Bitou at the brink
by The Editor
FEATURE: The story of Bitou municipality (Plettenberg Bay) and how the ANC’s closed crony model of local governance corrupted democracy and development in the area. Described by the DA’s David Christianson, the story sets out how the ANC administration, through the mismanagement and misuse of resources, brought the municipality to its knees, and the extent of the problem with DA inherited when it came to power in Bitou in last year’s local government elections. It is a powerful illustration of the kind of damage poor governance can do and, much like the story of Gauteng’s Nokeng Tsa Taemane municipality which Helen Zille set out during the election and DA Mayor Gesie van Deventer’s description of what the DA found when it took over Drakenstein demonstrates that much of the ANC’s poor governance is only fully revealed when it is removed from power.
Bitou at the brink
How the closed crony model of local governance corrupted democracy and development in a South African municipality
By: David Christianson
2 April 2012
[NOTE: This publication was researched in September 2011. While some of the matters referred to have seen further developments, the analysis of the ANC’s closed crony system of mismanagement is still essentially correct.]
Bitou Airport: In a state of disrepair. Under the ANC it lost all scheduled flights as well as its refueling facilities. Sub-standard technology – particularly the ‘old technology’ Directional Beacon – meant the crash of the Italtile company aircraft in February 2011 was an accident ‘waiting to happen‘.
The purpose of local government
In achieving openness and opportunity, municipal government has a unique and indispensible place. It is primarily this sphere of government that defines, through service delivery, planning and regulation, the circumstances within which citizens live their daily lives. The local community is the common denominator in every life. No-one, no matter how wealthy or destitute, escapes its life-defining reach as they live their lives, raise families, and go to work, worship and play.
To the DA, where we govern, local governance is a matter of stewardship; the resources we use, to deliver subsidised services to the poor, provide ratepayers with value for money and create an enabling environment for investment, are not “ours”. We administer them, on behalf of all, effectively as trustees. Where citizens are indigent, the open opportunity model delivers subsidised services; where they are entrepreneurial, it offers an environment that enables them to do business; where they are ratepayers, it provides value for money. Above all, the open opportunity model does these things in a transparent and accountable way.
The opposite of the DA’s Open Opportunity Society for All is the closed crony society for the politically-connected few. In this model, service delivery is not part of a social contract between citizens and elected politicians but merely a handout for support at the polls. Ruling politicians invariably treat resources, not as the subject of stewardship, but as a private kitty which, on their election, becomes “theirs”. This explains the conspicuous lifestyle of such politicians and the practice of awarding contracts, not to the best bidder, but to their political allies.
In such a model of governance, local politicians are incapable of pursuing such public goods as openness, democratic accountability, an enabling environment for business, economic growth or programmatic infrastructure spending. The best that can be said for such a system is that some public goods might eventually trickle through to the poor. Such municipalities inevitably degenerate into a morass of habitual corruption.
Bitou, the municipality that runs the holiday town of Plettenberg Bay and surrounding areas, is a classic example of a town taken to the brink of ruin by a long period of closed crony governance. The task facing the new DA administration, elected to govern Bitou in coalition with COPE, after more than a decade of ANC maladministration, is enormous.
TABLE 1: Local Government Election Results in Bitou 2006 and 2011 [IEC, 2011]
DA: 7 272 (30.7%) – Seats: 3
ANC: 14 215 (60.02%) – Seats: 7
ID: 1 470 (6.21%) – Seats: 1
Result: ANC governed alone
DA: 16 502 (48.65%) – Seats: 6
ANC: 15 780 (46.52%) – Seats: 6
COPE: 939 (2.77%) – Seats: 1
Result: DA/COPE govern in coalition
The Bitou story provides insight into the problems of a municipality the DA has recently gained through the ballot box. Although the examples are unique to the locality, the pattern is widespread in the 20 or so new DA municipalities. The point is that in these municipalities, implementation of the Open Opportunity Society for All does not start with a clean slate. There is damage to be repaired; to understand what needs to be done, it is necessary to understand how it happened.
When All News is Bad News
Plettenberg Bay, is a holiday town; nearly 70% of the economy is situated in the tertiary sector, mostly retail, accommodation and catering. Publicity is of course the lifeblood of the leisure industry, so the citizens of “Plett” might be expected to be pleased with the disproportionate media coverage the town has received in recent years. But, sadly, this is not the case, and for good reason. Reporting on the town has been almost uniformly negative.
Plett has come to be known as the town where, among other things: the airport was neglected to the point where it no longer has scheduled flights or even refuelling facilities; where the last ANC mayor, Lulama Mvimbi, took delivery of the most expensive mayoral vehicle in the country shortly after the economy had slipped into recession; where charges of tender fraud erupt every few months; where a thuggish VIP Protection squad have effectively been the local ANC’s private army and the new DA mayor, Memory Booysen, has been forced to wear a flak vest for fear of his life; where a previous ANC mayor, Euan Wildeman and his municipal manager, George Seitisho, escaped conviction for fraud and theft only because the National Prosecuting Authority refused to prosecute a prima facie case; where council meetings are regularly disrupted; and where the ANC-appointed Municipal Manager had to be suspended after attempting to prevent the new council meeting after the 2011 municipal elections (as well as other misconduct). It is also the town that built a R20m desalination plant in order to survive the 2009/10 drought but sited it so badly that dropping water quality, at the point of abstraction, rendered it ineffective.
