Battle lines are being drawn in the City of Johannesburg’s governing coalition over the appointment of the city manager — the most senior bureaucrat in the city’s administration.
Johann Mettler, the preferred candidate of the interview panel, has the support of the biggest coalition partner, the DA, but ActionSA are allegedly siding with the EFF in contending for Mettler’s rival and current acting city manager Floyd Brink.
Brink is a controversial figure in the metro because of his alleged historical links to Julius Malema and the EFF. In April 2013, while a manager at the Limpopo Department of Roads and Transport, Brink was arrested as part of a sweeping corruption investigation that implicated a number of officials and business people. The same investigation netted Malema, in addition to several associates of the then ANC Youth League leader, including his cousin Tshepo Malema.
Brink was tried and acquitted in 2013. The other cases went nowhere.
Brink was brought into the metro in August 2018 as chief operating officer under a coalition headed by then DA mayor Herman Mashaba.
Though not formal coalition partners, the DA relied on the EFF’s support to govern in the cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane, and Brink’s appointment was viewed by some sources within the Johannesburg administration as a quid pro quo.
Mashaba previously strongly denied this implication and defended the city’s decision to employ Brink, arguing that claims he is linked to Malema were speculative and “subjective”.
He noted that a competent court cleared Brink and the city’s vetting process also found he was competent to hold the post.
Now, according to several sources within the city administration and council, the EFF is pushing for Brink to be made permanent city manager, with the support of Mashaba’s ActionSA. He has been acting in the position since February 2021.
Several senior city and DA insiders say that the EFF and ActionSA are attempting to derail the appointment of Mettler, the preferred candidate, by challenging the appointment process on the grounds that Johannesburg mayor Mpho Phalatse met with Mettler before the interviews.
DA sources accuse ActionSA of breaking ranks with the governing coalition.
Complicating matters is a forensic investigation commissioned by the city’s Group Forensics and Investigation Services (GFIS) into the Department of Public Safety’s procurement of handheld devices and CCTV equipment.
Read the report here
The report, produced by law firm ENS for GFIS, implicates Brink directly. It notes that Brink acted in a manner that “appears to constitute a dereliction of duty” and “gross misconduct”, and recommends that he be reported to council for further investigation and disciplinary action.
The EFF and Malema did not respond to detailed questions and have banned amaBhungane from party events, vowing to “never answer any question from amaBhungane”.
However, in a public statement the party’s Johannesburg region said that Mettler “was handpicked by the DA and was given an unfair advantage to meet the executive Mayor and some senior members of the DA and its coalition partners, wherein the favourite candidate was paraded as the preferred applicant”.
Mashaba and the ActionSA caucus appear to have taken a similar line. Mashaba told amaBhungane that it “jeopardises the appearance of the process for such a meeting to take place prior to a recruitment exercise”.
“Firstly, there is a legal risk of the process having the reasonable appearance of bias and the appointment being challenged in a manner that may undermine the stability of leadership in the administration of the city.
“Secondly is a reputational risk of a process to appoint the most senior official in the city being tainted and bringing into question the legitimacy of the appointed person.”
A source close to the appointment process told amaBhungane about a heated meeting of coalition partners on Monday, 7 March, in which an irate senior ActionSA leader slammed the appointment process as illegitimate.
Mettler told amaBhungane that the meeting between him and Phalatse took place, but there was nothing secret about it. He says the meeting happened at the city’s offices where he signed in on the day — 7 January — and that that was “before the [job] advert”.
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A spokesperson for the mayor said, “There was no preferred candidate nor were there preferred candidates. There was an open application process, and equitable shortlisting, with no candidate having an advantage during the interview process.”
The mayor would not respond to questions concerning the meeting, but DA sources say there was nothing improper about it.
According to one, “In order to get the most competitive field for the strongest city manager possible Mpho’s office reached out to many people besides Mettler… There is nothing wrong with meeting… especially before the process has even started. It could not taint the process in any way. And the Mayor speaks to the other candidate, Floyd Brink, every day in his role in the administration.”
They say the hype over the meeting is a pretext to torpedo Mettler’s candidacy, portray the process as “tainted”, and ensure that Brink remains in the top job.
