Love Knysna Petition: hearings

NCOP Petitions and Executive Undertakings

24 May 2017
Chairperson: Mr M Mhlanga (ANC, Mpumalanga)(Acting)
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Meeting Summary

Love Knysna Petition Report

Mr Mike Hampton brought a petition before the Portfolio Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings. This was an update to his original petition on alleged maladministration at Knysna Municipality. He provided a summary of his petition as well as an update that included new evidence and threats to his personal safety.

There was some discussion between Committee Members and the petitioner on the absence of representatives from Knysna Municipality and according to the petitioner, the municipality was given notice of the petition the same time as the Committee and the Office of the Public Protector (OPP).

In summary, the petitioner said that Knysna Tourism only existed due to a service level agreement (SLA) with Knysna Municipality which made it R4-6 million a year in revenue. This was a grant that never went through the grant committee and the money was misused with no one ever being held accountable. The municipality’s Integrated Strategic Development Framework (ISDF) was a 30-year plan for the town. The plan was however given to a person with the most questionable conflict of interest, a property developer, who never won the tender. It was only through rigorous activism and interventions with the aid of Ms Susan Campbell (witness, Love Knysna) that investigations were launched. There was an investigation by MEC Anton Bredell which despite noting irregularities with the issuance of the tender gave the go ahead. The investigation report was never handed over to the municipal manager.

The charges against Mr Grant Easton (Municipal Manager) included the ISDF tender, local premium from 11% to 25% used in tender evaluation which allowed local companies to get tenders they should not get and to circumvent Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) requirements. As a result, the town incurred R8 million in losses (in one year). The subsequent disciplinary proceeding against Mr Easton was not proper. Despite the complaints lodged against him, he walked away with two months’ worth of salaries, about R250 000 and an outstanding bonus.

Regarding the unconstitutional blocking of communication, Mr Hampton said he reached out to over 60 people, from the municipal councillors to Ms Helen Zille, Premier in the Western Cape, in an attempted to notify them of the hoax. Rather than lodging an investigation, Ms Zille wrote articles in newspapers in an attempt to discredit him to the public and suppress any of his complaints about the appointment of the Director of Communication. There were also subsequent propaganda and character assassination campaigns in the press by her, where he was depicted as a child abuser, a sociopath and the town’s economic saboteur in cohort with a third force.

Ms Susan Campbell, a witness to the petition, said on the ISDF tender, the municipality had spent more than the tender fees of R2.7 million on the consultants who are yet to finish the work or deliver any product. The contractor’s competence fell short of the requirements under the Preferential Procurement Regulations and should have never been awarded the tender. The municipality is currently budgeting to do the work that should have been finalised by the contracts. She found contradictions in the municipality’s responses in the prepared a summary of the 16 May 2016 meeting on the alleged award of the ISDF tender.

The Committee reiterated its mandate as an oversight body and its duty to ensure that any public funds invested into any entity was accounted for and was used for its dedicated purpose. The OPP should explain why it cannot go any further and investigate the implicated institutions. The Committee should interrogate the reports and submissions from the petitioner, the municipality and the treasury and find the true position.

Members said that the country needed whistle blowers and the Committee will work closely with Mr Hampton to make sure the perpetrators are brought to book. There was agreement that a clean audit did not mean clean governance and the Committee did not condone the intimidation of petitioners especially since the Disclosure Proclamation Bill was just passed. Every person was equal before the law and should be afforded equal protection.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks

The Chairperson apologised for the meeting starting late and welcomed the Office of the Public Protector (OPP). He noted that there were issues regarding the tourism board and the Integrated Strategic Development Framework (ISDF) among others that had been raised previously. The province had also highlighted issues that were to be responded to by the municipality and a task force had been formed to investigate on the issues, including the OPP. While the Committee was deliberating on the petition before submitting the report to the NCOP, new evidence arose and also issues regarding the intimidation of the petitioner. The present meeting was a continuation of the previous meeting and was to allow the petitioner to orally submit his new evidence before the Committee.

Mr M Monakedi (ANC, Limpopo) said that in the future, Members who intend to be absent should communicate with the Committee Secretary so that it was known in advance if the meetings will quorate.

