De Lille & Co im­pli­cated in re­ports

One rec­om­mends crim­i­nal charges against Cape Town’s mayor, an MEC and other city of­fi­cials have been named

Mail & Guardian - - News - Ra’eesa Pather

The wide-reach­ing in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion by law firm Bow­man Gil­fil­lan may pos­si­bly be Pa­tri­cia de Lille’s last hur­rah as Cape Town’s mayor. The re­port not only im­pli­cates De Lille in po­ten­tial cor­rup­tion, it also ex­tends to some of those who are thought to be close to her, sug­gest­ing they re­ceived un­due ben­e­fits and ma­nip­u­lated city pro­cesses, cast­ing doubt on a mu­nic­i­pal­ity lauded for its clean gov­er­nance.

But al­ready her sup­port­ers in the city coun­cil are fight­ing back.

De Lille has re­lied on them to help her sur­vive. They have seen her through the nu­mer­ous mo­tions of no con­fi­dence that her col­leagues in the Demo­cratic Al­liance cau­cus have tabled against her.

On Thurs­day, in an un­prece­dented move, five coun­cil­lors in the DA cau­cus re­signed from the city coun­cil. Shaun Au­gust, the chief whip and one of De Lille’s fiercest de­fend­ers, was the first to re­sign. None of the five are im­pli­cated in the re­port.

But Brett Her­ron, the may­oral com­mit­tee mem­ber for trans­port and ur­ban de­vel­op­ment and one of De Lille’s strong­est al­lies, may be in trou­ble if the 1 998-page re­port is adopted by the city coun­cil.

The re­port, au­tho­rised by the coun­cil, rec­om­mends dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against Her­ron, be­cause he “ac­cepted hos­pi­tal­ity” from a Chi­nese elec­tric bus man­u­fac­tur­ing firm and failed to de­clare it. It also rec­om­mends that the City of Cape Town es­tab­lish a spe­cial com­mit­tee to “de­ter­mine the ex­tent of Her­ron’s in­volve­ment” in the Chi­nese pro­cure­ment deal and whether it vi­o­lated the Mu­nic­i­pal Fi­nance Man­age­ment Act.

Her­ron, who has be­come widely pop­u­lar for fo­cus­ing at­ten­tion on so­cial hous­ing in the in­ner city, has de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

All coun­cil mem­bers are pro­hib­ited from speak­ing about the re­port be­cause it is con­fi­den­tial. Her­ron said: “I will re­quest per­mis­sion from the speaker to re­spond to what is al­ready in the me­dia. It is only fair that I be per­mit­ted to re­spond.

“I have handed a copy of the re­port to my lawyers and they will take the ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion on my be­half.”

He is ac­cused of re­ceiv­ing ben­e­fits from Chi­nese elec­tric bus man­u­fac­turer BYD — for one night in a ho­tel in Chang­sha, China, and a re­turn trip from Shen­zhen to Chang­sha on a high-speed train, in Au­gust 2015.

Her­ron de­nied know­ing BYD spon­sored his ac­com­mo­da­tion and train trip, but emails from his as­sis­tant to the com­pany while the trip was be­ing planned show his of­fice knew, says the re­port.

James Groep, a man­ager in the city’s fleet and as­set man­age­ment de­part­ment, and Melissa White­head, the trans­port com­mis­sioner who has since been sus­pended, were also part of the del­e­ga­tion to Chang­sha.

The City of Cape Town paid for busi­ness-class tick­ets for White­head and Her­ron to fly to Shen­zhen, where they were to meet BYD on a “ex­ploratory” trip to in­ves­ti­gate the com­pany and the elec­tric buses it of­fers.

But they failed to de­clare to the city that BYD had paid for some of their ex­penses in Chang­sha. White­head said the com­pany had cov­ered the bill be­cause it had made a last-minute change for the del­e­ga­tion to visit Chang­sha. She also de­nied re­ceiv­ing any ben­e­fits, be­cause the ho­tel was ap­par­ently of a low stan­dard.

“Stay­ing in the ho­tel in Chang­sha was roughly the equiv­a­lent of spend­ing the night in the For­mula 1 in Springs — I did not re­gard this as a ben­e­fit — for ob­vi­ous rea­sons,” White­head told Bow­man Gil­fil­lan.

A year later, BYD was awarded a R286-mil­lion ten­der, which Bow­man de­ter­mined was ir­reg­u­lar. The law firm found that BYD had re­ceived pref­er­en­tial treat­ment and the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of the ten­der may have been ma­nip­u­lated.

