A group of annoyed residents of Ward 19 in Polokwane is breaking 23 years of silence with claims of non-consultation on infrastructure projects initiated by Polokwane Municipality and exclusion from economic activities in the area by the institution and government as their dismay with the status quo has reached boiling point.
The quartet of concerned persons, most of whom have lived in Polokwane all their lives, has now taken it upon themselves to bring to the fore a situation they refuse to tolerate any longer. Cutting to the chase, the four men blamed perceived corruption for public participation and consultation on intended infrastructure projects to be undertaken in their area not occurring in advance or at all.
In a joint interview the four men, representing members of the community of Westenburg, its RDP section, Nirvana and Rainbow Park vocalised a host of frustrations experienced by the community of Ward 19. Polokwane Observer agreed to their anonymity.
The one source stressed the lack of consultation on ongoing projects, transparency and accountability as contracts adjudicated to bidders predominantly from Gauteng and Mpumalanga were being imposed on the community. He underscored the fact that the community was being marginalised by the actions.
In sketching the situation, the others clarified that no feedback on questions about projects had ever been received from any of the current or previous municipal councillors representing Ward 19 on the Polokwane Council supposed to serve residents in the ward. One of the other sources further emphasised that it included Hafiz Shaikh, who was sworn in as councillor for Ward 19 after 3 August last year, not providing any response to questions raised in any of the approximate ten community meetings held since his election.
Allegations of gate-keeping
He backtracked to last August when stressing that Shaikh was elected through questionable means of apparent gate-keeping, the Police being called to a ruling party Winrainbow branch meeting to have members opposing his election removed from the meeting and the councillor’s election seemingly being imposed on them. “That’s why we almost lost the ward.” By then the preferred candidate for municipal councillor was Eugene Lyle, it was learnt.
The first source raised the issue of the installation of the smart water and electricity meter readers in Ward 19 as an example. By pointing out that Nirvana was being targeted for the launch of the pilot project, he added that residents had only become aware of the undertaking at a meeting where they were informed about the programme having been implemented without prior consultation with the community.
Legislation enforces consultation
By singling out the examples of the Guide on Public Participation in the Public Service and the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management policy of the municipality, he stressed that in terms of legislation Polokwane Municipality was compelled to discuss pending projects for which contracts were to be awarded through community involvement.
According to the source the project, which was halted in Westenburg in the beginning of last month due to the fact that the community demanded proper consultation by the municipality, still continued as meters were being installed at the homes of persons seen to have limited knowledge of the new service that was being imposed on them. Some of the meters were not operational either, according to him.
With regards to the smart meter system being installed in the ward, the one source mentioned that he was among several businessmen called to one side by one of the companies that got the tender, with the offer to do sub-contractor work in Westenburg. He regarded the move as an attempt to get businesspeople on board to influence the community to keep quiet about the fact that no proper consultation occurred before roll-out of the smart meter project. To his knowledge no sub-contractor work on the project had been given out in the meantime, he confirmed.
The first source was adamant that the same scenario occurred with a paving project in Westenburg, resulting in the community being informed about the project for the first time once the contract had already been finalised.
For the past 24 years nobody from Westenburg had been allocated any project steered by any government department or municipality in the neighbourhood, he said as he questioned why no projects were being channelled for local benefit. It excluded the approximate 15 people they were aware of who were employed on contracts in the area over the past two and a half decades. He estimated unemployment figures for the area at 1 000 community members suffering due to the prevailing situation.
Non-communication by councillors
He was of the opinion that the matter spoke to the conduct of the councillors of all three dominant political parties with representation in the community – being the African National Congress as well as the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters – who were regarded at fault for not communicating or following up issues of concern to residents. He pointed out that Shaikh was the only one who attended each of the meetings, but still the matters didn’t get addressed.
He concluded the interview with reference to a myriad questions from the community going unanswered. Those include issues with regards to the bill of quantities relating to the Lawton Bridge construction project linking Westenburg with Nirvana, the fencing of the public tennis courts in Nirvana, the continuous patching of potholes in the ward involving Zimbabwean labour on contracts, the queried rate of local employment on the by-pass extensions, infrastructure decay in Extension 40 adjacent to Westenburg and discontent about reported outstanding payment of labourers engaged in a fibre optic cable installation project in the area.
An attempt to secure comment from Shaikh at the time of going to press was unsuccessful, as his cell phone is apparently not set for the option to leave a voice message.
Comment from muni
In comment on behalf of Polokwane Municipality, spokesperson Matshidiso Mothapo responded with the following: “Polokwane Municipality embraces consultation as a central feature of its activities and all communities within the municipality are treated the same in regards to consultation and access to municipal services. There is no community that is excluded from these benefits. The municipality is also aware that there are individuals who have business interest in the developmental projects that are being implemented by the municipality and they will do everything to disrupt service delivery that is intended to improve the life quality of the community under the pretext of non-consultation.
Recently there were two consultative meetings in Ward 19 with regards to infrastructure development programmes. All communities within the municipality are engaged through their Ward Councillors to participate in projects to be implemented. All major projects under implementation are underpinned by the municipality’s objective of job creation and local economic development.
About 90% of contractors and service providers doing work for the municipality are from Polokwane and Limpopo province as per our preferential supply chain policy to ensure that local contractors and businesses are empowered. It is mainly on specialised projects that contractors responding to advertised bids are from outside Limpopo Province.
The procurement of services is a very clear, open and transparent process where suppliers and providers are invited to respond to various bids through advertisements in an open tendering process. There are very clear supply chain guidelines for this process. There is no one who is excluded from participating in this process. They are encouraged to participate in this process.
Regarding accountability, the municipality’s supply chain process is bound by the Municipal Financial Management Act prescripts which has put in place systems for control and accountability over appointment of service providers and expenditure which include quarterly reporting to Council and the audit committee. Therefore, allegations of corruption are unfortunate.
Councillors are deployed by their respective political parties to serve the interests of their communities in Council and communities have a civic responsibility to cooperate and support their Councillors to operate in a conducive environment for their own development. Where a community is (in) discontent with their Councillor, they can report the Councillor to the Speaker of Council who will act on the matter.
The smart metering project will be rolled out municipal wide and is ongoing with residents being engaged and the progress is satisfactory. The Westenburg area will also benefit from the project. The municipality is currently running a maintenance programme whereby conventional meters that have been reported to be faulty by the users are replaced with smart meters because the municipality is not keeping old stock of the old meters as it is not feasible to do so.”
Story & photo: YOLANDE NEL