdoing?
Further, why would Trollip sit tight and wait for someone like Bobani to compel the council to act against the city manager, knowing the political risk of such inaction?
Those close to Mettler claim that the Mohlaleng report, while damning, does not in any way implicate the city manager.
We should soon find out. As far as today’s meeting is concerned, here’s what we know.
Mettler is a deeply unpopular man among the opposition.
The frosty relations were perhaps best captured in an exchange between Mettler and EFF councillor Zilindile Vena during a debate on whether to hire security guards back in March last year.
Mettler had warned that this would contravene the city ’s recruitment policy, stating it was a criminal offence for any councillor to unduly influence the city manager.
Vena shouted back, “I don’t care if I go to prison as long as people are employed.
“Our agenda as politicians will not be set by the city manager. We as councillors must give him a directive and he must see how he implements it.”
For now Mettler’s fate will be decided through that volatile game of council numbers.
Regardless of the outcome, rest assured, it will carry far-reaching consequences for you and I...