The re­port has rec­om­mended that the city coun­cil open a case with the po­lice be­cause there is “suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence” to “sus­tain a rea­son­able sus­pi­cion” that the Preven­tion and Com­bat­ing of Cor­rupt Ac­tiv­i­ties Act may have been vi­o­lated.

Her­ron has de­nied be­ing in­volved in the pro­cure­ment process, but the re­port sug­gests that his con­duct as a coun­cil­lor and his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the trip may have con­trib­uted to mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion.

De Lille has been left largely un­scathed in the BYD scan­dal, which takes up the brunt of the Bow­man in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But she could face crim­i­nal charges for some­thing else.

The re­port doesn’t ex­plic­itly rec­om­mend that coun­cil seek crim­i­nal charges against De Lille, but it sug­gests it “sanc­tion” her and refers to rel­e­vant law, par­tic­u­larly the Mu­nic­i­pal Sys­tems Act. The re­port found that she pre­vented Ach­mat Ebrahim, then the city man­ager, from re­port­ing to coun­cil the ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture of R43-mil­lion, al­legedly caused by White­head for the pay­ment to Volvo for 29 bus chas­sis. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, De Lille also stopped him from bring­ing an in­ter­nal foren­sic in­ves­tiga­tive re­port into the pay­ment to coun­cil.

White­head and Ebrahim could face crim­i­nal charges for their roles.

But this may be com­pli­cated by the pres­ence of a sec­ond Bow­man Gil­fil­lan re­port of 34 pages, which fo­cuses specif­i­cally on mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions against De Lille.

This re­port, also com­mis­sioned by the coun­cil and pre­pared by Bow­man’s Cape Town of­fice, ex­on­er­ates De Lille, say­ing the onus was on Ebrahim to have re­ported the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties to coun­cil. It is this re­port that De Lille’s sup­port­ers may still rally be­hind to fight for her in­no­cence.

De Lille has asked Bow­man to ex­plain why it pro­duced two re­ports with two dif­fer­ent rec­om­men­da­tions.

If the coun­cil does adopt the larger re­port im­pli­cat­ing White­head, then De Lille will face ques­tions — the DA has ac­cused De Lille of pro­tect­ing White­head. De Lille may have wanted to keep Ebrahim close, as pre­vi­ous ev­i­dence re­ported by the Mail & Guardian showed that she sought to ex­ert un­due in­flu­ence for his reap­point­ment as city man­ager at the end of his term in 2016.

Ebrahim re­signed be­cause of the Volvo deal in Jan­uary 2018.

But the fall­out has also seen other as­pects of the city fall apart.

The Fore­shore Free­way Precinct project has come to halt, and the am­bi­tious de­vel­op­ment of an un­fin­ished free­way (the de­vel­op­ment was stopped in the 1970s) in the city shows no sign of con­tin­u­ing.

The pre­lim­i­nary Bow­man re­port into mis­con­duct in the city and a re­port by con­sult­ing com­pany Moore Stephens had laid bare some of the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the project, which was also meant to in­cor­po­rate so­cial hous­ing. In the fore­word to the project prospec­tus, Her­ron wrote that some­thing needed to be done on the Fore­shore and “this ‘some­thing’ must con­trib­ute to the rich ur­ban fab­ric that is Cape Town … and at the same time both help ad­dress the so­cial is­sues fac­ing our city”.

What Bow­man and Moore Stephens say is that White­head may have had favoured bid­ders for ten­ders and may have dis­cussed po­ten­tial bid­ders with De Lille, Her­ron and deputy mayor Ian Neil­son.

The big­ger Bow­man re­port says White­head did have con­flicts of in­ter­ests in the project.

The ten­der for the project was with­drawn ear­lier this year.

De Lille has de­nied any wrong­do­ing and has called the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a “smear cam­paign” against her.

If coun­cil adopts the big­ger re­port, how­ever, De Lille, Her­ron, White­head and other city of­fi­cials could face crim­i­nal charges.

Im­pli­cated: Cape Town mayor Pa­tri­cia de Lille and trans­port may­oral com­mit­tee mem­ber Brett Her­ron have been named in re­ports de­tail­ing po­ten­tially cor­rupt ac­tiv­i­ties. Photo: Gallo/Nar­dus En­gel­brecht

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