KRA Speaks Out

The Knysna Ratepayers Association has recently pursued two initiatives in furtherance of our constitutional mandate, which is:
“4.1.3 to promote a high standard of municipal service delivery and to strive to ensure that the administration of the municipality is composed of competent, honest and reliable officials who are appointed lawfully and promoted on merit;
4.1.4 to uncover tender irregularities, corruption and misuse of public property and to ensure that appropriate action is taken against municipal officials and councillors acting unlawfully.”
Constitution of the Knysna Ratepayers Association

COMPLAINTS AGAINST MUNICIPAL MANAGER (“MM”) VATALA AND CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER (“CFO”) MEMANI

In October 2019 it was discovered that Knysna Municipality was in the midst of a serious financial crisis, or “cash crunch”.
As a result, in February 2020 the MM, Dr Vatala, was suspended by the Council, pending an investigation.
We became aware that properties to a value exceeding R60 000 000.00, that had previously been disclosed as Contingent Assets, had inexplicably been omitted from our Annual Financial Statements by the CFO. The MM, who is also the Accounting Officer, signed off on those statements. The Auditor General queried the removal of those assets and was provided with false and/or misleading information regarding their status. We submitted a complaint to Deputy Mayor (“DM”) Tsengwa against MM Vatala in connection with this matter, as well as in connection with a tender that should have been awarded to a local company, but was unlawfully awarded to a company from out of town that had tendered a price R3 000 000.00 higher than the local company. CFO Memane was also implicated in the second complaint.
The Council resolved to charge MM Vatala in connection with our complaint, but it became apparent to us that the CFO was not being investigated. On the 21st of May we therefore submitted our complaints against the CFO to AMM Gratz and DM Tsengwa. Our first two complaints were identical to the complaint against suspended MM Vatala, and two additional complaints relating to tenders were added.
On the 27th of May 2020, the day before the Council meeting, we received a letter from DM Tsengwa advising us that they needed more information relating to our complaint and that it would not serve before Council the following day. Although our complaint had been submitted in exactly the same format as our complaint against MM Vatala, DM Tsengwa requested a resolution, a signature and a date on the complaint.
At the Council meeting on 28 May 2020, Council was informed that our complaint would serve before the next Council meeting, as long as we provided the requested information. At the close of the meeting, Acting MM Gratz, CFO Memane and Councillor Peter J. Myers all resigned.
We will not engage in speculation here as to the reasons for those resignations. Our actions, as set out in this brief memo, speak for themselves.

KNYSNA MUNICIPAL PLANNING TRIBUNAL

A Special Council meeting had been set down for 14 May 2020. Although there was an item on the agenda relating to the Planning Tribunal, there was no content. The Planning Tribunal hears all disputed development applications and the competence and integrity of the members is of considerable importance to Knysna’s residents and ratepayers.
The report from the Acting MM was only published the day before the meeting. The report proposed the appointment of both the external and internal members, but no information concerning their knowledge or experience of land use planning was provided.
We requested an opportunity to make submissions to council regarding the proposed members, but never received a response to our request.
We learned that all the members had been appointed during a Council meeting that we could not follow because arrangements had not yet been made to permit members of the public to observe and listen to virtual Council meetings in real time.
Whilst we have no concerns about the external members who were appointed, we have no information about two of the internal members, and serious concerns about one of the internal members. We therefore formally requested reasons for the decision as well as access to information relating to the process that was carried out.
Due to our concerns about the internal members, we further requested the municipality to agree to mediation once we had received the information and asked Acting MM Gratz to refrain at this point from publishing the names of the members in the Government Gazette, in order to avoid fruitless and wasteful expenditure should the membership of the tribunal be altered following the mediation process.
This morning we received a letter from DM Tsengwa stating that:
“[T]he complaint against the CFO will definitely be submitted to Council as soon as my office has received a response to our letter dated 27 May 2020. I have already informed the office of the Speaker that we may require a Special Council meeting to consider same. I reiterate my previous advices that any complaint of financial misconduct is extremely serious in nature and I assure you that same will receive the required attention.”

The Committee

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