The Chairperson noted that each and every member of the public has a right to petition Parliament. The Committee has a duty and responsibility to respond to the petitions and give the necessary reliefs sought. The mere fact that a petitioner petitions Parliament was evidence enough that the petitioner has exhausted all other avenues. Rule 103 of the Rules of Parliament and Section 69 of the Constitution bestowed upon the Committee the power to call upon any person to give evidence and testimony before the Committee. The Committee was therefore empowered to investigate any department or institution implicated in the petition. Even though Parliament was not an investigative body, it assisted those persons who feel that their grievances have not been adequately addressed by the relevant institutions. The Committee worked with the relevant institution and ensured that a resolution to the issues raised was made.

The members of the public approached the OPP with the hope that their grievances will be addressed since it has the mandate and the necessary resources. The chancellor and the province have already made their submissions to the Committee on the tourism board and the ISDF.

The province highlighted that it was in a position, together with the municipality to respond to the issues raised. A commission of inquiry was established to investigate the allegations raised. While a report was thereafter being formulated for the Committee to deliberate on and thereafter table it to Parliament, new evidence was discovered.

The petitioner had raised new evidence and had also expressed concerns regarding threats to his life and safety ever since he petitioned Parliament. Today’s meeting was for the hearing of the new evidence by Mr Mike Hampton.

Ms B Engelbrecht (DA, Gauteng) expressed her concern and displeasure on the 12 days short notice period the Knysna Municipality was given. The Committee cannot expect a municipality to appear before it with such short notice. The notice period should be at least a month for any petitioner or person who needed to appear before the Committee. Knysna Municipality, upon receiving notice of the petition 12 days ago, has written to the Committee several times requesting for postponement of the meeting. To date they have received no responses on the same to even acknowledge receipt of the correspondences. She requested that the Committee addressed this issue urgently.

The Chairperson said the issue raised was an internal matter and will be dealt with as such.

Ms G Manolope (ANC, Northern Cape): inquired whether there were any clarifications to be made on the issue raised before she gave input.

The Chairperson requested the Committee Secretary to brief the Committee regarding the late notices and the municipality’s correspondences.

The Committee Secretary confirmed that he communicated with the municipality and could provide copies of the communication to the Members if need be.

Ms Manolope said Parliament has the power to summon any one to appear before the Committee or Parliament to give evidence. The Committee had a backlog of petitions and when it has an opportunity to deal with the petition at hand and any person summoned failed to appear, undermined the functionality of the Committee. The petitioner has already exhausted all available avenues for redress but his efforts are now being frustrated by one arm of government by failing to appear before the Committee. This issue was common in all other committees as municipal leaders, especially those in Western Cape, who have been summoned but failed to appear. This and other internal Committee matters and should not be entertained in the gallery while stakeholders are present. She proposed that the issue raised and any other administrative issues could be solved among the Members of the committee, in camera.

Mr D Ximbi (ANC, Western Cape) said the Committee should be firm and take action against the municipality as it was not required to submit any documentation and it was the third time that the municipality had failed to appear.

The Chairperson said the Committee will deliberate on the municipality’s conduct after the meeting and make a resolution on the way forward. He requested that all stakeholders take up interest in the petition and assist in finding an informed solution.

Love Knysna Petition Report

Mr Mike Hampton, Petitioner, Love Knysna, said he had sent the Committee an update on his petition and he will be presenting on the summary of the update. The documents tendered to the Committee showed the threats he had received so far and the DA and Knysna Municipality’s maladministration. Comments relating to the absence of the municipality should not be in camera as it affected his petition. The municipality was given notice of the petition the same time as the Committee and the OPP. The municipality also has councilors and six directors and any one of them could have showed up for the meeting considering the fact that the special meeting on the budget was the following week.

He quoted a threat he had received from a DA councillor, Dr Martin Young, that stated that the petitioner should quit or else his life would be made miserable. He blamed Ms Helen Zille (Premier of the Western Cape) since he had brought the threats and other criminality under her attention while Dr Young was still a candidate. She ignored it and allowed him to be elected. The corruption of the municipality could be inferred from Mr Grant Easton failing to launch an investigation and subsequently subjected to a disciplinary hearing against him that cost the public R2 million.