A New Beginning and a Nasty Shock
When the new administration took office in Bitou, after the 2011 municipal election, it received an unwelcome surprise. That Bitou had long been subjected to a regime of maladministration and corruption was well-known. But what came as shock however was the discovery that the outgoing ANC administration had left the municipality not merely damaged but actually bankrupt. At the end of the financial year (30 June), the deficit was R23m. But this was only the tip of the iceberg. Over time, new and unexpected problems emerged almost daily.
Municipal monies had been poorly handled, under the ANC, since at least 2004/04 but, despite this, Bitou had managed to produce an annual surplus throughout this period. Now it became clear that only drastic action could save Bitou; the new council and mayor were forced to run the municipality as if it were under administration. In the words of the new mayor, Memory Booysen, it had to deal with “a bloated administration, consultants who don’t consult, legal fees for frivolous cases, contracts for services not being adequately delivered and, generally, the aftermath of big parties and reckless overspending”.
“Bitou has not has a legal structure (organogram) since 2008. Despite, or perhaps because of, this, its employee-related costs have soared from R50m in 2007 to R90m in 2010”. Memory Booysen, September 2011
Fear and Loathing
Why did ordinary ANC councillors go along with this? It seems likely that with the notable exception of Memory Booysen, they either shared in the culture of entitlement, were themselves implicated in corruption, or both. But this was not the only factor; fear and intimidation have been rife in Bitou.
Under ANC rule, there were numerous incidents of violence against “political opponents”. Some of these were ordinary citizens. Bitou has experienced a large human influx from the Eastern Cape, boosting its population from 29, 000 in 2001 to 43, 200 in 2009, an increase of nearly 50% in just eight years. Such (proportionally) large scale in-migration inevitably generates political tensions although it also offers opportunities for a patronage party like the ANC to expand clientelist networks. But to do so it has to beat off other parties and in Bitou, the local ANC leadership has interpreted this requirement literally.
Violent clashes, bribery and intimidation have been commonplace in Bitou’s electoral politics.
In a by-election in 2009, both the DA and COPE accused ANC campaigners of threatening to remove their supporter’s names from the municipal housing list. The same threat was also made in 2011. In 2009, complaints were made to the electoral officer who happened to be the deeply compromised Municipal Manager Lonwabo Ngoqo, who “did nothing about it”.
Immediately prior to the 2011 municipal election, there were several cases where ANC supporters attacked DA supporters in the township of KwaNokuthulu, threatening them physically and forcing them to remove party T-shirts.
In April 2009, it was COPE supporters who were attacked and forced to remove their party T-shirts.
In 2007, the municipality’s Local Economic Development officer, Putco Maphitiza was charged with kidnapping and attacking a political opponent with a panga. Maphitiza was later appointed secretary of the Southern Cape Region of the ANC.
In August 2007, a stay-away to protest council corruption turned violent. A number of houses were petrol bombed. George Seitisho (then Municipal Manager), Putco Maphitiza and two of the mayor’s advisors, Peter Lobese and Kenny Leluma were among those charged with malicious damage to property and arson.
In April 2009, COPE and ANC supporters engaged in a massive brawl at the taxi rank after COPE supporters objected to taxis displaying ANC logos.
There were sporadic clashes between the local ANC and a breakaway faction of the South African National Civics Organisation (SANCO). At national level SANCO pretends to be apolitical but in fact consistently supports the ANC. The national organisation went to court to prevent the local breakaway using the SANCO brand.
“I laid charges. Police said I must wait and I will be called to the court case. I am waiting until today.” Teacher Vicky Mangqwengqwe, from KwaNokuthulu, who had every window in her house destroyed by Bitou officials Kenny Leluma and Putco Mapitiza on the night of May 3, 2007 (from The Weekend Post 12 May 2009)
Where charges were laid, a consistent pattern was the failure of the local police to pursue the case with any real vigour. In all cases above the charges were eventually dropped.
The local ANC’s appetite for violence is intimidating for everyone, including councillors. But this combines with a habitual vindictiveness that makes it even scarier. Nowhere are these characteristics more clearly demonstrated than in the party’s treatment of current DA mayor Memory Booysen. Booysen’s history, from ANC loyalist to DA mayor, via a period as an independent councillor is now well known. While at one level, it is tale of the triumph of principle over deep historical loyalty, it is also a story of physical and moral heroism. He has been physically threatened more times than he cares to remember, his house has been picketed and he has been informed, by the police, that the threats to his life should be taken seriously.
