Thursday was another day in Knysna’s Council Chambers when all political parties were on the same page… a different page to Municipal Manager Grant Easton.
With COPE Councillor Elrick (Ricky) van Aswegen being recently promoted to the previously only-DA-occupied, Knysna Mayoral Committee (MAYCO), this was his first time as Chairperson of the Section 80 Finance Committee. He began more stiffly formal than normal for him abut soon asserted his new command by requesting the attendance of Municipal Manager Grant Easton who had failed to be present to to deliver his Report to the Mayor on the Implementation of the Supply Chain Management Policy for the Quarter Ended March 31 2015.
DA councillor, Ray Barrell, said that, “During the course of the year, we have had a number of discussions about our oversight role. As councillors, we have reached consensus on how to act regards regards tenders.” He elaborated that Grant Easton, then Acting Municipal Manager, had said that a new procedure would be set out” and that there were “proprietary issues” that required secrecy. Barrell pointed out that Easton had not addressed any of that in his report and thus his report should be withdrawn.
This writer recalls that meeting Barrell mentioned. It became heated, one of the few times where all parties were united. There was indignation that Grant Easton could believe that they were not entitled to all the information they needed to make a decision.
Chairperson Van Aswegen summed up Barrell’s argument and added to it, saying that with the report that was in front of them, “There’s no way that the councillors around this table can fulfill their oversight role.”
He then used Tuiniqua Consulting engineers as an example again, having done so only to days before at the Section 80 Planning meeting, saying that “if the price here was not the issue of appointing a successful tenderer, then what basis was used? There isn’t enough to know if our polices have been followed.”
Easton disagreed. “It isn’t the job of councillors to involve themselves in process. The information is available to you [on the Municipality’s server]… what you need to fulfill your oversight role.”
Van Aswegen stated that not all councillors have access as their computers, supplied by the Municipality, were not working. Easton said he would follow up with councillors and if they had a problem, he would ensure they had access.
There was then a query as to why there was an A and a B list list for contractors instead of one?
In the agenda, it stated that, “A complaint from Ward 3 were received that the contractors were not aware of the process. After investigation it was found that 3 contractors did submit bids but did not qualify to be on the list as they did not have the relevant experience and submitted incomplete documents. After consultation with the procuring department it is recommended that the EOI be advertised again to add contractors to the list of qualified and experienced bidders. The current list will be known as list A and the contractors will be used at least once before the contractors from list B will be utilized and added to the current list.”
Another councillor (this writer failed to note which) asked, “How is a Councillor suppose to respond to members of the public that there are two lists? It isn’t a municipal official on the front line with the public. It’s the councillor. If we weren’t given an understanding, then how will the public understand.” This was agreed with by Councillors Wiseman Litoli and Clive Witbooi. “It’s a problem where we agree on something and then officials do something else. We need a way forward.”
Councillor Mthobeli Dyanti expressed his frustration with, “We questioned tenders before they were sent out and then we discover that letters have already been sent out to contractors. Contractors were in our faces saying, ‘Now you want to stop our jobs’… there are people here who think that they are bigger than us councillors. They are not telling us the truth. Being told lies by these officials is frustrating. When we are undermined, my blood runs quickly and I get angry.”
Van Aswegen said that the way forward was to sit down with the Municipal Manager and his staff, or by workshop, so that they understand what is happening with supply chain management and procurement. He was also emphatic that the Legal department needed to look at it.
Grant Easton failed to address why he hadn’t produced new procedures as stated previously but said that, “The Legal department has not gone through this but in this instance it’s not problematic as it’s standard policy used by Province. The changes to policy are not great and Legal did not go through it last year or the year before.”
Van Aswegen responded that, “This policy, the original one, was previously before Council. There were to be amendments which should have come back to Council, gone to Legal, and then being workshopped. Whenever we agree to a policy, it must go to Legal.” He then used 10.9, the composition of the Bid Adjudication Committee, as an example, saying that he didn’t know if it was compliant.
Barrell then, similarly, pointed out 10.5.1, which related to the establishment of Bid Evaluation Committees as another example that they needed to be sure complied with regulations. “We need to ensure that we are sure in our own minds that we are complaint with law.”
Easton said: “I’m going to repeat what I’ve said on numerous occasions. I would like to remind councillors, not once have any of our tenders being challenged and found wanting. We have not being successfully challenged on any tenders. No one has taken any of our tenders to court. We have not being reviewed on any tender. I am comfortable how ever you wish to proceed with this thing.”
Easton may have been telling the truth but it was certainly not the whole truth.
It’s fact that the Auditor General found dispute with 8 issues. That they seemed to have vanished as queries about the DA-run Knysna Municipality seem to do doesn’t change the fact that they existed and included tender queries, notably about the ISDF, the 30-year plan for Knysna, the 10% bonus local tenderers were receiving, and the monies that were paid to an electrical contractor who was married to the manager of the Electrical department.
Furthermore, the majority of the Bid Evaluation Committee (BEC), which included senior municipal members, quit in protest at interference.
None of these issues have been resolved. Grant Easton isn’t providing the answers the public need.