Raiding the municipal piggy bank

Our shiny new president is so far proving a much safer bet than the previous model, which was about as trustworthy as a Ford Kuga on a hot day. Jacob Zuma’s tendency to burst into song rather than flames disappointed many South Africans over the years.
This week, Squirrel Ramaphosa announced in parliament that he would be donating half his salary to a fund managed by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. People who are too mean to even tip car guards are asking why only half. Why not his entire salary. Be reasonable. The man has a net worth of R6.4-billion. That’s pathetic compared to Nicky Oppenheimer’s R92-billion.
In other happy news, cadre deployment has proved to be a massive success as councillors and mayors around the country outdo themselves once again. Two years ago, irregular expenditure by municipalities increased by over 50% to R16-billion. However, rising to the challenge in the last financial year, they managed to boost irregular expenditure by an impressive 75%. They probably had outside assistance, but still, it couldn’t have been easy. You don’t just squander and loot that much money overnight. It takes … well, it takes a year, apparently.
I remember having friends who worked for the Durban municipality. While it was nothing to be terribly proud of, it wasn’t anything to be deeply ashamed of either. It was a way to earn beer money and stay out of trouble during the day. None of them ever rocked up at the jol in a new Ferrari or went from living in a bachelor flat to a five-bedroomed house overnight. I’m sure there was corruption at the municipality back then, but none of my mates ever benefitted from it. Too honest? Too stupid? Hard to say.
Come 2018 and auditor-general Kimi Makwetu says in the past year there’s been R28-billion in irregular expenditure among the 257 municipalities assessed by his office. Few people reading this will be able to grasp the concept of R28-billion. Think of it this way – for that kind of money, you’d be able to fill 400 swimming pools with Johnnie Walker Black. That’s enough to keep every man, woman and child drunk for three straight months.
Every year for the last five years the auditor-general has called a press conference and begged municipalities to take action. And every year they take this as a challenge to squander and steal even more money than they did the previous year.
The Eastern Cape, that glittering jewel in the provincial firmament, once again did the expected and walked away with R13.5-billion of the total amount wasted. That’s a solid 35% of the province’s budget. Taking the individual title was the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, incurring an impressive R8.1-billion in irregular expenditure. Another Eastern Cape municipality‚ OR Tambo District, put in a sterling effort but had to settle for second best with R3-billion wasted, lost and stolen.
Fifteen Eastern Cape municipalities are in “distress”, whatever that means. I get distressed if I run out of beer on a Sunday. Eighty municipalities in the Free State are on the brink of collapse. Me too, if I get to the shebeen before it closes.
Third to ninth positions on the roll of dishonour were filled by the city of Tshwane, the hellholes of Rustenburg and Ngaka Modiri Molema District in the North West, the eternally appalling Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Buffalo City Metro and the scintillating metropolis of Madibeng.
Rounding out the list of most not-wanted municipalities and squeaking into the top ten was tiny Moretele in the North West province, punching above its weight with a cheeky R557-million worth of irregular expenditure.
All ten have made the list for the last three years running. If employees had shown that kind of commitment and dedication in their day jobs, who knows … ah, hell. What’s the point.
Meanwhile, refusing to be outdone, not a single municipality in the Free State, North West and Limpopo received a clean audit. Not one. It was probably orchestrated. That way nobody could be held up as a shining example to the others. No one likes a shining example. It just makes the rest of us look bad.
Standing upwind from the others, awkwardly shuffling their shiny goody two-shoes and trying not to look overly righteous, are the 33 municipalities that got clean audits. Coming as a surprise to exactly nobody, most of them are in the Western Cape. The other 224 rotting municipalities remain curled up in the foetal position whimpering, “Go away. It wasn’t me.”
Here’s another fun fact. Almost two out of three municipalities filed financial statements and performance reports so unintelligible and flawed that they might as well have been written in Aramaic on Wimpy serviettes.
And two out of three municipalities are dysfunctional while 87 need “urgent intervention”. They also need bigger cars, more overseas travel and better quality chicken wings, but time is money and both are running out fast.
The auditor-general must loathe his job. Every year since 2013 he gets up and repeats the same sad story and issues the same old warnings and taxpayers murmur and mutter darkly while the minister du jour says something really must be done and that’s it for another year.
Makwetu said that in 2015/16, 61% of municipalities made no attempt to even investigate his reports of wholesale malfeasance and mayhem. I’m not especially surprised by this. If my mates were robbing the company and giving me a cut and someone came along and said something’s not right and asked me to look into it, I’d stare him in the eye, shake his hand firmly and, once he’d gone, get the lads around to my house for a whiskey and tell them to step up the pace.
Makwetu also said the “audit environment” in which teams had to work had become more hostile. Yes, I expect it would in provinces where whistle-blowers and political adversaries are routinely found in remote areas suffering from an unexpected shortness of life.
Meanwhile, my hometown Durban took Worst Transgressor honours in the dodgy tender department after it was found that eThekwini municipality had awarded contracts to 377 fraudulent suppliers. This, compared to Johannesburg’s 80 and Cape Town’s paltry 68.
The audit was interrupted when the auditor-general’s team received death threats from someone who has clearly been using the supply chain department as his private ATM.
This is why I love Durban. There’s no beating around the bush, and god knows there’s plenty of bush and no shortage of beatings. But we don’t just kill people if we don’t like what they’re doing. We’re not animals, you know. We threaten to kill them first. It’s the Christian thing to do. If they don’t listen, then we kill them. Fair play to us, mate.
Durban mayor Zandile Gumede said the city was committed to clean governance and promised to find out who has been threatening who with what. Two days later, Gumede declined to comment on reports that the Hawks are investigating her for fraud, corruption and money laundering.
Thuma mina. With a baseball bat.
breakingthebank