In 2007 the then Mayor Mvimbi acquired a set of personal security guards, spending R4m on them that year. In 2009 they were brought onto Bitou’s establishment as its local security department. Legally empowered to do nothing more than enforce municipal bylaws, this group have effectively become ANC party enforcers. Equipped with state of the art vehicles and weaponry, they appear to have been at the sole disposal of Mayor Mvimbi. It is they who constitute the main threat to Mayor Memory Booysen. He and his family have had to leave their home, keep moving through a series of safe houses, live out of suitcases and eat takeaways.
Over the 4 years from 2007-10, Bitou spent R9,79m on VIP Protection and Security, the second biggest item on its General Expenses account (after Legal Expenses). Bitou Annual Statements, General Expenses.
There is a council-owned mayoral house, occupied by Lulama Mvimbi, long after losing his seat (he refused to leave). It has adequate safety features, installed by the municipality in 2007. Mvimbi has advanced no cogent excuse for his failure to vacate the premises but, characteristically, resorted to playing the race card. He has stated that, “the only reason they want me to leave is because they don’t want black people living in town”. Given that it is Booysen who is due to take occupancy, this has to be the least credible defence imaginable.
Out of the Woodwork
Information is power and never more so than when it comes to unpicking the details of maladministration. In Bitou, after the 2011 election, the outgoing ANC administration made one last attempt to hide its misdeeds. Municipal Manager Lonwabo Ngoqo led a revolt by senior officials, in which they first refused to hand key documents over to the provincial task team sent to assess Bitou and then, using municipal monies, hired an attorney who demanded the return of the documents had been handed over. Ngoqo had earlier cancelled the first meeting of the new council on spurious grounds, pretending that an application to the high court by the local ANC (which had already been dismissed) was in fact an interdict. He was suspended and, at the time of writing (2011), faced a host of serious misconduct charges.
That there was much to hide became clear once the new administration began the painstaking task of digging into and reconstructing Bitou’s inadequate financial records. At the time of writing much remains to be clarifies and some matters cannot be publicized until the legal ramifications are known. Nevertheless some highlights demonstrate the scale of the problems and show the characteristic behaviour of the previous regime.
The biggest single shock to emerge since the election was the discovery that a grant of nearly R30m, received from the provincial Department of Human Settlements, to purchase a site for low cost housing, had been “lost”. The price paid for the land was found to be excessive with the municipal valuation being only R2,4m and two independent valuers, suggesting real values of R2,7m and R4,1m. But this turned out to the smaller part of the problem. For the R30m had not been ring-fenced but paid into the municipality’s primary bank account and from there, frittered away on items such as personnel costs (including consultants) and various events held in the run-up to the municipal election.
Under a worst case scenario, the municipality will have to pay R30m to the landowner (who has subsequently applied to the High Court for an Order to Pay), repay the difference between the transfer and the real value of the land (R26m) to province, and will therefore, at a cost of R56m, end up owning a property worth a mere R4,1m!
The Big Man’s Car: The BMW X6 3.0d, purchased for Mayor Mvimbi, was, at R740, 000 the most expensive mayoral vehicle in South Africa. It had every possible accessory including a GPS that cost nearly R40, 000. Mvimbi repeatedly tried to distance himself from the controversy by insisting that it was “an administrative matter” and that “the decision was taken a long time ago”. Memory Booysen refused to use the vehicle, driving first his old private Mazda and, when that was found to be unroadworthy, a municipal pool car. The new council terminated the lease and returning the vehicle to Avis, affecting savings of R130, 000.
Other items in the municipal accounts reveal the sort of patronage and wasted expenditure that had absorbed the R30m and other funds as well. Many of these were incurred in the run-up to the municipal election and were, it seems, an attempt on the part of the local ANC to “buy” votes. Over R300, 000 was paid for support to the Bitou Small Farmers Association, not counting an invoice of R54, 000 at the end of April 2011 for “meat”. The original documentation for this last transaction gives no further information; it does not say who the vendor was, who signed approval, what sort of “meat” was purchased or what it was used for. The single invoice simply gives the price, the name of the purported beneficiary (“Bitou Small Farmers Association”) and the word “meat”.
Other recent items include:
• R55, 000 for The Mayor’s Cup, a netball tournament (7 December 2010);
• R30, 000 for the Griekwa National Conference (28 April 2011);
• R118, 000 for a field band to perform at the Plett Easter Games (7 April 2011);
• R171, 000 for “T-shirts” printed with the ANC logo (April 2011).
The municipality also paid R250, 000 for renovations to a recording studio which, bizarrely, it owns as part of its “Youth Talent Development” programme. An additional R106, 000 was spent on “renovations” and R130, 000 for “soundproofing”. The municipality is still tied into a contract to pay R25, 000 for rental of the premises. In 2010, amid allegations of kickbacks, it had paid R657, 000 for a single catering tender to accommodate the appetites of 250 delegates to a DTI anti-piracy conference held in Plett. Another 2010 event, for a visiting municipal delegation from ANC controlled Port St Johns, the R11, 000 bar bill for the first evening included “88x Chivas, 64x Jameson and 60x Glenfiddich”.
