30th August 2007
The Bitou council is reeling following the arrests yesterday of former municipal manager George Seitisho and former mayor Euan Wildeman on charges of fraud and theft.
The arrests come hot on the heels of violent unrest by residents of KwaNokuthula outside Plettenberg Bay last week to highlight alleged government corruption in the region, as well as the authorities‘ failure to stop it.
Allegations of corruption and maladministration in the council first surfaced against Wildeman and Seitisho in 2005 when the Auditor-General‘s report for the year ending June 2004 found irregularities in the council‘s finances.
A subsequent probe by the special investigating unit in 2005, ordered by local government MEC Richard Dyantyi, recommended that criminal and civil charges be laid against the two.
Police said yesterday the delay in the arrests was because the investigation was of a complex financial nature. They said additional charges could be added depending on further investigation.
Both men have indicated in an affidavit to their lawyer, Daan Dercksen, that they will plead not guilty.
The high-profile arrests coincided with the court appearance of local economic development officer Putco Maphitiza on charges of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and kidnapping after a man was attacked with a panga during the unrest over the weekend. He was released on a warning and will appear in the Plettenberg Bay magistrate‘s court next Thursday.
Dercksen said Seitisho and Wildeman were asked to report to the Knysna police station yesterday morning, where they were arrested.
Later in the day they appeared in the Knysna magistrate‘s court on charges of theft and/or fraud.
The formal charge sheet will be tabled when they appear again on November 23.
Seitisho was released on R10 000 bail and Wildeman on R3 000 bail. While Wildeman lost his job as mayor and was elected as an ordinary councillor in 2006, Seitisho was suspended last June but subsequently reinstated.
Seitisho resigned from the Bitou council last month. He is due to take up the post of municipal manager of Westonarea in Gauteng next week.
Both Seitisho and Maphitiza also have charges of malicious damage to property hanging over their heads in connection with unrest in KwaNokuthula in May.
The two men, along with the mayor‘s political advisors Peter Lobese and Kenny Leluma, are facing charges after community members accused them of burning down their houses.
Leluma, speaking for the Bitou council, said they would release a media statement today
DA MPL Alan Winde said he was pleased justice had “come full circle” regarding Seitisho and Wildeman. “I think DA councillor Johann Brummer, as whistle-blower in this whole case, has been the subject of intense internal pressure from the ANC, but this vindicates him.”
He said the DA would call for the immediate suspension of Wildeman pending the outcome of the case.
A so-called voluntary stay-away was called last Thursday by disgruntled community leaders who felt businesses were tacitly condoning council corruption by not checking how their rates were being used.
The stay-away turned violent when residents were intimidated and houses were petrol-bombed. Police reinforcements were called in and 26 people were charged with public violence and intimidation.
A late night deal was sealed on Tuesday between community leaders and various role-players in the hopes of averting further unrest and stay-aways.
Seitisho, Wildeman: The case so far . . .
IN 2005, the Auditor-General accused George Seitisho and former mayor Euan Wildeman of using council credit cards for personal spending, of double claiming on a pricey overseas trip, and of hiring a luxury car for personal use in Johannesburg in 2003 while writing the cost off against an official function in Kranshoek.
The AG found that Bitou councillors were paid the salaries of executive committee members instead of ordinary councillors for more than six years. It found there was no indication that the council had taken steps to reclaim the money, which amounted to more than R500 000.
Other findings by the AG included that Wildeman and Seitisho notched up more than R100 000 in credit card expenses for which no invoices were submitted, that the council sold almost R250 000 worth of land for which there were no audit details, and that an official was allowed to take out vehicle loans from the municipality totalling more than his annual salary.
The report also said the Bitou municipality was unable to repay three loans totalling R21-million.
Among the money owed by the council was R2,9-million in suspense accounts “which have for some time been carried forward in the council‘s financial records, and of which no particulars of debtors could be submitted for audit purposes”.
DA MP Robin Carlisle referred the alleged corruption in the municipality to Parliament‘s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) that same year.
Both Wildeman and Seitisho appeared before Scopa, where Seitisho said he had “flawed” in what he was doing and had “apologised and repaid the full amounts”. He did not, however, pay interest on the amounts owed. Following the AG‘s report, Dyantyi ordered an investigation into the Bitou council in October 2005.
The special investigating unit‘s report found a number of irregularities and recommended disciplinary steps be taken against Wildeman and Seitisho.
It also recommended criminal charges be laid, civil action be taken by the council and that the matter be investigated further.
It said civil action should also be taken against Seitisho to recover 15,5 per cent interest on the amounts he allegedly benefited from.
Wildeman lost his job as mayor and was elected as an ordinary councillor in the local government elections last year. Seitisho was suspended in June last year pending an investigation by the council-appointed Derilingo Commission, which found him innocent.
By Janine Oelofse