Residents of Greater Knysna are asking some very serious questions about due diligence, or the lack thereof, in the recruitment process for top positions at Knysna Municipality. This after Lindile Petuna, the current Acting Director Integrated Human Settlements has once again made headlines – and not in a good way.
The Port Elizabeth High Court has ordered Petuna to pay back an amount of R11.3 million to Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality after it was found that the authority had overpaid for a property in 2015 on his recommendation when he was that municipality’s Executive Director of Human Settlements.
According to a press statement from Nelson Mandela Bay, Petuna had recommended that the council approve the purchase of portion 10 of the farm Seaview 28, Clarendon Marine, for R14.3m to develop low-cost housing. Petuna also withheld critical information from the Executive Mayor and the Municipal Council regarding the market value (R3 million) of the land and the findings of a feasibility study, obtained two years earlier by his own department.
Petuna’s name was also in the headlines in October last year, when he was ordered to pay more than R550 000 for misleading the same municipality regarding rezoning applications. The more recent judgement is asking the Knysna employee to fork out twenty times that amount.
“In the latest case,” the Mandela Bay press statement reported, “Petuna stated that he cannot be held accountable as he is not a current municipal official and that he acted on reports by the Department of Human Settlements. He left the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality after a settlement agreement with the institution in November 2015.”
In both cases, Petuna was ordered to pay the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality’s legal costs with interest.
The Knysna Ratepayers Association (KRA) is incensed with the Knysna authorities.
“This is the second judgment from the Eastern Cape High Court in which Mr Petuna, the Human Settlements Manager for Knysna Municipality and a member of the Knysna Municipal Planning Tribunal, has been ordered to pay back money to his previous employer, the Nelson Mandela Metro,” they said in a statement.
The KRA was first alerted to the allegations against Petuna at the end of August 2019, when DA Member of Parliament Dion George issued a press release in which he alleged that Petuna had been accused of misleading or attempting to mislead the Nelson Mandela Bay Council on 133 separate occasions, after which he resigned at a disciplinary hearing.
“Mr George called on the Knysna Mayor and the ANC to review the appointment.” the KRA statement continues.
The KRA said that Dion George’s press release was issued on the day after the Knysna Council, including the DA Councillors, had unanimously appointed Mr Petuna to the Knysna Municipal Planning Tribunal.
Further surprise for the association came in May 2020 when Petuna was again appointed to the Tribunal, once again with the support of both the DA and ANC Councillors.
“The KRA was extremely concerned about the allegations, and when Mr Petuna was reappointed to the Tribunal we requested information from Knysna Municipality to determine whether they were aware of the very serious allegations against Mr Petuna when he was appointed Housing Manager in 2019 and whether the Acting Municipal Manager made enquiries of the Metro in 2020 before Petuna was reappointed to the Tribunal. To date, we have not yet received a satisfactory response from Knysna Municipality.” The statement reads.
“In October 2020 we read in the press that Mr Petuna had been ordered by the High Court to pay R550,000.00 after he had wrongfully advised the Metro to rezone land for the development of a luxury hotel and chapel. Petuna’s recommendation cost the Metro hundreds of thousands of rand in legal fees, as it had to approach the Court to set aside and rectify the unlawful approvals.
“We are dismayed that Knysna Municipality apparently has no interest whatsoever in the two High Court judgments. This does not bode well for those of us who expect our Municipality to act with due diligence when appointing officials and may lead to an erosion of confidence in the Planning Tribunal.
”Knysna Municipality should wake up and follow the example of the Nelson Mandela Metro and create a culture of accountability.”
In the meantime, KRA intends to take further steps to obtain a response to their questions relating to Mr. Petuna “In light of the new judgment, we shall be submitting further requests to the Municipality, including questions relating to the purchase of land during Mr Petuna’s tenure.”The statement concluded
But Petuna’s appointment is not the only one that has raised ‘due diligence’ concerns. Knysna’s current Municipal Manager – Dr Sinetemba Vatala – is still on full pay over a year after his suspension in Feb 2020. Dr Vatala was employed by Council in March 2019, despite news reports of disciplinary hearings and suspensions at his previous position as MM of Emalahleni Municipality in the Eastern Cape. Since his court case is ongoing, he is still officially the MM, so Knysna Municipality may not fill the position and has thus had to pay the salaries of a string of acting Municipal Managers whilst the case against Vatala takes its course. Dr Vatala’s case is set to continue on 22 April.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Knysna Municipality said
“Kindly be advised that the High Court judgment has no bearing on the Knysna Municipality. With regards to the statements made by the Knysna Ratepayers Association, their assertion that we have not responded is not factually correct. In response to their claims in another local newspaper, the Municipality issued a full statement on 2 September 2019 confirming that Mr Petuna’s appointment was in line with proper procedures.”