Troubling recurring expenditures include the R128, 296 paid every month, since October 2009, to Nudebt Management, the company contracted to collect municipal revenues, and the R139, 000 monthly payments to software vendor Lefatse Technologies (see below). In the case of Nudebt, it is far from obvious that Bitou has received value for money. The accounts also contain a number of items like regular payments to a driving school, Soul Buddies, as a part of its Youth Development Programme. For 2010/11, these came to some R54, 000.
The crisis did not develop overnight. Its origins can be traced back several years through a systematic pattern of ANC misgovernment, cronyism, entitlement, strong-arm tactics and corruption. The pattern is so consistent that it might be said to constitute a ‘style’ of government. It is necessary to trawl through this sad history of maladministration to understand the origins, dimensions and impact of this ‘style’.
The Roots of Corruption
There is little doubt that the adoption of the Executive Mayor System, after the ANC’s decision, in 2003 to implement the system in all municipalities under its control, set the stage for misgovernment. Such a system vests enormous power in the hands of the Mayor, far more than under the alternative Executive Council system. The Executive Mayor system is not in principle the problem; it come with checks and balances. But these fall away where the Mayor and the Municipal manager collaborate to undermine, and where systems such as internal audit are ineffective, and where secrecy replaces transparency in the municipality’s financial affairs.
Bitou has received an unqualified audit from the Auditor-General for the last three years. However, as the AG’s final report is a tick-box exercise, it is always worth reading the entire document to see what nuance appears. In this case it is significant.
Clean Audits and Dirty Deeds: How is it possible to reconcile Bitou’s three successive clean audits with the chaos in financial administration that emerged under the new council? It is necessary to understand the limitations of the Auditor General’s (AG’s) remit; these are best illustrated using a real example that has recently emerged from the paperwork in Bitou. In 2010, the municipality paid a local restaurant R7, 085.50 for an event held on 26th November. From the AG’s perspective, the paper trail is impeccable. The till slip was certified by the department director; a purchase requisition form was signed by the responsible manager showing that the expenditure is allocated to the correct expenditure code (Staff Entertainment). It has been signed off by the director of the department involved, counter signed by the Supply Chain Manager and certified by the Director Finance. There is a matching order form signed off by the Chief Financial Officer and a payment advice document showing the account was paid and the amount was correct. Checking this paper trail is as far as the AG’s task goes. What he was not required to establish is that the expenditure was for a drinking session apparently involving 71 people. The till slip shows that towards the end of the evening, a round of 71 “Springbok” shooters were ordered at a cost of R20 each. It reveals expenditure of roughly R100 per person on liquor and nothing on food. The event was nothing but a binge at the expense of the people of Plett.
The Attorney General’s (AG’s) report on Bitou for the year ending 30 June 2010 states that, “the Internal Audit Unit was not properly established or functioning properly” [sic]. It is the non-functioning of this unit that allows the senior officials – the MM to the fore – to get away with (at least in the short term) the sorts of maladministration and supply chain anomalies that have bedevilled the municipality. But Bitou in fact has two managers, on fixed short term contracts, charged with internal audit responsibilities. What have they been doing? The answer is ‘effectively nothing’. And the direct cost? The two are paid salaries that total a fraction under R1m per annum.
The AG’s finding provides a key insight into how a small cadre at the apex of the municipality has been able to exercise control and do such damage (other than naked violence and intimidation which will be discussed later). The key is patronage. Many employees, especially those who are poorly qualified for the positions they hold, are creatures of the ANC hierarchy. Were they to lose their positions, they could not possibly command the salaries they are paid in Bitou anywhere else. The personal assistant to the Municipal Manager, for instance, was on an annual package of R408, 000; the Deputy Director: Community Services receives R783, 861.16 per annum; managers are all on packages worth over R600, 000. Councillors were also privileged: The AG found that ordinary councillors had, for several years, been remunerated at the level of executive council members despite carrying no extra work load.
The remuneration of a range of special advisors (and other service providers) who appear massively overpaid for what they actually do has been another characteristic of the ANC regime in Bitou. One of these individuals was political advisor Kenny Leluma whose contract has another two years to run and whose present job appears to consist of running the recording studio. It was Leluma, notoriously, who was paid a salary in Bitou while working on secondment as acting Municipal Manager of Ventersdorp. Another beneficiary was former ANC Southern Cape leader Sipho Kroma, never a Bitou employee, but whose hotel bills in Cape Town were paid by the council.
Between 2007 and 2010, employee related costs in Bitou almost doubled, rising from R49m to R89m. Although the municipal budget also doubled over this period (from R136m to R268m), this is accounted for mostly by the R86m intergovernmental grant in 2010, much of it intended for low-cost housing. In any well-run organisation, percentage increases employee related costs should be only a fraction of the increase in overall revenue. Where they run parallel – as was the case in Bitou over this period – they indicate an emphasis on patronage, not efficiency in administration, “jobs for pals”, as the traditional South African vernacular has it.