Dirty, rotten scoundrels

Lying is the new truth. Girls are the new boys. Dogs are the new cats. It occurs to me that I can write any gibberish and get away with it because nobody can tell the difference or perhaps even gives a damn.
This past week, Eskom’s dissembling chair Dr Ben Ngubane and our ethically flaccid myrmidon of an energy minister appeared before a parliamentary committee and performed the foxtrot, waltz, tango and samba – all from a sitting position. The room was awash in sophistry and subterfuge when Ngubane lifted his hands like some kind of wounded messiah. “Give us the benefit of the doubt,” he wheedled. The longest of shots with nary a blush in sight.
What does this man have a doctorate in? Audacity? Shamelessness? Was he genuinely impervious to the cloying stench of doubt that pervaded the room, let alone the country, or does he simply think we’re all complete idiots? Like most wannabe messiahs, a bit of both, I expect.
Meanwhile, above the rattle and hum of overheated shredding machines at Megatwatt Park, liquidators appointed to wind up a mining company owned by Ngubane and his wife Sheila are proceeding with a court application in which they accuse the couple of using fake documents to personally lay claim to the lucrative mining rights.
A little more of that yummy benefit, sir? Perhaps drizzled in dashed expectations with a splash of misplaced trust?
I feel ill. Let’s move on to matters marginally less nauseating but equally repellent. The tripartite alliance, once hailed as the great unifier of workers, socialists and the exploited – everyone apart from white people, in other words – has almost overnight been reduced to the ANC standing bewildered in the middle of the ballroom wondering where its dancing partners have gone.
Cosatu has made it clear to President Jacob Zuma that he should stop checking his in-box for invitations to their insurrectionist soirees. The Communist Party, clinging to the teachings of some of history’s most impressive mass murderers, moves upwind whenever Zuma’s name is mentioned. The churches have Elysium-mailed a photo of the president to St Peter so that he can stick it up on the Pearly Gates in the event that Zuma, post mortem, manages to bribe his way out of hell. The veterans and stalwarts are rattling their Zimmer frames. The deputy president thinks we’re becoming a mafia state and wants a judicial commission of inquiry. And the general populace, among whom I reluctantly count myself, can do nothing more than shake its head and order another round.
The ANC says the confederacy of dunces formerly known as the tripartite alliance “is founded on a common commitment to the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution”. Right now I don’t have the energy to research these so-called objectives. Quite frankly, I’m struggling to make it to the fridge and back. I imagine, though, that they don’t involve selling the country to a sprawling family of robber barons from Uttar Pradesh.
Political analysts keep saying that Zuma is against the ropes. That this or the other latest scandal is the one which will bring him to his knees. But it never happens. A long time ago, when he ditched all pretense at being an honourable man, Zuma adopted what’s known in legal circles as the Stalingrad defence. Here’s the definition.
“This is a strategy of wearing down the plaintiff by tenaciously fighting anything the plaintiff presents by whatever means possible and appealing every ruling favourable to the plaintiff. Here, the defendant does not present a meritorious case. This tactic or strategy is named for the Russian city besieged by the Germans in World War II.”
As we all know, or, in my case, as I’ve just learnt, the Nazis got their arses handed to them in a battle that lasted just over five months. Today the city is known as Volgograd.
In South Africa, where Bolsheviks and Nazis shop side by side in Woolworths, the forces of democracy are bravely fighting the Battle of State Capture. One day, Zuma’s name, like that of Stalingrad, might also be changed. My personal preference is inmate #1/9/2017.
The ANC’s national executive committee is meeting as we speak. Well, as you speak. I live alone and don’t speak much at all. I’m just sitting here on a broken chair hoping that I can finish this column before the beer runs out.
The NEC is a big organ with lots of members. And while Zuma has lots of organs and a big member, the NEC has the power to end his career as commander-in-thief. They did it before to Thabo Mbeki. In terms of ethics and morality, Mbeki was like Jesus compared to Zuma.
Thing is, experts say, not that we can believe a word anyone says any more, that Zuma has the support of at least 60% of the NEC. These are the patriots who saved his Teflon-coated skin in November last year. According to the ANC’s website, which I eventually managed to access after threatening to take Telkom to the International Court of Justice, the NEC has 107 members, 21 of whom are ex-officio members. I don’t know what that means. Maybe they have to bring their own lunch. Among them are cabinet ministers and members of parliament, all of whom are going to have to vote in an upcoming motion of no confidence in the president. Unless, of course, the NEC does the right thing this weekend.
The party’s incomprehensible secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, says that voting against the president would be a betrayal of the ANC and that the party needs to deal with its problems internally. There we go, then. The old organised conspiracy theorist subculture. The illness, if it even exists, will be treated from within. Vaccinations cause disease. Blood transfusions and medical treatment are the work of the devil. Christian Scientists. Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Amish. Scientologists. The ANC.
Brazil has the Zika virus. We have the Zuma virus. What a time to be alive. Or, if this carries on for much longer, dead.