After 18 months of suspension, during which he received full pay, Knysna’s Municipal Manager, Dr Sitembele Wiseman Vatala, has finally resigned, giving the local authority the opportunity to at last fill this important post on a permanent rather than acting basis.
Said Christopher Bezuidenhoudt, spokesperson for Knysna Municipality, “We can confirm that the Executive Mayor received Dr Vatala’s resignation on Saturday, 21 August 2021. Dr Vatala has taken up the position of Municipal Manager at the Central Karoo District Municipality. His resignation will serve before the Council at a Special Council Meeting on Wednesday 25 August for further deliberation on the disciplinary matter.”
Dr Vatala’s suspension has cost the local taxpayers a vast amount of money, with a monthly salary of R115 000+ paid in full for the 18 months (whilst an ‘Acting’ Municipal Manager has also had to be paid), plus hundreds of thousands of Rands in legal costs (unfortunately the Municipality were unable to provide the official figure at the time of going to press). Yet, still, questions are being asked as to whether or not Council should accept the Municipal Manager’s resignation in Wednesday’s meeting and move on, or continue taking appropriate legal steps against him.
Whilst a cut and dry departure of Dr Vatala might save further legal expenditure on the matter for Knysna; many believe that in the bigger picture, if Council believes he is guilty of any misconduct, allowing him to move on to another post in another municipality would be setting a dangerous precedent, adding another nail in the coffin of good governance.
Indeed, in March 2019, when it was first announced that Dr Vatala had been appointed as Knysna’s new Municipal Manager for a three-year term, a quick online search revealed that the previous year he had left Emalahleni Municipality in Mpumalanga under a dark cloud. However, it seems that because the allegations raised against him (irregular appointments and nepotism reported in the Dispatch Live in December 2018) had not ultimately resulted in charges of misconduct, they did not affect his application for Knysna’s top post.
Less than a year after his appointment in Knysna, Dr Vatala was placed on precautionary suspension following a Special Council Meeting on 13 February 2020 due to allegations levelled against him. At the same time it came to light that Knysna Municipality had reportedly plunged from a projected R50 million cash surplus in November 2019 to a projected cash deficit of more than R200 million.
The Knysna Ratepayers Association claims to have played a major part in Vatala’s suspension. A statement made on their Facebook page at the time explained the reasons they were determined he should be brought to book.
“We became aware that properties to a value exceeding R60 million, that had previously been disclosed as Contingent Assets, had inexplicably been omitted from (Knysna Municipality’s) Annual Financial Statements by the CFO. The Municipal Manager, who is also the Accounting Officer, signed off on those statements. The Auditor General queried the removal of those assets and was provided with false and/or misleading information regarding their status. We submitted a complaint to Deputy Mayor Tsengwa against Dr Vatala in connection with this matter, as well as in connection with a tender that should have been awarded to a local company, but was unlawfully awarded to a company from out of town that had tendered a price R3 million higher than the local company.”
When the Deputy Executive Mayor Councillor Aubrey Tsengwa announced Dr Vatala’s suspension at the Special Council Meeting of Feb 2020, he said that Council would appoint an independent investigator and the Municipal Manager would be on suspension for the duration of the investigation.
“The investigator must submit its findings to the Municipal Council within 30 days,” Tsengwa promised.
The process has clearly taken a good deal longer than expected and indeed substantially drained the coffers of our already cash-strapped local authority. We look forward to bringing you details of Council’s decision on the matter, and indeed to the future appointment of a new Municipal Manager.
Watch this space.