Corruption claims rock municipality

CORRUPTION and fraud claims have rocked the ANC-led Newcastle municipality in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

CORRUPTION and fraud claims have rocked the ANC-led Newcastle municipality in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

This after an estimated R10,4million was "stolen" from the municipal coffers by an alleged syndicate working with the municipality's staff.

Sowetan has learnt that the syndicate, with the assistance of senior officials, siphoned off municipal funds by cashing up fraudulently-signed cheques.

The syndicate allegedly claimed payment for work that was not done.

Mayor Afzul Rehman, who was appointed in July last year, confirmed that there were people who have been milking municipal coffers.

Rehman said: "It's an internal thing. What happens in the municipality is, we have a process in place for claims made from each department for a particular work that has been done for the municipality.

"That claim is forwarded to senior officials to process and sign the cheques.

"But what these people (syndicate) did was to make their own order books and submit the fraudulent claims. And instead of sending the claims to senior officials for signatures, they forged the officials' signatures and cashed the cheques. Unfortunately, the bank paid them."

Rehman said they had established that the corruption went on from September to November last year.

He said he was, however, not in a position to give further details on who the suspects were "because an internal investigation was underway".

But he said the culprits were known. "It's a very sensitive issue. At this stage we are conducting our own internal forensic investigation.

"Also, the commercial crimes unit has been called in to conduct its own investigations, and I can assure the public that arrests are imminent because the suspects are known.

"We want the municipal money back. We cannot have a situation where people steal what should be helping the public out there," he said.

Rehman said the municipality was faced with many challenges as the residents have fallen victims to natural disasters like storms.

"We could have used this money to help needy citizens, but instead it has been stolen.

"We are not going to let this happen. Heads are certainly going to roll and people will be arrested," he said.

The Newcastle municipality has an operating budget of about R1,2billion.