The Credit Card Saga
The two ANC mayors under the Executive Mayoral system, Euan Wildeman (2001-2006) and Lulama Mvimbi (2006-11) were able to use their executive powers and their relationships with their Municipal Managers (successively George Seitisho and Lonwabo Ngoqo) to establish systems that revolved around personal gain and political patronage. Wildeman and Seitisho achieved national notoriety through the Bitou municipal credit card saga which lasted from the time of their first fraudulent spending of municipal monies in 2003 to the charges being dropped, by the National Prosecuting Authority [NPA], for reasons never adequately explained, in 2010. It is worth recounting the case in some detail, both because it has been well-documented but, also, because it so clearly demonstrates some of the central systemic issues concerning maladministration and non-accountability in Bitou.
The first real public insight into the developing problem came in 2005. A highly-critical Auditor General’s report for the year ending 2004 found “irregularities” in Bitou’s accounts, specifically that that Mayor Wildeman and Municipal manager Seitisho had abused municipal credit cards to the tune of some R200 000, run up over the course of some 200 transactions. That marked the beginning of five years of lies, evasion and denial, a process which, at every turn, was symptomatic of a culture of entitlement that was to form such a dominant part of the ‘style’ of ANC governance in the town. The sums of money involved were, in themselves, certainly not enough to cripple the local administration. It was the failure of the local council to act – over a long period of time and against virtually every one of the norms of democratic accountability – that destroyed governance in the town.
First there was the report produced by a Special Investigation Unit (SIU) which recommended disciplinary action against the pair. As a result they were summoned to appear before the Western Cape’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) where Seitisho broke down and admitted the credit card abuse. However the Bitou local ANC, far from conceding that its local leaders were wrong, had already initiated a counter-attack. In 2005, at Seitisho’s request, the local council agreed to condone the credit card claims, even though no invoices had been provided.
Despite the vigorous protests of opposition councillors, the local ANC showed every sign of a desire to sweep the affair under the carpet. Attempts to hold the Seitisho and Wildeman to account were driven had to be driven from Cape Town, by MEC Richard Dyantyi, under pressure from DA MPLs Robin Carlisle and Alan Winde. In 2006, under new ANC mayor Lulama Mvimbi (Seitisho had by then resigned and Wildeman demoted to being an ordinary councillor) the Bitou council described the SIU document as “a questionable report”. It released a statement in June 2006 arguing that the report contravened the principles of “natural justice” in that it “trampled on individual rights”. It then referred the report to its attorneys, an action that was to become habitual.
“It took months of phone calls, promises, delays, unanswered letters, press conferences, letters and even the DA laying criminal charges against the MEC (Richard Dyantyi) to have the SIU Report released.” Alan Winde, MPL for Knysna
In addition, the council appointed a commission of enquiry under Advocate Dorilingo. Although the commission cleared the pair, its chairman made the point that had the charges been “better framed”, it would “have had no alternative” but to find that Seitisho (and by implication Wildeman) were guilty of the allegations.
In August 2007, it seemed that, despite the stonewalling, justice would prevail. On the 19th of that month, Seitisho and Wildeman were arrested and charged with fraud and theft. Despite later claims (by members of the Bitou ANC) that their prosecution was a result of the partiality of the DA provincial administration, the process had in fact been initiated by ANC MEC Richard Dyantyi. This is an a further example of the Bitou ANC’s knee-jerk habit of blaming the DA and trotting out the race card whenever criticized.
However satisfaction was misplaced; justice was to be first delayed and then denied. The legal team representing Seitisho and Wildeman managed to have the trial repeatedly postponed. On one occasion the excuse was to enable it to examine the record of the misconduct tribunal that the municipality had initiated in an attempt to intimidate the chief witness for the prosecution, DA councillor Johan Brummer. After repeated postponements the National Director of Public Prosecutions withdrew the charges in June 2010, citing “representations from the accused” and “new evidential material”.
Neither Seitisho nor Wildeman would suffer in any way for their crimes. Quite the opposite in the case of Seitisho. He moved on to become Municipal Manager of Westonaria in Gauteng and then, in a move brazen even by the standards of ANC deployment policy, was appointed head of Operation Clean Audit in the national Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) under Sicelo Shiceka. He has also served as President of the Municipal Managers Association and has a deeply problematic relationship with a municipal finance software vendor, Lefatshe Technologies.
Money for Nothing
The regular payments made by Bitou to the privately-owned software vendor, Lefastshe Technologies, were one of the most troubling facts from the municipality’s financial records. Lefatshe had, in 2008, obtained the licence to sell a municipal finance IT solution developed by the Belgian state-owned agency Cipal. A decision by Cooperative Governance minister Sicelo Shiceka, made in the murkiest of circumstances, to “roll out” the Cipal system as part of the “turnaround” of local government, placed Lefatshe in a position to make “immense profits”.
The municipality chosen to pilot the programme was Westonaria in Gauteng, not coincidentally the very town where George Seitisho had recently become Municipal Manager. The process has been mired in controversy, with whistle-blowing, allegations of kickbacks, non-performance (by the vendor) and improper tendering.
