Knysna municipal manager Grant Easton (left) addresses the media on Monday at a conference to address the issues surrounding the ISDF. Next to him is executive mayor Georlene Wolmarans and communications manager Christopher Bezuidenhout. Photo: Christo Vermaak.
KNYSNA NEWS - "The content of the ISDF (Integrated Strategic Development Framework) I don't think was understood. I think people regarded this as the blueprint for the future. It is the blueprint for the future. But it's a blueprint which is controlled by council."
These were the words of Knysna's municipal manager Grant Easton at a press conference on Monday, December 7 to give clarity on the municipality's responsibility regarding the ISDF.
The press conference this week followed a November 2014 report by Anton Bredell, the Western Cape Minister of Local Government, on the assessment of the process for the ISDF tender, which once again came into the spotlight after being posted on social media and also on "Blogged" in a provincial newspaper last week, both articles of which were published without comment from the municipality.
Bredell's report became public after Susan Campbell, a Knysna Ratepayer Association legal adviser asked the assistance of the public protector to obtain it, on July 16, 2015.
At Monday's meeting, Knysna executive mayor Georlene Wolmarans, executive deputy mayor Esme Edge, communications manager Christopher Bezuidenhout and Easton took the floor to answer questions on the ISDF issue with complete transparency.
This was the first media conference so far on the ISDF, the issues surrounding the whole process and its credibility. Notably provincial papers writing about it did not attend.
Opening the session Bezuidenhout said: "We read on social media one-sided biased columnist perception on what the ISDF is or should be, or the processes that were followed with the tender allocation and so forward. As in government we will always have criticism. We won't be able to please everybody, ever. But when the mayor goes up on stage and speaks about receiving a clean audit for a third consecutive year it's proof that this municipality doesn't just talk – they live it, they do it," he said.
"If a DA-led municipality like this one talks about openness and transparency, that is exactly what we are. That doesn't mean to say everything is always right, but 99% of the time we are a good performing municipality compared to other municipalities in the country. We want to talk about the ISDF so that we can get clarity once and for all on this matter."
Wolmarans then took the floor and when questioned about one of the contentious issues about this tender being awarded to the second highest bidder, Knysna Creative Heads owned by well-known Knysna property developer Chris Mulder, Wolmarans explained councillors were not allowed to be part of any supply chain issues. "We were at no stage involved in the awarding of this tender. According to legislation we are barred from that," she said.
Reacting to queries about Mulder's wife Pat being in charge of the public participation process that followed after the tender was awarded, and Mulder's direct ties with PG Bison, the largest private property owner in Knysna, Easton said: "This is a very small town. That is the fact of life. There are linkages everywhere. Every builder, every developer and everything else in this town is linked with somebody else. So there is a reality, we have to accept that fact. Ms Mulder is actually qualified in her own right, so there is not an issue if she is qualified for the job. She was qualified for the job."
Easton did, however, tell the media Pat Mulder would not be involved in the next phase of public participation.
On allegations that Wolmarans was hiding information containing irregularities surrounding the ISDF report, the mayor said: "We are awaiting the final outcome, but today is about the provincial report. I wrote to MEC Bredell and haven't received any formal response. That's why I keep on saying we haven't received any formal response yet," she said.
"I’m very concerned about all this going around on social media. I believe it works both ways. If an allegation is made against somebody, then the media must ask for that person's response as well. In the case of the responsible media [last week's news reports] that isn't what happened at all. They didn't communicate to the municipality to ask our side."
Easton continued: "The ISDF will be in the drop boxes of all the municipal community services members late tomorrow [Tuesday, December 8]".
"What you have in front of you is the letter from the public protector to Ms Campbell. Ms Campbell specifically tasked the public protector to get a copy of the provincial government report on the ISDF. The Auditor General looked at the report after the tender was awarded. They came back the second year and looked at it in far more detail. We've had three clean audits in a row, two of which included the auditing of the ISDF."
He explained the mayor specifically requested "province" ( the Western Cape government) to come in and take a look at this tender.
"We even disclosed it in our financial statements on a basis that it could be an irregular expenditure – and I use the word 'could', because on the basis of the preferential procurement policy, it's something we've taken up with national treasury," Easton explained.
"The facts are: the Auditor General is comfortable, and province has not issued a formal finding report. They basically said: 'This is what we said, this is what Knysna said and it would be prejudiced if you don't read them both together'. Unfortunately what is happening now in the media at this time ... well, let's not call them the media ... they are being treated as prejudicial. What we are getting is the one side of the issue. I’m usually quite brutal with these kind of things, because if you're telling a half truth you're also telling a half lie."
"The Auditor General is quite comfortable with where we are with this. The ISDF report will be released sometime this week and it will then go into public participation sometime in the media. That is where we are."
Easton gave the assurance that neither the council nor the municipality outsourced the future of Knysna to Mulder. "All we have done is we've put together a plan with them as to where this municipality is going. There are no funny issues going on, regardless of what some people think.
"We did a very good process. Some people may not like it, but that is the reality. Some people fought this thing. In a day's time you’re getting an ISDF, which then is going to become thrown a bin, because people don't want to read it, or it's going to become a very useful planning tool," Easton said.
"It's a massive amount of details and documents going in there and there are a whole bunch of projects to come out of it in different ways, some of which are already implemented by council, like the wifi tender and the Absa development in Hornlee.
"There is some really good thinking that have gone into this. It's a framework, it's not prescriptive; it never has been. In vision it was the first 30-year plan," he said.
On a recommendation from Bredell that a payment of R498 560 to Mulder's company CMAI ought to be investigated because he viewed it as a payment made prior to signing the contract on July17, 2013, Easton said: "Payments were made and all the invoices are public. The payments were made after the tender was awarded. Call it an unfortunate misunderstanding. Province did not understand what was happening."
At the meeting the media were given copies of the documents as well as invoices in full disclosure.
On concerns over the urban edge, where it would end and how it would be confined, Easton said: "This is a framework. This is not a plan. Council at all stages is the final authority. Council cannot sell land off the top of its own head. There is a whole bunch of draft and legislation. We stick to the legislation. Council doesn't have any land. This is the remarkable thing. The only land we have got is a forest. It's not for sale. It's going to be there for conservation. We are governed by what SANParks does and agrees to."
Bezuidenhout closed the meeting by saying: "To summarise in a nutshell the ISDF tender, it is the council's long-term strategic plan for the next 30 years. There are unfortunate comments from certain sectors within the community, some people who suffer from the Nimby [not in my backyard] syndrome and do not foresee a better future for Knysna."
ARTICLE AND PHOTO: CHRISTO VERMAAK, KNYSNA-PLETT HERALD NEWS EDITOR
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