Mettler has a long track record in municipal administration. He took over the running of the Msunduzi municipality in 2010 after it had descended into “turmoil” and was placed under administration. He ran the Drakenstein municipality before becoming city manager of the fractious Nelson Mandela Bay metro, from which he was suspended in September 2018, accused of unlawfully extending the scope of a contract with a communications firm.
Mettler’s suspension came in the wake of the collapse of a DA-led coalition in Nelson Mandela Bay, which saw Mayor Athol Trollip ousted in August 2018 and replaced with the UDM’s Mongameli Bobani. Mettler’s suspension was widely seen as part of the power play and the metro later settled with him.
Trollip says of Mettler: “He was acting CM when I became mayor in NMB so I didn’t appoint him, he was seconded there by Pravin Gordhan because he’d done an extraordinary job in Msunduzi… he is regarded as something of a ‘Mr fix it’ in local government.”
Two of the five members that made up the interview panel, one from the ActionSA and one from the ACDP, were in favour of nominating Brink, but the scores from the three remaining panellists — Phalatse, another DA member, and an external expert — gave Mettler the edge.
Council will have to vote on whether or not to accept the interview panel’s recommendation to appoint Mettler. If the motion is rejected, then the recruitment process will likely have to start over.
The EFF and ANC are expected to vote against the motion to appoint Mettler. If ActionSA votes with them or abstains, the recommendation will not pass.
One senior DA source suspects that the EFF are trying to rush the appointment process through Council before the forensic report implicating Brink is tabled or made public.
The EFF’s statement, dated 22 February 2022, accused the DA of stalling: “We call on the mayor of Johannesburg to take us into confidence as the rate payers and residence of this city and explain to us, what is/are the course/s of the delay which prevented the tabling of the item which recommends the appointment of the city manager in todays’ council sitting as per the norm after such interviews has been conducted and completed.”
Another senior DA source told amaBhungane that “ActionSA worked very hard to pull some of the coalition partners into a network to oppose Mettler. The key priority was to keep him out… At the same time this small group, led by ActionSA, supported Brink in the selection panel, but they still lost the nomination.”
“Then it became their priority to stop Mettler’s name going forward, and the strategy unfolded of trying to imply that the process had been ‘tainted’ by the fact that the mayor met Mettler in January, well before the process even began.”
Mashaba denied that ActionSA was lobbying against Mettler and for Brink, telling amaBhungane: “It is actually sad and unfortunate for the DA to accuse ActionSA of such allegations. Our panellist on this appointment of the city manager, Mr Ngobeni, requested any assistance from the DA representatives of any wrong doing by Floyd Brink. This emerged when we wanted to know why the DA arranged a meeting for Mayor Mpho Phalatse to meet one of the candidates ahead of the interviews.
“ActionSA does not have a preferred candidate and we are not intent on any particular candidate. We are, however, intent on a process that is beyond reproach given the role the [city manager] will need to play in leading and cleaning up a city administration.”
The forensic report commissioned by GFIS might deliver the critical blow to Brink’s candidacy.
ENS was appointed in December last year to investigate allegations of non-compliance by the city’s Department of Public Safety in a transaction involving the Metropolitan Trading Company (MTC).
The MTC is a municipal entity providing ICT services to the city, communities and the private sector.
The report looked into two separate transactions between the department and MTC – one for the “supply, programming, maintenance and support of digital portable radio communication devices” from MTC, and another for “support and maintenance of CCTV and access control and alarm systems”.
The report found that Brink appeared to have acted in a manner constituting gross misconduct in relation to the CCTV transaction, for an amount of over R300 million.
The head of the Department of Public Safety approved the transaction with the MTC, despite only being allowed to sign off on transactions of up to R20 million.
ENS found that this breach was reported to Brink, who took no remedial action. Instead, he ratified the transaction, only to later withdraw ratification in light of the investigation. This, according to the report, appears to have constituted gross misconduct, and the report recommended that the matter be reported to council for further investigation.
