Public protector messed up R58million tourism deal, Knysna municipality says

CAPE TOWN – The Municipality of Knysna believes that the public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane erred in concluding that his 58 million rand spent on the city’s tourism promotion agency, Knysna Tourism (KT), was irregular and constituted a maladministration.

Mkhwebane announced his damning findings against the municipality on Friday, saying the council chairman should refer the irregular spending to the relevant council committee for investigation and ensure that a criminal complaint is filed within 30 days of the date of the report. .

The municipality had agreements with KT from 2002 to 2017 to market the greater Knysna region as a prime destination for achieving tourism growth.

It later emerged that KT allegedly did not go through a tendering process, prompting resident Susan Campbell to file a complaint with the Mkhwebane office.

Campbell said the irregular funding and other issues surrounding KT were initially raised by blogger Mike Hampton, shortly after the DA came to power in Knysna in 2011.

In response to his criticism, the municipality allegedly blocked his email and ultimately obtained a court order banning him from posting anything on social media, Campbell said.

“I filed a complaint with the Public Protector in July 2017, when it became clear that the then Mayor (DA), Eleanore Bouw-Spies, was determined to strike a deal with Knysna Tourism in defiance of a legal opinion obtained by the municipality. .

“The municipality was advised that it had to follow a competitive tendering process. I wrote to the public protector and the new city manager, hoping to avoid irregular spending, ”she said.

In its report, Mkhwebane found that the municipality’s purchase of tourism services from KT did not comply with relevant laws.

In addition, she found that the procurement did not follow a “fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective tendering process”.

More than 58 million rand was paid by the municipality to KT for the services rendered, Mkhwebane said.

“The conduct of the municipality was therefore inappropriate, constituted maladministration and resulted in irregular expenditure, as provided for in Article 1 of the Municipal Financial Management Law (MFMA),” Mkhwebane said.

She said the city committee responsible for reviewing grant applications should investigate and determine whether the irregular expenses are recoverable or not, and if so, take action accordingly within 30 days from the date. of this report.

“The speaker must also take appropriate steps to ensure that criminal charges are laid under section 173 of the MFMA in respect of irregular expenses incurred within 30 days of the date of this report.

“In addition, the Interim Municipal Manager is required under Article 32 (4) of the MFMA to report irregular municipal spending to the Executive Mayor, the Western Cape Provincial Treasury, the Western Cape MEC for the local government and the auditor. -General from South Africa within 30 days of the date of this report. This must be done in writing.

“The Acting City Manager is also required under section 171 (4) of the MFMA to take appropriate action to determine whether any of the city officials involved in the irregular purchase of Knysna Tourism services should be required responsible for professional misconduct and, where appropriate, take appropriate measures to ensure that disciplinary action is taken against them.

“This must take place within 30 days of the date of this report. Finally, the interim municipal manager must submit a report to the municipal council on the follow-up given to all the above steps within 60 days of the date of this report.

But the municipality said it made submissions to Mkhwebane based on the law and the facts which it said the report was wrong. However, no further communication was received.

“We have studied the report and the recommendations and have had the opportunity to respond to them. We have made observations based on the law and the facts that we believe the report was wrong. No other communication was received from the Office of the Québec Ombudsman, ”said interim municipal director Dawid Adonis.

When this was submitted to Mkhwebane, she said: “The officials of the municipality, including the municipal manager and the financial manager, have received notices under section 7 (9) of the Public Protector Act. .

“The article provides that, if it appears to the Public Protector during an investigation that a person is involved, the Public Protector must give that person the opportunity to respond in relation to the implication in question. They responded. Their responses have been taken into consideration.

DA constituency leader for Knysna Dion George said Mkhwebane’s report was “actually incorrect” and clearly programmed with “the political agenda of the so-called public protector” in mind.

“After four years, we have a half-baked report with no quantifiable damage. They cannot identify the director of corporate services or the amount of “irregular expenses”.

“This case has, in fact, already served before the municipal public accounts committee and it has concerned Knysna since 2000, when the DA was not in government. The DA ruled from 2011 to 2016, ”he said.

Plaaslike Besorgde Inwoners (PBI) leader in Knysna, Alberto Marbi, said he was shocked by the results.

“It opens up a whole box of worms about how Knysna Municipality was governed under DA control. This is proof that the DA in power in Knysna can no longer be trusted. They are masters of covering up all this corruption, mismanagement and irregular spending. The new incoming Council should take urgent measures to recover these funds in order to alleviate the plight of the poor, ”said Marbi.

The region’s ANC was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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