George mayor’s War on Waste raked in illicit profits for pals

DA initiates probe which reveals host of transgressions in Western Cape municipality – which NPA has ignored.

It reads like the plot of a crime novel; here we have a picturesque South African town nestling against the backdrop of a majestic mountain range, bordered by ancient yellowwood forests and endless white sandy beaches on the Indian Ocean. Yet this pleasant town conceals a dark underbelly of corruption, where the main accused is none other than the mayor – who denies any wrongdoing.
In true South African style, residents on both sides of the railway track (there really is one running through town) are incensed at the allegations, along with the thinly disguised racial friction, discrimination, BEE and its counterpart WMC.

Then the A-Team arrives in town and, without further ado, seizes the mayor’s phone and car tracking records. These reveal that the first citizen is not only a liar he is also corrupt. Obvious next question: is he a lone ranger? According to the script, no – but there are still a few more pages to be written.

Welcome to George Municipality where the Democratic Alliance has been trying for months to purge itself of fraud, theft, corruption, maladministration, malpractice, undue influence, nepotism, irregular appointments and inflated payments made to service providers.

The latest municipal project under scrutiny is War-on-Waste (WoW), which promised to provide employment through the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme.

The Hawks investigated WoW in 2018 and the results were handed to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) almost a year ago.

Executive Mayor of George, Melvin Naik and Trevor Botha

With no further action taken by the NPA, Western Cape MEC for Local Government Anton Bredell appointed forensic investigators Anthony Botha and Annelita Mentoor to conduct a further investigation.

Botha and Mentoor lined up more than 30 people for questioning, including municipal manager Trevor Botha; director of community services, Walter Hendricks; cleaning services manager Wessel Robertson; DA politician Jean Säfers and municipal employee Rowan Botha. Their main persons of interest, however, were the DA’s executive mayor Melvin Naik, and Myron Bruiners, a businessman based in neighbouring Mossel Bay.

Naik introduced WoW to the George town council as a so-called mayoral project in early 2017. His first step was to source BEE companies to fulfil the contract and then carefully select one that was allegedly willing to give him and his cronies a kickback share of the payment.

Enter councillor Jean Säfers; he reportedly introduced Bruiners to Naik at an after-hours meeting in the mayor’s office. Bruiners told the investigators that he and Naik held follow-up meetings at: the local strawberry farm; a private game lodge in Port Elizabeth; the Spur in Hartenbos; and at the Wimpy in George. These clandestine meetings would eventually link Bruiners and Naik by supplying compelling circumstantial evidence to support the allegations made against the mayor, the municipal manager, Trevor Botha, and municipal officials Hendricks and Robertson.

During their get-togethers, said Bruiners, Naik promised him a long-term contract without having to go through the legally required supply chain process. To justify this diversion, an emergency situation would be needed. Coincidently, at that very moment a bulldozer at the municipal landfill site broke down. And although a second one is said to have been available on site, the municipal officials obtained approval to procure a bulldozer from outside the George region.

Bruiners’s company, Mr Noodles CC (not a joke), was then verbally appointed to deliver the bulldozer on an emergency basis. The investigators later found this emergency situation to be “wholly misconstrued and incorrectly applied”.

Bruiners told the investigators that Naik had also advised him to form a new company, as there was much illegal dumping in George and the municipality needed to lease tipper trucks and excavators for the clean-up. The new company, Numocento (Pty) Ltd, was quickly registered but did not supply an address in George, which was a requirement.

Jean Säfers

Unperturbed by this small technicality the resourceful Naik reportedly arranged for Bruiners to use the George address of Rowan Botha, a Naik relative. But the favour came with a price tag of R100,000.
Sometime later Botha threatened to spill the beans after Bruiners only paid him R60,000. Once again Naik allegedly saved the day and covered the shortfall by arranging a job for Botha as the supervisor of the War-on-Waste project.

There was no service level agreement in place during the nine months that Mr Noodles and Numocento supplied the trucks and earth-moving equipment to the municipality – which was unable to provide any record that the services were in fact rendered. Yet the two companies were paid more than R9 million.