Knysna Tourism only existed due to a service level agreement (SLA) with Knysna Municipality which made it R4-6 million a year in revenue. As a result, the town incurred R8 million in losses (in one year). This was a grant that never went through the grant committee and the money was misused with no one ever being held accountable. This issue was raised to Adv Bruce Wessels (investigator, OPP), but was not investigated despite having reasonable cause to do so.

The municipality’s ISDF was a 30-year plan for the town. The plan was however given to a person with the most questionable conflict of interest, a property developer, who never won the tender. It was only through rigorous activism and interventions with the aid of Ms Susan Campbell (witness, Love Knysna) that investigations were launched. There was an investigation by MEC Anton Bredell which despite noting irregularities with the issuance of the tender gave the go ahead. The investigation report was never handed over to the municipal manager.

There was always compromise in the appointment of the administrative members of the municipality and such people’s integrity was compromised. Despite the investigation report having not sufficiently addressed the cases of conflict of interest, this was still significant. Due to the administrative corruption in the whole of the Knysna administration there has been no earnest effort to confront it and the cases of conflict of interest have never been brought to the attention of the Knysna Council or investigated by the OPP.

Several complaints had been lodged to the municipal manager, the speaker, the mayor and the police but to no avail. However, Ms Campbell’s complaints regarding the same issues came at a moment of convenience. DA members were divided amongst themselves and used her complaints as their political ammunition amongst other factions of the DA in an effort to secure their election. The charges against Mr Easton included the ISDF tender, local premium from 11% to 25% used in tender evaluation which allowed local companies to get tenders they should not get and to circumvent Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) requirements. As a result, the town incurred R8 million in losses. He had also been charged with procuring two illegal loans of R19 million from ABSA Bank, having an inappropriate relationship with an employee in the department and having racial bias against Indians, specifically the budget manager. The private contractor who received the most work from the electrical department was the husband of the department’s manager. Mr Easton had full knowledge of this, but did not investigate it and instead, allowed it to continue until the time that the department manager had left for another job in the George municipality, also run by the DA.

There were other tender procurement irregularities where the winner was not the one granted the tender, the tender documents went missing and nobody was ever held accountable.

There was also a restaurant which despite having R1 million in electricity debt during December 2016 got prepaid electricity from the department that allowed them to continue business. Also, the Knysna Vehicle Testing Center, which had been closed for investigations, had cost the public R1.5 million in legal fees. It had accumulated to R3 million with no one being held accountable. Mr Easton, the municipal manager, cannot be the only one implicated in this corruption and should not be the only one who should be charged while there were others involved. The subsequent disciplinary proceeding against Mr Easton was not proper. Despite the complaints lodged against him, he walked away with two months’ worth of salaries, about R250 000 and a bonus.

Regarding the unconstitutional blocking of communication, Mr Hampton said he reached out to over 60 people, from the municipal councillors to Ms Zille in an attempted to notify them of the hoax. Rather than lodging an investigation, Ms Zille wrote articles in newspapers in an attempt to discredit him to the public and suppress any of his complaints about the appointment of the Director of Communication. There were also subsequent propaganda and character assassination campaigns in the press by her, where he was depicted as a child abuser, a sociopath and the town’s economic saboteur in cohort with a third force. The online websites, ‘Wicked Knysna’ and ‘Knysna News, which were dedicated to discrediting him, were determined to be operated by Dr Young, Mr Mark Allan and the deputy mayor. Mr Allan cannot, at this time, be held accountable as he has left the country and is presently in Thailand.

There was a conspiracy by the municipality’s leadership. Despite numerous complaints of alleged corruption being made at the Eden District Corruption Hotline, managed by KPMG, it has failed, in the last eight months, to follow up on any of the complaints made. It was either only established to identify the enemies of the DA or it was evidence of their general incompetence.

