Several recent arrests of municipal managers in Mpumalanga, and one each in Limpopo and the Free State, indicate that the Hawks are taking their anti-corruption campaign to the local level.
In August, the Hawks announced that it had 22 000 cases worth R1.5 trillion under investigation.
While most of these are high profile, regional branches of the Hawks are investigating smaller cases of corruption that might otherwise not make the headlines.
Nelspruit’s Serious Commercial Crime Investigation (SCCI) unit arrested former Nkomazi municipal manager Muzi Daniel Ngwenya for fraud, theft and contravening the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) on 28 October.
He is alleged to have purchased a R900 000 Mercedes-Benz from a dealership in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, using municipality funds.
According to a statement released by the Hawks in Mpumalanga, he is reported to have registered the vehicle in his name.
Ngwenya, who says his arrest is political, was previously visited by the Hawks for allegedly spending R27 million in municipal funds on Covid-related issues – without following procurement processes, according to City Press.
Ngwenya appeared before the Tonga Magistrates’ Court on 28 October and was granted R10 000 bail. The case was postponed to 25 January 2023 for further investigation.
Another one …
Also in Mpumalanga, the former municipal manager of Dr JS Moroka Local Municipality, Nelson Kubheka, appeared before Siyabuswa Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday this week, after being arrested by the Middelburg-based SCCI for fraud, theft and contravention of the MFMA.
Kubheka is accused of approving the appointment of service providers at the municipality, even though the bid adjudication committee declared the appointment irregular “as it did not comply with supply chain management policy and the Constitution,” according to a statement from the Hawks.
“It is alleged that when appointments were approved, the accused referred to a non-existent meeting, and further utilised the security services of the municipality for his own benefit.”
Kubheka was released on R10 000 bail and warned to appear before the Middelburg Commercial Crime Court in February next year.
From financial crime to kidnapping
A more troubling case is that of the kidnapping of Nkangala District Municipal Manager Margaret Skosana and her driver Gugu Mtsweni, who were bundled into a vehicle at the Nkangala municipality gate in October and driven to Diepsloot in Gauteng, where they were held for a week before being released on the N14.
What was originally thought to have been a random criminal act may have had a more sinister motive, as Skosana had her laptop stolen in August, leading to suspicions that she was targeted because of her work at the municipality.
The kidnappers impersonated police officers, and told Skosana, who is wheelchair-bound, that she was under arrest. When she refused to move, one of the kidnappers pointed a rifle at her and demanded she get into their car.
They later demanded her bank cards and PINs, but there are suspicions that the real motive was work-related. Security at the municipality has since been tightened.
The list continues …
Adding to the lengthening list of Mpumalanga officials accused of corruption, Theron Zwelishe Shongwe and Thusi Hezekiel Kubheka, both formerly municipal managers at Msukaligwa Local Municipality, were arrested by the Hawks in August for allegedly selling municipal property.
“It is alleged that between 2014 and 2018, the former municipality officials contravened the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act] by selling and exchanging the property belonging to the municipality which included the reservoir and the water pump which are meant to serve the basic needs of the community,” said Hawks spokesperson Captain Dineo Lucy Sekgotodi according to the SA Government News Agency.
The number of municipalities in financial distress, according to the 13 indicators used by National Treasury, has risen from 86 in 2013/14 to 175 in 2019/20 – and 123 municipalities passed unfunded budgets, according to National Treasury’s 2022 Budget Review.
This financial distress is despite an increase in revenue, suggesting that “high costs of key inputs or poor spending management” are to blame, according to the review.
While much of the anti-corruption focus has been on public sector players and their private sector partners, the latest arrests suggest the crime busters are taking the fight to the municipal level with increased vigour.