Expensive saga of suspended City transport boss finally ends

Expensive saga of suspended City transport boss finally ends

The Cape Chamber is pleased that the long and expensive saga of the suspended City transport boss, Melissa Whitehead, has come to an end but it leaves many unanswered questions.

Ms Whitehead was suspended on full pay (more than R3m a year) in January last year for disciplinary hearings after allegations of irregularities concerning three tenders by her department.

The first tender involved the purchase of electric busses from China which have never been used and are now in storage.

The second involved the purchase of Volvo bus chassis for MyCiti which are also in storage.

The third tender concerned proposals for the redevelopment of sections of the Foreshore and the completion of the Foreshore freeway. The City received more than six tenders from architects and planners but the whole project was cancelled after allegations of irregularities. The tendering firms had spent millions of rands preparing their proposals and are now threatening legal action against the City.

After three failures by one City Council department we would have expected the head of the department to be held accountable.

This should never have been about discipline but about executive responsibility. There were three major failures in her department and they all happened on her watch. That should have been enough.

The labour laws on disciplinary hearings are designed to protect vulnerable workers and not bosses earning R3m a year.

The Chamber has pointed out before that the City’s executive directors earn large salaries that are well above market rates yet they don’t seem to accept responsibility when things go wrong in their departments.

Something is fundamentally wrong and the problem is not unique to the City but to the whole public service. This is a problem that requires urgent attention because the country cannot afford to pay people to sit at home. Taxpayers and ratepayers have every right to question the way their money is being used.

The wastage of public funds go well beyond salaries. In this case how much has been spent on forensic reports, legal advice and disciplinary hearings? How much damage has been done to the morale in her former department? How much will it cost to settle the disputes over the electric busses, the Volvo bus chassis and the aborted Foreshore development proposals? We need answers.

Jacques Moolman
Deputy President of the Cape Chamber