The newspapers work with the faction of the DA that discredited him and as such he was not allowed to make any fair comment regarding the same. The previous editor, Ms Ingrid Erlank, was fired after only eight months after she tried to do the right thing and pulled back the advertisements. Before she was fired, she was about to publish a story about corruption in Knysna Tourism. The story was pulled out and her whistle blower was intimidated by death threats. The Committee should investigate the relationship between the media, the municipal leadership and the contractors regarding the propaganda campaign.

On social media, Mr Hampton said he was banned from all the municipality’s online platforms, presumably on the authority of the “illegally appointed” Director of Communications. She was appointed on a three-month contract but was now in her third contract.

Challenging the municipality in court has proven to be a challenge as no lawyer would represent him. The only lawyer, who tried to represent him, approached him with a bribe that would have been financed from doing business with the municipality, which he refused. This resulted into the deterioration of his relationship with his advocate and causing him losing his case at the High Court and getting an interdict order issued against him. His advocate had misinformed him that the court case was over. He wrote an article about the case and this got him a 3-month suspended sentence. The DA has been trying to claim legitimacy of their assertions against him by using the fact that they had won against him. It was his strong belief that he was being discriminated and unfairly prejudiced by the magistrates in the courts. In example, one magistrate dismissed his affidavits and documentary evidence, because it was not in the correct format. Thereafter, the magistrate ruled that, because there were no affidavits, there was no evidence. The magistrates in many of the cases he was involved in, refused to acknowledge the political connections alleged and only referred to them in general terms.

The CEO of Knysna Tourism, despite being implicated in many corruption allegations, had him gagged by the court. The advocate who was involved in all the cases against him, failed to disclose to the court that she was a DA candidate, at the time with her own propaganda campaign website against him, got a protection order against him. Despite reporting the advocate to the Cape Bar Association, the chairperson of the Bar responded in defense of the advocate he was complaining about. It was clear that the Cape Bar Association had also been compromised and given the opportunity he would prove it.

There was an instance during a court in case concerning a fire fighter who has been hired as one of the Knysna Municipality leaders despite having previously tied a noose around a black cadet’s neck and made him crawl like a dog. According to a whistle blower, his appointment was through cronyism and as such, he should not have gotten any public leadership position considering his questionable background. While in court, during recess, the fire department’s chief made threats against him in a desperate effort to intimidate him not to proceed.

Despite all the corruption complaints made, the municipality has not launched any investigation into the complaints but has instead, resorted to suppressing and discrediting him to the local resident and business community. Any communication in response to the progress of the investigation by the OPP has been procured with great difficulty and reluctance from the OPP.

Ms Susan Campbell, a witness, Love Knysna, stated that she had not been invited to the Committee’s previous meeting when the municipality was present, in order to rebut their false statements. On the ISDF tender, the municipality had spent more than the tender fees of R2.7 million on the consultants who are yet to finish the work or deliver any product. The contractor’s competence fell short of the requirements under the Preferential Procurement Regulations and should have never been awarded the tender. The municipality is currently budgeting to do the work that should have been finalised by the contracts.

The Committee had prepared a summary of the 16 May 2016 meeting on the alleged award of the ISDF tender. Treasury had found that the municipality did not have a bid specification committee which the municipality denied. However, in 2016, Mr Easton, the municipal manager and Mr Kruger, the supply chain manager explained to the municipality that the reason she had appointed a consultant to do her work was because there was no bid specification committee at the time. This explanation was a direct contradiction to the explanations given to the Nation Treasury, with the true position being that the committee did not exist at the time.

The ISDF tender was not based on the Tender Procurement Regulations and would deliberately circumvent BEE regulations as well. This issue was raised to the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA) who only included it as a comment to the Municipality’s Annual Financial Statements. The municipality continued awarding tenders irregularly until the elections in 2016.

On the irregular appointment of Mr Dawie Adonis, Ms Campbell said in 2013 he was appointed the Director of Community Services by the Knysna Municipality. The position had been advertised as a 5-year contract and applicants had to have the relevant qualifications under the Municipal Systems Act. Adonis was given a permanent position despite the position advertised for a 5-year contract and did not have the necessary qualifications, in particular, a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 8 qualification which was an honours degree. He only had an NFQ5. Despite the irregularities in the appointment, since July 2013 the MEC has done nothing and has instead denied any knowledge of the illegal appointment. Mr Bredell had received complaints earlier this year, however, to date; nothing has been done despite the statutory period of 14 days having long expired.

