POLITICAL NEWS - The City of Tshwane’s DA mayor, Solly Msimanga, resigned from office on Friday, saying he wants to focus on his role as the party’s candidate for the Gauteng premiership in the upcoming national and provincial elections.
Msimanga has been leading a multi-party government in the City of Tshwane since 2016. In the municipal elections that year, no party secured a majority and the DA at national level came to an agreement with the United Democratic Movement (UDM), Congress of the People (Cope), Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) at that stage said it would vote with the DA permitted the budget is pro-poor.
That the role of the EFF as kingmaker was crucial would become very clear.
In Tshwane the DA moved into government and expectations were high. Top of the agenda was the irregular smart meter contract with PEU Capital Partners that was central in the DA’s pre-election criticism of the ANC. Even the ANC earlier admitted that it was unaffordable at about R4 million per day.
Moneyweb reported last week that the DA-led city is still merrily paying PEU millions every day, despite a court order in October last year clearing the way for the city to show the supplier the door and stop the financial haemorrhaging.
This the party blamed on the administration. It has in fact increasingly tried to distance itself from the administration as questionable decisions have come to light, saying councillors are not allowed to get involved in the administration.
Party leaders further often voice frustration with unresponsive officials whom they consider to be ANC deployees and are in their view sabotaging the DA-led city government.
Msimanga and Dr Moeketsi Mosola, the city manager he appointed, are at loggerheads. Mosola had political ties with Agang SA and no local government experience when he took the position.
Msimanga has since tried to suspend Mosola from his role in the irregular GladAfrica tender, but the ANC and EFF joined forces in the Tshwane council to block this suspension. Generally speaking, it is the responsibility of the municipal council as the employer to ensure that the city manager complies with his contractual obligations and other applicable legal duties.
It seems however that the DA-led city government is at the mercy of the EFF and powerless to root out corruption and maladministration among ANC-aligned officials.
‘Not without recourse’
University of Pretoria public law professor Bernard Bekink says that while the city manager, in terms of local government legislation, has overall accountability for the administration and any decision to hold him to account resides with the council in accordance with his employment contract, the DA is not without recourse where it seems political meddling may be preventing it from holding its city manager to account.
If Mosola acts unlawfully by doing something in contravention of the law or his employment contract, the mayor, his party or any other person or entity with an interest could, for example, approach a court for an order to stop such conduct.
He says that while a court would not normally interfere in the political sphere it could set aside the decision of the Tshwane council not to suspend Mosola if that decision is found to be irrational. The decision would then be remitted back to the council.
The DA has been quick to run to court in so many instances, yet in Tshwane it seems to be paralysed.
Bekink says that if the administration is not functioning properly, there is in fact an obligation for the DA to intervene, or risk intervention by the ANC-led provincial or national government.
Political analyst Professor Steven Friedman says it was curious that the EFF supported the DA to get into government in Tshwane and Johannesburg, without getting anything in return.
He adds that it has however become clear that the EFF in Johannesburg and Pretoria gave support to DA minorities because it got control of tender processes.
He points out that the DA in Tshwane can of course act against Mosola and the administration, but it cannot do so and remain in power at the same time.
It is problematic if the agreements among minority parties are not transparent to voters, Friedman says. It could result in a situation where the electorate does not get better service because of such agreements, which are more about dividing the cake.
Friedman says there is an impression that a DA government necessarily comes with more efficiency, but the 95% of voters in metropolitan suburbs who vote for the DA could become disillusioned as the DA loses credibility.
They will however keep on voting DA as they see no viable alternative.
The picture is clearly more complex than many people think. There isn’t only one good party and one bad party, Friedman says.
Why is the DA in Tshwane getting away with its failure to take accountability for the acts and omissions of its administration? Friedman says it is simple. There is just not enough pressure on the party to do so. “Politicians respond to pressure.”
It will be interesting to see if Mosola stays on. Or was there a deal for both to go?
The question for the DA’s Gauteng premiership candidate is how he will deal with a repeat of the Tshwane situation.
If no party gets a majority in the upcoming provincial election, will he get into bed with the EFF again? At what price? And will he take responsibility for an administration filled with ANC cadres?
Tshwane might come back to haunt him.
Following the publication of this article DA member of the Tshwane mayoral committee Cilliers Brink responded as follows:
Look at the scoreboard to see a DA difference in Tshwane
The respected Moneyweb reporter Antoinette Slabbert unfortunately gets way ahead of herself in reporting on DA governance in City of Tshwane. Her commentary confirms a media trend which should be called out: while the ANC is measured against failure, and the EFF against disaster, the DA’s performance is measure against perfection.
Let us start with the facts that Slabbert has failed to appreciate. The DA-led government in Tshwane has turned the R2 billion operating deficit we inherited from the ANC into a surplus.
