The reinvention of a corruption buster
After blowing the whistle on North West municipal councillors who were demanding kickbacks, Fikile Bili struggled to secure contracts in other provinces. But he’s come up with a new plan for success
What do you do when you refuse to take part in corruption? Bust a few municipal councillors demanding kickbacks for a contract, and then your business suffers because of it? This is the situation Fikile Bili found himself in after he secretly recorded a number of councillors in the struggling Ditsobotla Local Municipality in North West demanding bribes in return for awarding him a debt collection contract.
After City Press ran an exposé on Bili’s recordings and the complaint he laid with the Hawks, the businessman pitched for contracts with municipalities from Northern Cape to Mpumalanga – only to be told he wouldn’t get them because he “recorded people”.
Now he is determined that he will not be hounded out of business and has branched out into another line of work entirely – the vehicle tracking business.
This industry, he said, probably wouldn’t require him to be expected to bribe anyone.
Founded earlier this year, FixTrack has already registered more than 3 000 customers. Bili said his new business was the “first black-owned vehicle tracking company” in the country and said it was already trusted by owners of supercars such as Lamborghinis, who form a large part of his client base.
Before this, Bili, through his company Zandile Management Services, helped municipalities increase their revenue through debt collection. He would earn an agreed percentage of what he collected for the council.
Everything was going well until he came across municipal officials who demanded kickbacks from him to secure contracts.
“I do my job to empower others ... I employ mostly the youth without qualifications and train them to work in our call centres, and I would rather they get a pay raise than be forced to throw money at corrupt officials. I just can’t,” Bili said.
Late last year, Bili recorded eight Ditsobotla councillors demanding kickbacks of R250 000 from him in return for ensuring that his company retained its contract with the municipality and paid him on time.
“I could not do it. I just had to expose their greed and corruption at the expense of the municipality, which was already struggling financially – and here were people saying to businessmen that they wanted a share of their earnings. This has become the norm in most municipalities and government departments,” he said.
“I still work with some municipalities where things are run professionally and where my service is highly appreciated because we’re helping struggling municipalities to get what they are owed.
“There are, however, municipalities where you have to pay a kickback just for your payment to be processed, and you must continue paying corrupt officials all the time for them to ensure the contract is retained.”
When contractors – who were owed millions by the ailing Thabazimbi Local Municipality in Limpopo – attached office furniture and vehicles owned by the municipality, Bili said he decided to continue working for it.
“I could not just abandon them because they have problems, knowing very well that this was the time they needed my services desperately. They will pay me when they can, but I can still continue working for Thabazimbi and contribute through my service towards their financial resuscitation,” he said.
After the Ditsobotla saga, Bili said it was difficult for him to win contracts with other municipalities because he had already exposed himself as a no-nonsense businessman who was not prepared to get involved in underhanded dealings.
“I just had to put my entrepreneurial thinking cap on and think of something else – and that’s when I decided to go into vehicle tracking,” he said.
“My company, FixTrack, uses sophisticated vehicle tracking technology that goes beyond just tracking movement and securing the vehicle. Our ultimate intention is to save lives as well. The reality is that South Africans are increasingly becoming more irresponsible drivers, so we came up with technology that will be able to sense if the driver is under the influence of alcohol. We’re working towards an integrated system linked to national traffic authorities that will be able to immediately report any wrongdoing, such as driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding.
“We’re not only about tracking and recovery of vehicles, but we want to change driving habits and prevent fatalities, as well as curb the abuse of company or state vehicles. Our plan is to have 200 000 vehicles under our protection by 2018 and expand into other countries in the Southern African Development Community.”
DETERMINED Fikile Bili has branched out into the vehicle tracking business, and is now the owner of FixTrack