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Gayton McKenzie confirms suspension of municipal manager over ‘tender irregularities’

Daily Maverick logo Daily Maverick 2022/08/16 Suné Payne

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Central Karoo District Municipality municipal manager Dr Sitembele Vatala has been placed on precautionary suspension and instructed not to leave the municipal area of Beaufort West.

The municipal manager of Western Cape’s poorest region has been placed on precautionary suspension by the Central Karoo District Municipality (CKDM). Mayor Gayton McKenzie said this was because of alleged tender irregularities. Dr Sitembele Vatala has been in the position since September 2021 and was placed on precautionary suspension last week. 

The Central Karoo District Municipality (comprising the local municipalities of Beaufort West, Laingsburg and Prince Albert) is one of the Western Cape’s poorest regions in terms of economy and development. It is also one of the districts with the most adverse findings in the 2021 Auditor-General’s report on local government audit outcomes. 

On Monday afternoon, McKenzie confirmed to Daily Maverick that Vatala had been suspended following allegations of tender irregularities, but that he could not yet divulge details.

Vatala was suspended unanimously by the entire council during a sitting on 12  August, said McKenzie.

Daily Maverick has seen a copy of Vatala’s precautionary suspension, dated 12 August and signed off by McKenzie. It states: “Council needs to reiterate that the allegations of misconduct made against yourself, still need to be properly investigated… the purpose of the investigation is not to determine whether or not you are guilty of the alleged offences but rather whether a disciplinary enquiry should be convened.”  

Vatala’s precautionary suspension takes immediate effect with full benefits, pending the finalisation of a disciplinary investigation into the allegations levelled against him and any charges that may stem from the investigation. 

McKenzie toldDaily Maverick that Vatala had had seven days before the August 12 meeting to respond to allegations against him — but he had responded only on Monday.

The letter instructs Vatala to get written permission from the acting municipal manager if he needs anything from his office, or a municipal building or to consult any municipal employee or service provider. 

“Any work-related material, office keys, laptops etc., should be handed in at records, with immediate effect, for safe keeping and you are cautioned not to contact any staff members, or visit/access the premises of the CKDM, during this time,” states the letter.

“You are still seen as to be in service of Council and are not allowed to leave Beaufort West, for any reason, until finalisation of the investigation against yourself. Should you wish to, you need to apply for leave within the parameters of our normal leave procedures. It will also be expected of you to sign in at the office three times per week on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, before 08h00 in the morning, until further notice.”  

Daily Maverick tried to contact Vatala, but he did not respond to calls.

The district municipality’s chief financial officer, Mohammed Abdullah, has also been suspended, which the regional branch of the South African Communist Party (SACP) is not happy about. The party has been critical of the McKenzie administration in the district municipality.

“The SACP condemns the suspensions with the contempt they deserve and the thuggish manner in which they are implemented is an indication of how Gayton McKenzie has a huge disregard for the law and regulations that govern the processes of governance,” said the party’s Mawonga Furmen on Monday.

This is not the first time Vatala’s name has been linked to allegations of wrongdoing. In his previous job as municipal manager of Knysna municipality between 2019 and 2021, he was alleged to have been implicated in wrongdoing by the Knysna Ratepayers Association.

These complaints, reported by the Knysna-Plett Herald, included one that involved a tender worth R30-million, allegedly incorrectly awarded by Vatala. He resigned during a disciplinary hearing into his conduct. DM

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