“We find no evidence to support the allegations of misconduct by the Municipal Manager, Coenie Groenewald, but in the interest of openness and transparency, and in the event that we may have overlooked anything, we recommend the appointment of a special investigator within 7 days, who will report back to the Mayor within 30 days.”
This was the unanimous recommendation by all political parties at a special council meeting held on Monday afternoon, 9 March after an official complaint of misconduct was brought against Groenewald by resident Anton Kruger on 5 March. Kruger is the administrator of several public participation sites on Facebook and a member of a group calling itself LiberTAS (Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability).
According to the complaint, in accordance with the municipality’s Unauthorised, Irregular or Fruitless and Wasteful Expenditure Policy, it is alleged that Groenewald “demonstrated poor judgement” in awarding a turnkey property development tender to the value of R600 million to construction group Asla Devco, after the tender had initially been awarded to M5 Developments by the municipality’s Tender Adjudication Committee in 2007.
The complaint further states that ratepayers’ money was spent wastefully in defending this decision in the ensuing court cases in both the Cape High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal, both of whom found against the decision made by Groenewald to award the tender to Asla. In addition, LiberTAS argues that the appeal emphasised “how bad Groenewald’s judgement was” and that it was only done to “clear his name” at the expense of ratepayers.
The group further states in its complaint that it wants to know how much money was spent on legal fees and demands that Groenewald should reimburse the municipality.
In a statement that served before council, Groenewald said that after the tender had been awarded to M5, he found errors in the points awarded to both M5 and Asla in terms of the tender. When these were discovered he sought legal advice from senior council. The advice from Adv Eduard Fagan (SC), in short, stated that both companies should be made aware of the errors and each should be given the opportunity to make written representations regarding the findings. He also recommended that the scoring should be changed and that the tender should be awarded to Asla.
Subsequent to Groenewald following the legal advice and awarding the tender to Asla, M5 proceeded with High Court action against the municipality to set aside the reallocation of the tender. In his judgement, Judge J le Grange found that the correction of the alleged scoring errors and the reallocation of the tender were “misconceived”. He ordered that the reallocation be set aside and that the tender be awarded to M5.
After this judgement, the municipality took the case to the Supreme Court of Appeal where Judge LE Leach dismissed the appeal with costs. However, it transpired at Monday’s meeting that while the appeal was dismissed with costs, the municipality did not have to pay anything. “The appeal was made on the insistence of Asla and they undertook to pay all the legal costs, which they have duly done,” Mayor Dudley Coetzee said in the council meeting.
On behalf of the DA, he confirmed that “We have found no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of the municipal manager, who acted upon the legal advice he’d received.”