“Bitou has paid Lefatshe Technologies over R10m for an IT system it has never used”. Memory Booysen, 2011.
What has not been public knowledge is that Bitou has paid for the implementation of exactly the same programme. By the end of June 2011, the municipality had paid Lefatse Technologies a total of at least R10m, a rate of R139, 000 per month since April 2007. But Lefatshe has in the meantime admitted that the system cannot work in South Africa and are now selling a system called Hercules.
In fact the Bitou Municipality has never used the Cipal system. Bitou’s 2008/09 Annual Report notes that the municipality uses the SAMRAS DB4 financial system and further states that “no new Information Technology systems were introduced during the financial year”. The town has paid millions for something it has never used and will never be able to use. Although payments to Lefatse began only after Seitisho left Bitou, his central role in the scandal suggests that he cast a long shadow and that further investigation is needed.
Only the lawyers win
The resort to legal action, using municipal monies, has been characteristic of the Bitou ANC. For the period 2007-10, “Legal Expenses”, at a total for the 4 years of R10,3m were the biggest single general expense incurred by the council. ANC councillors have been heard to gloat over the prospect of using ratepayers’ monies to defeat ratepayers concerns.
The most egregious case concerns the ANC’s vindictiveness towards Memory Booysen. In 2009, after Booysen had resigned to contest a by-election as an independent, the municipality withheld R12, 000 on his last salary payment. He sued and obtained a judgement against the municipality. After Booysen had been re-elected, Bitou unsuccessfully attempted to have the judgment overturned. In his answering papers, Booysen argued that the application was “deliberately misleading”. The Municipal Manager immediately sued him for defamation.
It has to be suggested that the municipality was taking dubious legal advice; it is an established principle in South African law that organs of government cannot sue for defamation as this would undermine the citizen’s right to freedom of speech. This indeed was the opinion upheld by Jeanette Traverso, Deputy President of the Cape High Court. The case cost Bitou R500, 000.
TABLE 2: Legal Expenses Vs Local Economic Development [General Expenses, Bitou Annual Statements]
2007: Legal: R2 550 161; LED: R567 623
2008: Legal: R1 229 697; LED: R404 622
2009: Legal: R3 576 937; LED: R503 366
2010: Legal: R2 978 535; LED: R695 773
Total: Legal: R10 335 330; LED: R2 171 384
There were repeated instances of frivolous legal actions instituted by the ANC in Bitou. The Traverso ruling did nothing end this sort of claim. In 2010, Bitou once again took a councillor to court on charges of defamation. The councillor was the DA whistle-blower in the credit card fraud case, Johan Brummer. Although the ANC council tried to evade accountability, it is estimated that the Municipality has spent over R1m on the costs of repeatedly harassing Brummer through the courts and a municipal tribunal.
This pattern of vexatious litigation reached a nadir in November 2009 when Mayor Mvimbi announced his intention to convene a tribunal to try DA councillor Elaine Paulse for supposedly failing to declare a “gift”. The item in question turned out to be a replica of a Louis Vuitton handbag, worth perhaps R100 and, in any case, acquired before Paulse became a councillor. She believes the mayor attacked her because she had challenged him over the costs of his bodyguards and the infamous R740, 000 BMW X5 mayoral vehicle.
The Bitou ANC’s addiction to vexatious litigation can now be expected to disappear, deprived of access to untrammelled monies for lawyers’ fees. But the resources wasted on the vendettas conducted, against their critics, using public monies, by a small group of senior ANC members in Bitou, can never be recovered.
Undoing the damage
The new council in Bitou has inherited a situation where both the structure and mode of operation of the municipality require transformation, in the real sense. Sadly, many of the opportunity costs can never be recouped.
The new agenda demonstrates in the starkest possible way the difference between the new DA administration and the previous ANC regime. Where the ANC hid its dealings from the light of scrutiny, the new administration has committed itself to openness. Mayor Booysen has committed to regular reports to the citizens of Bitou and has already produced three newsletters to this effect. These are far from the regulation puffery that so often emerges from mayoral offices; they are full of factual detail and realistic appraisal of the hard road to recovery.
“You asked for truth and transparency and that is what I will give you … We will not be able to afford to use municipal money for anything other than strictly service delivery for the foreseeable future.” Memory Booysen, August 2011.
The new agenda will be programmatic, not clientelist. It will set out to create and enabling environment for business, aiming to revive the tourism industry and attract new investment. Business opportunities will no longer be treated as political resources, to be picked up by councillors and then parcelled out to loyalists. Tender processes will be forced to become open, clean and focused, above all, on value for money. Likewise, the delivery of “development” – subsidised services and housing to the poor – will be impartial, driven by need, not party loyalty.