Ms Suné Griessel, Provincial Representative: Western Cape, OPP, noted that the meeting provided a good opportunity for the OPP to explain its role and function and how they could be accessed by the public. She however stated that she would not be in a position to respond to some of the issues raised in the meeting. The OPP worked fairly and transparently in its investigations and any query lodged to Mr Gideon Landman was also sent to Mr Hampton. Mr Landman was the regional manager in George Municipality.

The OPP received many complaints from the public via Facebook, emails, letters and via telephone. It assessed the complaints and assimilates them to the provinces. Since her appointment in the Western Cape, Ms Griessel said she has not received any complaint from Mr Hampton and the only time she became aware of this issue was when she was requested for an update by the newspapers in July 2016. In the records, only one matter that was finalised in 2014 existed on record.  Any petitioner not satisfied with the investigation could approach the Head of the Western Cape OPP and apply for the reopening of the case.

Discussion

The Chairperson said the Committee was an oversight body and had the duty to ensure that any public funds invested into any entity iwas accounted for and was used for its dedicated purpose. The OPP should explain why it cannot go any further and investigate the implicated institutions. The Committee should interrogate the reports and submissions from the petitioner, the municipality and the treasury and find the true position.

Ms Campbell said the OPP was not investigating the ISDF tender and the municipality had the impression that the Committee meeting had been canceled and that was the reason why they were absent.

Chairperson stated that the issues raised by the petitioner overlapped to other institutions. The AGSA and Treasury had submitted documents to the Committee which should be interrogated. The Public Administration Commission should be engaged to check whether the public institutions implicated are discharging their duties as per their mandate.

Mr Monakedi said the Committee should not duplicate the functions of other institutions. The Committee should confine itself to the issues of maladministration in the municipality and not indulge on issues of a personal nature. The Committee should be concerned on service delivery of government institutions and not political party issues.

Mr J Mthethwa (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) thanked the complainant for his courage in coming forward. He inquired on why the complainant was hated and whether it was because he was exposing corruption or whether it was for other personal reasons. There was indeed maladministration considering the R2.7 million spent on consultants who were helping unqualified personnel. He noted that the country needed whistle blowers and the Committee will work closely with Mr Hampton to make sure the perpetrators are brought to book.

Mr Hampton said he cannot prove that Adv Wessels was under pressure by his former bosses, but he can provide records of his complaints forwarded to the OPP and to Adv Wessels. No one from the OPP has contacted him on the progress or the way forward. There was pervasive corruption on the part of the OPP. The intimidation tactics used was a direct example of abuse of power and it was only happening because he stepped forward and exposed their corruption. Political leaders implicated hated him because he was threatening their political existence and reputation. He had exhausted all avenues at the municipality and nobody has ever presented the issues raise to the Committee. There should be a forensic investigation into the municipality’s administration, a forensic audit on all the complaints he has made, especially his emails to Ms Zille. The AGSA should be questioned as to how the Knysna Municipality has been getting a clean audit despite all the allegations and their findings. Denying the existence of the problem was equivalent to denying the chance for solutions. There should also be an investigation by the South African Police Services (SAPS) into the Knysna SAPS and George branch of the Hawk’s failure with regards his cases, an audit on the Eden District hotline to determine the efficiency and impartiality and determine if there are other complainants who have been ignored. The OPP should also be engaged so as to establish whether there is enough being done with regard to the complaints made.

Ms Campbell agreed with the sentiments and said it was a miss representation to think that DA municipalities are of clean governance. Knysna was a microcosm of this country and a clean audit did not mean clean governance.

The Chairperson noted all stakeholders should take note that petitioners petitioning Parliament for their rights should not be intimidated. The Committee should not condone the intimidation of petitioners especially since they passed the Protected Disclosures Amendment Bill the previous week. Every person was equal before the law and should be afforded equal protection. Courts cannot have magistrates who have been compromised by political parties and thereby infringe on a litigant’s rights.

Due to time constraints the meeting was adjourned.

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