OR Tambo district files graft charges against manager

Suspended OR Tambo district municipality municipal manager Owen Hlazo.
Suspended OR Tambo district municipality municipal manager Owen Hlazo.
Image: FILE

The police are investigating a case of fraud, theft and corruption against OR Tambo district municipal manager Owen Hlazo.

The complaint was filed by acting municipal manager Fezekile Mphako at the Mthatha police station last Monday.

This follows an explosive report which pointed at financial misconduct and irregularities totalling more than R168m that was presented in council the week before.

Council speaker Xolile Nkompela on Friday said a virtual council meeting resolved to “lift” Hlazo's June 17 precautionary suspension — but stressed he was not off the hook.

Nkompela said the precautionary suspension 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”.

He said the council on Friday also resolved to give Hlazo until Tuesday to motivate why he should not be suspended.

Council will then meet on Tuesday and decide whether his explanation is good enough or whether he should be suspended.

“It will depend on the responses he provides,” Nkompela said. 

Provincial police spokesperson Captain Khaya Tonjeni confirmed the case was opened.

Hlazo could not be reached on Friday as his phone rang unanswered.

Last week the UDM claimed to have laid a complaint against Hlazo with the Hawks but the party could not provide the Dispatch with a case number to verify this, and on Friday, UDM provincial spokesperson Mabandla Gogo made a U-turn.

Gogo said his party was no longer pursuing the criminal case “because we have been informed by the Hawks that a similar probe into the affairs of the district authority was under way”.

The report, presented in council by acting mayor Robert Nogumla on June 17, details how the OR Tambo district allegedly paid out more than R168m to companies — some of which had not even lifted a finger. It places Hlazo at the centre of the payments.

They include:

  • R133.9m in three “unexplained advance payments” to Amatola Water;
  • R12.6m to Ruwacon to supply material to Signal Hill in Mthatha that is yet to be delivered;
  • R10.3m to Gcinasonke Construction for the Mqanduli bulk sewer though work was not done;
  • R9.9m to Khwalo Construction for the same Mqanduli project, also with no work being done;

  • R2.5m to Valatone to deliver water tanks although there is no evidence the company delivered them; and
  • R1m to Phonenix Tanks to deliver water tanks though there is no evidence the company delivered them.

However, Amatola Water spokesperson Nosisa Sogayise said the three deposits were not unexplained advance payments as alleged, but were above-board and related to a number of projects they had performed on behalf of the district.

Some of the implicated companies could not be reached for comment last week, while an online on Legal City company search yielded no positive results for others as no record of them could be found.