Cape Town transport boss 'hid dodgy secret'
Report recommends Melissa Whitehead face new charge over a conflict of interest in Foreshore project
Cape Town transport commissioner Melissa Whitehead allegedly failed to declare a conflict of interest in the abandoned R8bn-plus Foreshore Freeway project.
This is one of the findings in the 2,000-page Bowman Gilfillan report into suspected misconduct and corruption at the city council transport authority.
It said Whitehead, who has been on precautionary suspension since January pending hearings on other disciplinary charges, kept secret her 40% shareholding in a company where fellow directors were behind one of the bids.
The law firm recommends that Whitehead face a new disciplinary charge over her failure to declare a conflict of interest when she was a member of the original bid evaluation committee.
The plan to revitalise the Foreshore and resolve the problem of its unfinished freeways was unveiled by mayor Patricia de Lille in 2016 as “a significant milestone on Cape Town’s exciting journey to becoming an African and international city of the future”.
But it was scrapped in July amid allegations of unfairness in the evaluation of bids. City manager Lungelo Mbandazayo said several appeals and objections challenged the way bids had been evaluated.
“Procurement processes must be compliant with the rule of law. There must be no doubt about the integrity of these processes and‚ as such‚ I have decided to cancel the request for proposals,” said Mbandazayo.
Bowmans said Whitehead’s fellow directors in Urban Energy Conservation and Transport were Jean-Luc Limacher and Makhosonke Thusini. They were also part of the Urban Dynamics consortium which put forward one of the seven bids for the Foreshore contract.
In October 2017, the Sunday Times revealed that then-city manager Achmat Ebrahim had scrapped the bid evaluation committee after external auditors Moore Stephens and three committee members raised a red flag about Whitehead’s alleged bias towards the Urban Dynamics bid, named Circle of Good Hope.
“The commissioner clearly favoured a particular bid and did everything in her power to promote that bid while threatening and trying to coerce the other committee members, who all report to her,” one source told the Sunday Times. “The bid... is a financial disaster and of highly questionable viability.”
The source claimed this resulted in a deadlock in the committee and that it was “clear to the auditors that there was a major problem and that the city was at extreme reputational and financial risk”.
Moore Stephens said in a report to Ebrahim that during bid evaluation committee meetings Whitehead had shown “an absence of objectivity, impartiality and a lack of consistency … regarding the scoring of certain criteria” in relation to Circle of Good Hope … “more particularly, apparent partiality … in relation to favourable scoring of [its proposal]”.
Limacher worked with Whitehead in the Johannesburg city council planning department from 1988 to 1995.
Whitehead told the Bowmans investigators she had resigned as a director of Urban Energy Conservation and Transport in 2011, but company records showed she quit only in March 2016, shortly before the council prospectus for the Foreshore project was published.
Whitehead had refused to provide evidence that she had disposed of her 40% shareholding, said Bowmans, and failed to declare her conflict of interest in a memo to then-city manager Ebrahim when he asked her for an explanation after the Sunday Times expose.
The Bowmans report also recommends further investigation of allegations by council staff it interviewed that Whitehead ignored asset transfer regulations in the Municipal Finance Management Act when issuing the prospectus for the Foreshore Freeway precinct.
Whitehead did not respond to a Times Select request for comment.