ENS found that there was a similar breach regarding another set of transactions with MTC for handheld devices. The acting executive director of the department signed off on the transaction despite the amount being above the R20 million threshold. ENS found that this was brought to Brink’s attention, but that he “did not take any corrective action”.
Brink, according to the report, was made aware by an official of steps to be taken to report the transactions, but “no evidence exists that Mr Brink sought to implement this advice”.
Brink had taken leave at the time of the transactions, and an official acting in his place signed off on them ostensibly on Brink’s behalf, but when Brink became aware that this was done against the advice of supply chain management department, he failed to act.
“In the result, at that stage there was information brought to Mr Brink’s attention that possible financial misconduct had been committed by officials of Public Safety and he did not take any action.”
“All this raises serious questions about Mr Brink’s suitability for the position that he holds. As the accounting officer he is expected to steadfastly stand for and protect the best interests of the city.”
The report recommended that the city consider formal disciplinary proceedings against Brink.
The report also suggests that Brink was uncooperative with the investigators, deliberately withholding documentation and failing to address questions.
Brink did not respond to questions from amaBhungane but has hit out at the ENS report.
A letter from his lawyers addressed to the mayor and the council speaker says that the investigation was an “unlawful” attempt to “disqualify certain candidates from being considered for appointment to the position of city manager”.
The letter states that on 9 January, “on the eve of the advertisement of the city manager position” of 16 January, Brink was notified of the investigation. The letter maintains that the investigators did not have the authority to investigate managers of his level — so-called section 56 managers — without approval from the metro’s council.
Addressing these claims, ENS said in a letter to GFIS that the premise of Brink’s claim, namely that the investigation was directed at himself, was wrong. “ENS Africa does not hold instructions to investigate any specific person. In particular, ENS Africa has not been specifically instructed to or appointed to investigate [Brink]. ENS Africa has always understood its mandate to be to consider the relevant two transactions and to investigate if the transaction complied with the law and the relevant approval policies”.
“It so happened that in the process of investigating [the transactions], we found prima facie evidence of wrongdoing by some employees who are section 56 employees. Where this has happened, we have recommended that the procedures set out in the Municipal Regulations be invoked. All this is covered in our report.”
Brink and Malema
This is not the first time Brink has found himself the target of an investigation. While at the Limpopo Department of Roads and Transport, Brink was arrested and charged as part of a sweeping corruption investigation after the department, along with other provincial departments, was placed under administration because of widespread maladministration.
The same investigation ensnared Malema, his business partner Lesiba Gwangwa, and other associates linked the On Point Engineering scandal, which was the subject of a Public Protector’s report. Malema was alleged to have improperly benefited from a tender worth over R50 million from the Department of Roads and Transport. The case against Malema was thrown out in 2015 after numerous delays, with one of his co-accused claiming ill health.
Malema’s cousin, Tshepo Malema, and Collins Foromo, his childhood friend, also faced charges stemming from the investigation, in connection with a R63-million pothole tender. The National Prosecuting Authority provisionally withdrew the case in 2013, citing a lack of evidence for a successful prosecution. At the time, the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) said they would be looking to reinstate the case.
Brink was acquitted in 2013.
After his appointment as COO of Johannesburg in 2018, rumours circulated that Brink was placed in the role to appease the EFF, which was in a de facto coalition with the DA under Mashaba.
In response to the allegation, Mashaba said: “In the years I was the executive mayor of the city, not once did the EFF ever discuss tenders with me. If I am a broken record, then let it be. If you have proof of my involvement with the EFF and corruption, you are most welcome to provide it.”
The coalition arrangements were at the heart of a 2019 internal DA review report, which zoomed in on the DA’s partnerships with the EFF, saying “While appreciating the complexity and difficulty of the decision at the time, our view is that forming governments with the EFF’s support in Johannesburg and Tshwane was a mistake.”
The assessment was symptomatic of a broader realignment within the DA, which led to a falling out between the DA, on the one hand, and Mashaba and then party leader Mmusi Maimane on the other, both of whom resigned.
Mashaba described the party’s decision to re-evaluate the party’s coalition arrangements as “tantamount to declaring itself to be unsuitable for the future”.