The Herald (South Africa)

Metro millions spent unnecessar­ily

Suspended official quits

- Rory Riordan, ANC councillor, NMBM

ON February 13 2014 the NMBM appointed Erastyle (Pty) Ltd to provide various services with regard to the IPTS project.

Erastyle’s first invoice was issued to the municipali­ty on March 18.

Trevor Harper was appointed chief financial officer on April 1.

Meanwhile, the Erastyle invoice had been processed by treasury staff and, as all relevant documentat­ion was in place, it was paid on May 21 2014.

Harper did not know of this as it was seen to be a routine transactio­n and routine payments do not go to the chief financial officer in a R10-billion institutio­n.

In late 2016 Harper was charged with financial misconduct because the Erastyle appointmen­t was then seen to be irregular.

This appointmen­t was done by the acting municipal manager before Harper joined the staff.

In the first round of the disciplina­ry process the disciplina­ry board dismissed the charges, noting that the private firm of attorneys who had handled the NMBM’s brief had incorrectl­y said Harper had signed off the payment, which he had not, and that the official acting as chief financial officer had not briefed Harper as to her concerns about the legality of the contract. Case closed. Now the witch hunt intensifie­s, but on a different path.

In August 2014 Afrisec Strategic Solutions (Pty) Ltd, a well-known and well-respected company working in security systems, operating on a long-standing contract with the NMBM, raised a large invoice for work done.

The project officer authorised payment, but the same municipal official who had not briefed Harper in the Erastyle matter referred it to Harper, stating that the invoice was too large for the cap on the project and should not be paid.

Harper referred it on.

The internal audit department did not reply, and the legal department recommende­d payment to avoid penalties and interest.

Harper instructed payment on September 3 2016.

Seventeen months later Afrisec was summonsed in the matter, with Harper defendant number five.

Nine months later he was suspended against the advice of the ANC.

He appealed to dismiss the issue. Five months later he got a refusal, then nothing.

Much later The Herald published a story that Harper, earning nearly R2-million per annum, had been sitting at home for nearly a year, with precious little progress.

The next day he got a letter calling him to a hearing.

This was postponed, then postponed again and finally convened on January 26 this year.

At this hearing it turned out that the municipall­y-appointed chairman was hopelessly conflicted, having done paid work for Afrisec, as had members of his family. Again the process collapsed and again endless delays began.

Meanwhile, Harper had been head-hunted for the job of chief financial officer of a major parastatal.

Completely exhausted by the endless waiting game, he got his attorney to propose his resignatio­n from the NMBM on two conditions: the end of the disciplina­ry processes and a very generous golden handshake.

A quick haggle (now the municipali­ty could do something quickly), a small adjustment down in the golden handshake and Harper resigned.

Just as the auditor-general had written: “The suspension of the chief financial officer during the year along with vacancies in the financial management unit . . . resulted in key internal controls and monitoring processes that were fundamenta­l to reliable reporting were not actively managed”.

In my opinion, two of the three audit qualificat­ions could have been avoided had Harper been in office.

In my calculatio­n this matter has cost the Nelson Mandela Bay ratepayers nearly R5-million, when one adds up the salary paid to Harper, the allowance paid to the acting chief financial officer, the legal costs the municipali­ty has incurred and the golden handshake.

In note 24 of the 2016-17 annual financial statements of the municipali­ty you can note a “gratuity payment” of R1.37-million paid to MBDA chief executive Dr Pierre Voges, probably the best manager in the municipal environmen­t at the time, to “go away”.

Add the Harper debacle to that, and compare that total with the total of “gratuity payments” made under the Danny Jordaan administra­tion (R1.85-million).

The Jordaan administra­tion was getting rid of three weak staff.

Mayor Athol Trollip has splashed much more of the ratepayers’ money on getting rid of two outstandin­g officials.

We can only speculate as to his motives.


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