People who peddle clichés like to say that a fish rots from the head down. Why this should be so is never explained, but too bad. The metaphor serves us well enough when we consider how Bitou is faring.
Peter Lobese, our Executive Mayor is at the head of the municipality. He is no mere figurehead, but effectively the CEO of Bitou. If the municipality is rotten, he is the person ultimately responsible, not just as the captain of the municipal ship, but also to the extent that he, personally, can be condemned for setting a bad example.
Does he? The forensic report says he does. In fact, it says that he should be disciplined for misconduct and criminal charges should be pressed against him.
The evidence against him is that he manipulated Grant-in-Aid, which are supposed to subsidize non-profit NGOs, so as to favour people close to him or to line the pockets of his political party, the AUF, or both. Established procedures were ignored as he distributed this money in the manner of a mythical king tossing coins out of his carriage to the gawping peasants lining the road.
Sitting in his office with the Manager in his office, he would unilaterally decide who the recipients of the grants should be. Before him would be applications on the prescribed form but invariably short of the prerequisite information.
- Included among the beneficiaries was a crèche run by LeigheAnne Kramer, wife of a senior official in the mayoral office, who placed her marital status beyond official scrutiny by replacing her name on the form with the one she had before she married.
- Another, it seems, is Phakamile Sebezo, who is the Senior Human Resource Officer within the Municipality and owner of a company contracted to provide training within its organization. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, this budding entrepreneur is ubiquitous within our town but, when sought for questioning, could never be located.
Having compiled his schedule – R50K here, R150K there – the Mayor would convene an ‘awards ceremony’ to which the eager applicants were invited. Sometimes they would get what they were allocated; sometimes more would be allocated than received (for instance, R20K was allocated but nearly R200K was actually paid); but often the amount received was less.
A clue to the ultimate destination of the unaccounted cash is be found in the evidence of the Kramers. They say they received R100 000 but were forced to kick-back R65 000 to the AUF. An ‘unknown person from the Bitou Municipality’ called to say the money should be withdrawn in cash from the bank account, and in due course he came round to collect it. If what the Kramers say is true, the discrepancies that are widespread can be explained on this basis.
When money was actually received, the Mayor made no effort to ensure it was properly used. In fact, it rarely was. A sum of R50K was given to the Kamvalethu Development Project that was immediately distributed among its 56 members who, inexplicably, all bought rain suits and rain boots with the largesse. An amount of R350K was given to the Bitou Early Childhood Development Forum, a grouping of creches. Just short of R10K was distributed to a few members, a few ‘large transactions were made for goods purchased from Game and Mambo’s’ and the records show that several large cash withdrawals were made totalling nearly R150K. (What happened to the balance is unclear, but see above.)
The conclusion of the forensic auditors? Peter Lobese ‘abused his position as Executive Mayor to strengthen his political party, the AUF. Grant-in-Aid funds were merely handed out to members of the public, without being legitimate non-profit organisations. In addition, the Office of the Executive Mayor assisted members of the public to register organisations to enable them to apply for Grant-in-Aid.The auditors recommend disciplinary action against Peter Lobese and his accomplices. In addition, they say, charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering should be pressed.