Although the municipality is now in crisis management mode, thanks to the fiscal impropriety of the previous regime, every effort will be made to improve efficiencies. It is necessary to speed up the processing of planning permissions, licence applications and municipal payments. The municipality’s role is to make it possible to do business and raise families, under the most helpful possible circumstances. Unlike its predecessor, the new administration does not regard local government as some kind of goody bag, to be doled out to elected politicians and their associates. It understands what the ANC municipality didn’t; that local governance is above all a matter of stewardship. The resources it uses are the fruits of other people’s labour and the decisions it takes affect other people’s lives.
Under these circumstances, the partisanship and divisiveness of the ANC era will be replaced by an attempt to build a genuine loyalty to place. The ANC practices of delay, secrecy, threats, violence and racial antagonism will be condemned to the dustbin of history. The new agenda is intended to consign the waste, antagonism and conflict to the past and to genuinely seek a better life for all.
David Christianson is a senior researcher in the DA’s National Head Office. Previously an award winning journalist, he has consulted extensively in the fields of economic growth and governance.
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Bayley, B. (2011) “Corruption endemic in local councils”, The Times, 31 March
Bitou Municipality (2011) Draft Local Economic Development Strategy
Bitou Municipality (2011) Revised IDP 2011/12
Bitou Municipality, Annual Report 2008/09
Booysen, Memory (2011a) Bitou Mayoral Newsletter 1, 1 August
Booysen, Memory (2011b) Bitou Mayoral Newsletter 2, 12 August
Booysen, Memory (2011c) Bitou Mayoral Newsletter 3, 4 September
CoGTA (2009a) Consolidated Annual Municipal Performance Report 2008/09: Western Cape
CoGTA (2009a) Local Government Turnaround Strategy, November
CoGTA (2009b) The State of Local Government in South Africa
CoGTA (2009c) Basic Services Publication: Comparative Information on Basic Services
CoGTA (2010) Annual Report 2010
Empowerdex (2009) Service Delivery Index
Daily Maverick (2011) “Carte Blanche Report: Memory Booysen, Mayor with a bulletproof vest”, 4 August
IDASA (2011) The State of Local Governance in South Africa from a Citizen Perspective
Jordan, Bobby (2011) “Bitou municipality is under fire over a government catering tender”, I-Net Bridge, 10 April
Oelofse, J. (2010) “Top Bitou officials summoned to Scopa meeting”, 21 May
Oelofse, J. (2011c) “Bitou, manager, lose court action”, Garden Route Media, 18 April
Oelofse, N. (2009) “Bitou mayor set to act against DA ‘bag lady’”, The Weekend Post, 27 November
Oelofse, N. (2010a) “Seitisho, Wildeman off the Hook”, Garden Route Media, 2 July
Oelofse, N. (2010b) “Shock withdrawal of Bitou Fraud Charges” EP Herald, 25 June
Oelofse, N. (2010c) “Plett’s politics – a slinging match of handbags and allegations”, Garden Route Media, 8 April
Oelofse, N. (2011a) “Allegations against municipal manager investigated”, Garden Route Media
Oelofse, N. (2011b) “ANC fails to stop Bitou council meeting”, Garden Route Media, 3 June
Sapa (2006) “Bitou questions legality of SIU probe”, 5 June
Schultz-Herzenberg (2009) Elections and Accountability in South Africa, ISS Paper No. 188
Shamase, N. (2011) “Expensive municipal IT solution under fire” Mail & Guardian, 17 June
Support Programme for Accelerated Infrastructure Development [SPAID] (2009) Universal Household Access to Basic Services (UHABS)
The Weekend Post (2009) “Night of terror”, 12 May
Zille, H. (2011) “The long and winding political road’, Cape Argus, 14 April
 Bitou Municipality (2011) Draft Local Economic Development Strategy, p. 74
 A BMW X5 3.0d, at a cost of R720 000, including almost R100 000 for optional extras
 Memory Booysen, Bitou Mayoral Newsletter, 1 August 2011
 Bitou, Revised IDP 2011/12, p. 20
 See for e.g. Zille, H. (2011) “The long and winding political road’, Cape Argus, 14 April. Also: Daily Maverick (2011) “Carte Blanche Report: Memory Booysen, Mayor with a bulletproof vest”, 4 August
 Interview Memory Booysen August 20911
 Daily Maverick (2011) “Memory Booysen, mayor with a bulletproof vest”, 4 August
 Oelofse, N. (2011a) “Allegations against municipal manager investigated”, Garden Route Media
 Oelofse, N. (2011b) “ANC fails to stop Bitou council meeting”, Garden Route Media, 3 June
 Figures and budgets items provided here have been obtained through interviews with councilors and officials in Bitou and the Western Cape Government
 In fact R29,998,000
 Two parcels of land located above the New Horizons residential area
 The existence of this studio only emerged after the 2011 municipal election
 Jordan, Bobby (2011) “Bitou municipality is under fire over a government catering tender”, I-Net Bridge, 10 April
 Actual: R995, 559.20
 Oelofse, J. (2010) “Top Bitou Officials summoned to Scopa meeting”, 21 May
 Oelofse, N. (2010a) “Seitisho, Wildeman off the Hook”, Garden Route Media, 2 July
 Sapa (2006) “Bitou questions legality of SIU probe”, 5 June
 Oelofse, N. (2010b) “Shock withdrawal of Bitou Fraud Charges” EP Herald, 25 June
 Shamase, N. (2011) “Expensive municipal IT solution under fire” Mail & Guardian, 17 June
 See Shamase, N. ibid
 R4m for “Cipal solution”; R5,127m licencing fees; R1,8m for development
 Bitou, Annual Report 2008/09
 Oelofse, J. (2011) “Bitou, manager, lose court action”, Garden Route Media, 18 April
 Oelofse, N. (2010c) “Plett’s politics – a slinging match of handbags and allegations”, Garden Route Media, 8 April
