Probe called into R4.8m Covid info campaign

05 July 2020 - 00:00
Health workers going door-to-door to ask residents standard questions​ during their Community-based Covid-19 screening and testing in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town on April 7 2020.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER/TIMESLIVE​ Health workers going door-to-door to ask residents standard questions​ during their Community-based Covid-19 screening and testing in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town on April 7 2020.

Over four days in May, while SA was in a strict level 4 lockdown, community workers embarked on a door-to-door Covid-19 awareness campaign in the Eastern Cape.

The company contracted by the OR Tambo district municipality to carry out the campaign invoiced R4.8m for the job, claiming its employees had spoken to 6,400 people.

Yet many of those listed on the community workers’ forms as having been visited told the Sunday Times no one has ever knocked on their door to give them information on Covid-19.

Documents leaked online show that Phathilizwi Training Institution invoiced the district municipality for just over R3m on May 21 and a further R1.8m four days later. The municipality now says it has launched a probe into the project.

The company claims to have done door-to-door visits at Majola in Port St Johns, Hole in the Wall and Tubase in King Sabatha Dalindyebo municipality, Libode and Ngqeleni in Nyandeni local municipality and Etwa in Mhlontlo municipality.

In the second invoice the company claims that it conducted door-to-door awareness campaigns in six Port St Johns wards and two wards in Mhlontlo.

Municipal speaker Xolile Nkompela told the Sunday Times he has asked the director in his office to provide a detailed report on the awareness campaign.

“All such campaigns are managed in my office, but I cannot say if this did take place and what was done. I was assured that this matter has not been paid,” Nkompela said.

His office would ensure that if any corruption was detected in the programme, law enforcement agencies would be called to investigate, he said.

“My office wants to root out all corruption in this institution,” he said.

Among those listed as having been visited, siblings Zusiphe, Salinto and Likho Gwemntu of Mhlontlo said this hadn’t happened. Likho said: “The entire month of May I was not even in my village. I was at my aunt’s place in Mthatha. I hope they will give us some of the money since they used our names".

Another resident, Tulani Fanteni, didn’t know what the Sunday Times was talking about when asked about the visits. In Port St Johns, Nokuhula Olga Jikindaba didn’t know anything about Covid awareness visits either.

The phone of the owner of the Phathilizwi Training Institution, Phumza Gambule, was answered yesterday by someone claiming to be her cousin, who said Gambule was not prepared to comment.

The probe comes a week after OR Tambo acting municipal manager Fezekile Mphako opened a case of fraud, theft and corruption against municipal manager Owen Hlazo.

The complaint was filed at the Mthatha police station last Monday after a report listing financial misconduct and irregularities totalling more than R168m was presented to the council the previous week.

Nkompela said Hlazo had been suspended as a precaution and this was an interim measure “because as the accounting officer,the council could not mandate the municipal manager to open a criminal case against himself, hence we opted to place him on precautionary suspension and elect an acting municipal manager for him to open the criminal case”.

Provincial police spokesperson Capt Khaya Tonjeni confirmed the case had been opened. Yesterday, Hlazo told the Sunday Times that his suspension was due to his refusal to authorise payment for Phathilizwi.

Among the leaked documents is a copy of a letter to the speaker’s office, signed by Hlazo, in which he refuses to pay Phathilizwi until he has more information on the project. In it he questions why the invoices were not sent to the budget office for their recommendation.

“I further observed that there are no detailed reports outlining what has been executed. Please note the service provider must submit a detailed report on the work done and the manner in which this has been executed, in line with Covid-19 regulations,” the letter reads.

Hlazo told the Sunday Times: “I asked the speaker’s office to provide me with a methodology used to conduct the awareness programme ... But until my suspension I hadn’t received that report.”

He declined to comment further on his suspension, saying he is dealing with it legally. OR Tambo mayor Thokozile Sokhanyile could not be reached for comment.