City must justify termination of forensics contract

The Durban City Hall

The Durban City Hall

Published Jun 3, 2024


Durban — The eThekwini Municipality and its City Integrity and Investigations Unit (CIIU) were ordered by a court to provide records that substantiated its decision to terminate the contract of a forensics investigations company it had previously hired this week.

Integrity Forensic Solutions CC (IFS) got the boot in the last quarter of 2023 and has since challenged the municipality’s decision with a judicial review application in the Durban High Court.

IFS is the company that headed investigations into the R320 million Durban Solid Waste (DSW) tender fraud matter being handled by the courts, with former mayor Zandile Gumede and 21 others the accused.

They face 2786 counts of fraud, corruption and money laundering.

The company had also probed the affairs of the City’s water and sanitation department and claimed to have found R1.6 billion siphoned from its coffers and was close to completing its investigations when it was dumped.

IFS wants the termination decision set aside, payment of nearly R1m for outstanding fees and the costs of the court proceedings to be paid jointly by the municipality, the CIIU and Thulani Ntobela.

Ntobela, the fourth respondent in the matter, was appointed the interim head of the CIIU for six months in August, and was apparently a key figure in the decision to remove IFS, weeks after he took the post.

IFS was hired along with 17 other companies in March 2018 to investigate the city’s stockpile of outstanding cases, after they were vetted.

The CIIU has since removed IFS for allegedly not having the required permissions and endorsements from committees within the municipality, for its subsequent contract extensions.

IFS maintained that 15 of the forensic investigations firms engaged in March 2018 continue assisting the CIIU, having received similar contract extensions as the IFS.

Musa Mbhele, the municipal manager, the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) and the National Prosecuting Authority are the other respondents in the matter.

IFS claimed it learnt about the termination of its contract via a letter sent to a Hawks official but it received no formal notification from the municipality.

Leo Saunders, an IFS director, said their firing was due to the investigations they had conducted and to prevent them from presenting evidence in the DSW matter.

Nompumelelo Hazel Radebe, the presiding judge in the IFS matter, ordered on May 20 that the complete record be provided to the court and the applicants within 10 days.

Owing to the “wasted cost of the adjournment of the application”, Radebe ordered the municipality, the CIIU and Ntobela jointly pay the legal fees that IFS incurred to the maximum scale.

Days after the decision was handed down, the municipality’s legal representatives sent an urgent request in writing to law firm Norton Rose Fulbright SA Inc representing IFS, requesting their clients share copies of their review record documents.

An extract from the letter sent on May 23 read: “We are currently compiling the review record and would be pleased if your client could furnish us with any documents in its possession, which it believes should be included in the review record.

“Once you furnish us with copies, our client will give consideration to the relevance of these documents for inclusion in the review record.”

In response, Norton Rose indicated that the municipality became legally aware of the IFS review application on February 8, and should have delivered the said documents by February 29.

The municipality’s failure to adhere to the deadline resulted in an extension to March 19, in accordance with the law.

Norton Rose reminded the municipality that they were left with no option but to make an “application to compel” them to provide the record, on which Judge Radebe made her ruling on May 20.

“Your clients had not provided our client (IFS) with the record for 53 court days.”

Norton Rose said IFS had incurred significant costs in trying to obtain the records from the municipality and their clients were “surprised and concerned” by the content of their letter, which lacked justification.

“Since no reasoning is provided as to why our client’s assistance is needed, our client has no choice but to assume that the municipality is on an expedition to determine the volume of evidence IFS has in its possession before they file the record.

“It’s unclear why documents, which should be in their (municipality) possession need to be provided by our client for you to assess whether the same should form part of the record.

“Our client is not obliged to assist and declines your clients’ baseless request,” read Norton Rose’s response.

Gugu Sisilana, the municipality’s spokesperson, said there was “nothing novel” about Judge Radebe’s ruling on May 20.

“The municipality will deliver any requested documents that it has in its possession,” she said.

Sunday Tribune