 Oelofse, N.(2009) “Bitou mayor set to act against DA ‘bag lady’”, The Weekend Post, 27 November
 Booysen, M. (2011a, 2011b and 2011c) “Newsletter” 1 August, 12 August and 4 September
What a very insighful story – well written. Good luck to Mr Booysen and his team who are now hamstrung with 10 years of deployed people not able to do the work in the administration , at bloated salaries and A VERY SERIOUS LIMIT to funding…….for the real issues. It also clearly shows that if you want to be crooked the Auditor General if done correctly wont find fault and give you a unqualified audit….making a mockery of the audit system……
Hey PDV, thank you, glad you liked the post. Yes, there is much to be done in Bitou but it is important to define the problem and its extent before moving forward, so this kind of analysis is helpful if only to give you some idea of where you need to go. Gareth
A remarkable article that has left me astounded at the total lack of accountability. If this is happening on a scale like this in Bitou, I would hate to imagine what is going on in the rest of the country.
My greatest concern for this country is lack of accountability. Without it, the problems are a lost cause for at least the medium term future.
I have been deliberating for some time now as to whether it is worthwhile staying in SA, but I must admit, I am more convinced than ever that South Africa – like the rest of Africa – is degrading into a cesspool which I can no longer accept, afford or tolerate.
Hey Peter, well, it all depends on how you view accountability. It is true there have not been specific consequences for each of those people involved, although that process is still unfolding. But, on a macro scale, there was electoral accountability: the voters, angry with the way Bitou was being administered, voted the ANC out of power. That is a accountability of a sort. In fact, I would argue, it is that very ability – of people to vote on their interests as opposed to some sort of unthinking solidarity – that will be the key to South Africa fulfilling its potential. That, I think, is why these kinds of stories are important. Gareth
Peter, the grass is not as green as you think oversees. i spent 7years there and i can tell you you are reminded daily of your status as a foreigner. if you try to talk to a cashier a policemen a doctor or any person, the first thing they ask where you are from? or you have an accent. I am not surprise this is happening under the ANC and the good thing is that they are expossed. lets cast our eyes back during the Nats era, you wouldnt dare to even talk of it and people like you peter were not threating to leave the country why? because all the corruption was done by you folks and the victims were black people. there were indiviuals buying state houses for R90 or were given to them and minister who simple took over farms and state properties and destroy all the records so that they could not be found…………….now what do you say about that? dont get me wrong, i am not saying two wrongs make it right. the truth remains the ANC did good things for the majority of the people including you. that been said there are bad apple and there are good apple within the party you need to target those individuals not the entire movement. You and your aurthor didnt protest and blog when black people were beaten up for been black, or when black people were thrown into jails for talking back to the white people or when a black person dare to buy a beer. I have given up. as long as your generation is still alive i dont see any racial tention going down. My current generation have given up because i feel like we black people are ask to forgive and never get anything in return from our counter parts. i can only hope that the next generation will be able to work together on this one. Sometimes i feel like in 1994 we should have went to war and settle everything there maybe the black people wouldnt feel like they were robbed becuause what is there to celebrate when you dont have a roof over your head, you earning peanuts, you go to rugby matches everybody look at you like you are lost. Beside the point i want you to think about the plight of the black people before you threaten us by leaving the country. Atleast you have somewhere to go…………what about a poor black child somewhere in the rural area with no hope and prospect all he know is that he would have to make a choice of going to school or going to work or a life of crime.
@Boitumelo: I can only begin to imagine your pain and suffering. But please do not think it is only black people who have nowhere to go. There are those of us whites who love our country, whose families have been here for 300 years and who never approved of or voted for the Nats. We also can’t just up and leave. I can understand how black people may feel robbed, but I don’t think war would solve that. It would just have further decimated what little resources there are. A better question to ask is why our government spends billions on war ships and arms deals, or fancy cars for ministers and luxury houses for themselves when they should be spending that money on housing, job creation and education to uplift people. I am a tax and rate payer and I have no problem seeing my hard earned money used for the upliftment of my countrymen and women, of whatever race. Nothing makes me more despondent than to see my money squandered on luxuries for the top echolon of politicians, both at national and local level, who talk the talk but really by their actions make it clear they don’t care about anyone but themselves. The Nats were evil, but those lining their pockets at the expense of the poor right now are no better.
You and I both dream of a better future for our children.