Bruiners told the investigators he had handed R19,000 to cleaning services manager Robertson and that Hendricks, director of community services, received furniture to the value of R20,000. Hendricks denied this while Robertson admitted that Bruiners paid him R19,000. Part of this amount apparently went to Robertson’s church.

Naik and municipal manager Trevor Botha allegedly received kickbacks of R600,000 each from Bruiners. Both men denied this during questioning by the forensic investigators.

Botha explained that his visits to Bruiners in Mossel Bay were in connection with inquiries regarding property investments in the area as well as discussions about other issues, while Naik told investigators that he had only met Bruiners for the first time after Mr Noodles started rendering services to the municipality. He also denied that Rowan Botha was a family member and that he had requested Bruiners to pay Botha for the use of his address in George.

This is where the irrefutable evidence of phone and car tracking records enter the story; the forensic report says the municipality allocated a Toyota Fortuner (registration number GRG WP) to Naik and that its tracking records show it spent hours at an address in Mossel Bay belonging to Bruiners, and at the Spur in Hartenbos, where Bruiners had said one of the meetings had taken place.

The records of Naik’s office phone showed that he had called Hendricks, Robertson and Säfers at the time when Mr Noodles was appointed and rendered services to the municipality.

The investigators came to the conclusion that bribes were indeed paid to Naik, Trevor Botha, Hendricks and Robertson and that it appears as if Naik also benefited from the proceeds of crime. It was recommended that they all pay back the money they received and that the more-than R9m payment made to Mr Noodles and Numocento must be recovered.

Trevor Botha was placed on precautionary suspension. (He has since been reinstated as municipal manager by the high court.) Naik was asked to resign but refused to step down, saying the allegations against him had not been proven in court. When the DA subsequently cancelled his membership, Naik approached the Western Cape High Court to obtain an interdict against the party. Trevor Botha followed suit.

DA George constituency head, Geordin Hill-Lewis told the George Herald that the party had expected Naik to follow the legal route but that would not change anything. “Our lawyers will defend any legal action from his side,” said Hill-Lewis.

The DA was much criticised by opposition parties who accused them of running a public relations campaign in the run-up to the 2021 elections.

Dawid Camfer of the Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa (Icosa) told the Oudtshoorn Courant that the DA was targeting coloured leaders, hoping to prove they are corrupt and not capable to lead.

Three DA councillors who voted with the opposition against suspending Botha – Edmund Bussack, Dawid Willemse and Belrina Cornelius – have also lost their party membership.

Myron Bruiners told the George Herald his conscience was clear about what he had stated on record.“I’m glad something happened, but I am not happy with the time that has elapsed.

“I believe there are also corrupt ministers for whom he does favours trying to protect Naik.”

Indeed, there is much of this story still to be written.

Nepotism cloud hangs over DA’s finance portfolio councillor

Stag Cronjé

In April last year, former DA member  and now Minister of Public Works, Patricia de Lille, handed a dossier to the Public Protector in which it was alleged that “VBS-style” corruption was happening in George Municipality. It referred to a 2018 case of kickbacks allegedly received by the son of Stag Cronjé, DA Portfolio Councillor for Finance.

An investigation by FTI Consulting found that an investment agreement concluded with Old Mutual provided for a referral fee of 0.18% to be paid to Daniel Cronjé, who is the son of Stag Cronjé, and that this contractual undertaking constitutes a breach of the Code of Conduct for Councillors.

Cronjé snr is yet again under scrutiny after the George council appointed a special committee to investigate his involvement in the investment.

The committee, consisting of one ANC and two DA councillors, has to report back to the council in 90 days.

Attorneys Brand & Van der Berg, said in a recent letter that FTI Consulting’s findings are “patently wrong” in fact and in law and that the council should not take further steps. They said that Old Mutual’s decision to pay Cronjé jr a referral fee stands apart from the contract between Old Mutual and the municipality.

The George Herald reported at the end of January that a Daniel Cronjé was to appear in the George Regional Court in connection with several counts of fraud and theft.

It said the case stemmed from several alleged incidents in 2015 when Cronjé, then a broker at a bank, allegedly transferred some of his clients’ investments into his personal bank account.

- Stag Cronjé has confirmed that the Daniel Cronjé charged in court is his son.

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