We have used the resources of the municipality to fight unlawful tenders in Court, including the PEU smart meter scam. And under DA rule the City’s credit outlook has been upgraded from “negative” to “stable”.
This means the City can borrow more money, at lower rates, to build service infrastructure. Our financial recovery has also meant that we have been able to spend more money on repairing and maintain existing infrastructure; 21% more in this financial year to be precise. Just compare the R5 million spend by the ANC administration on fixing sinkholes in Centurion to the R25 million spent in the last financial year, and budgeted for this financial year.
Now let’s turn to more specific issues raised by Slabbert’s reporting.
Tshwane has not failed to implement the smart meter remedy
It started last week with a somewhat gratuitous piece in which she implies that the DA-led City government has failed to implement the Court order in the PEU smart meter case, and that it blames sabotage by officials, instead of taking responsibility. This is the case on which so much of our electoral mandate is based.
The City is not in breach of the Court order, and has not failed to do anything in extricating itself from the smart meter contract. The order allows the City to trigger a four-month transition period in which the PEU meters and system are replaced with those of the City. The City determines when it is ready to trigger the transition period. Doing so before the officialdom is ready could itself derail the whole project.
Yes, it would have been ideal if the transition period could have been triggered earlier. Much of the inefficiencies and irregularities which inherited from the ANC two years ago have not yet been fixed. Stepping into the chaos of a nearly bankrupt, almost broken municipal administration is tough. We have been very candid with Slabbert and other reporters about the challenges we face in Tshwane. Not because we cannot overcome them, but to manage expectations of instant results and oversight perfection.
No, the delays in the procurement process do not imply that the project to replace PEU meters and systems with those of the City are being sabotaged by ANC-aligned officials. Knowing Tshwane history, and what still needs to be done to overturn the ANC’s legacy, the Mayoral Committee is watching the tender process with an eagle eye. If we spot ANC-saboteurs, we will call them out.
There is a single tender that needs to be awarded for the City to feel confident about announcing the transition period. It is in the final stages of the tender process. But even if this tender had already been awarded, it would have been ill-advised for the City to trigger the four-month transition before the December-January construction holiday.
The outstanding tender is for the supply of electricity meters. MoneyWeb sources claim that because the tender does not provide for bulk discounts, and is instead based on unit prices, it points to defective specifications.
Two facts are perhaps not so self-evident. First, the tender is not for the supply of the same kind of meter, but different meters which offer different functionality. Second, the tender will be used to procure meters on an as-and-when basis, not only to replace the 12,900 PEU meters. Supply chain experts can surely debate whether this is sufficient grounds to specify unit prices, instead of bulk prices, but we do not think it points to an irregularity in the procurement process.
Holding the City Manager to account
Without waiting for our right of reply, Slabbert then penned her next piece on the DA in Tshwane, partly on the strength of the first one. “It seems”, she writes about the DA’s fight with the wholly recalcitrant City Manager Dr Moeketsi Mosola, “that the DA-led city government is at the mercy of the EFF and powerless to root out corruption and maladministration among ANC-aligned officials.”
Again, one must first set out the facts before commenting on them. Mayor Solly Msimanga reported his suspicion to Tshwane’s municipal council in September last year that Mosola had awarded an irregular tender to a so-called project management service provider called Glad Africa.
The information came from internal and external whistle blowers, and the Mayor recommended to the municipal council, the only body that can decide these matters, that Mosola be suspended pending a forensic investigation. The investigation was supported by the DA and the ANC, and went ahead. The suspension was blocked by the ANC and the EFF.
Mosola then obtained a labour court interdict against the investigation, claiming that the municipal council followed the wrong procedure in acting against him. The merits of the case are still to be heard, and one of Mosola’s deputies have since intervened in the case against Mosola.
To face down a powerful civil servant determined to use state resources to escape accountability, and to do you political harm, is messy and unpleasant. But in South Africa it is by no means unusual. Neither the DA nor our coalition partners in Tshwane have given up on holding Mosola to account. A second report into his alleged misconduct will serve at this month’s meeting of the municipal council.
Compare the Mosola case to how the ANC government in Tshwane treated Mosola’s predecessor, and the mastermind behind the PEU smart meter contract, Jason Ngobeni. His breach of supply chain management laws and regulations weren’t reported to Council, and the then ANC mayor defended Ngobeni as a loyal ANC cadre to the end. Imagine if Mosola had been City Manager under the ANC, and you will appreciate that the DA has made a difference in Tshwane.
Whether this suits the EFF or not is beside the point. It did not deter Solly Msimanga from executing his mandate, and it will not deter his successor as Mayor of Tshwane.