by Brian Hayward WEEKEND POST REPORTER
THE Nelson Mandela Bay traffic department has been rocked by allegations of wide-spread fraud and corruption at a senior level.
Five suspended senior and middle management traffic officials yesterday started laying charges of fraud with police against three top department officials “including two assistant directors,” alleging a cover-up of corruption and mismanagement.
The three are alleged to have requested “kick-backs” for considering certain officers for promotion, arranging that examiners unconditionally pass driver and learner licence tests for friends and family, and using municipal funds for personal holidays. The group pressing the charges include Uitenhage principal examiner Dennis Januarie, senior traffic officer Lindsay Klerk and middle-management officers Petro Meyer, Elsie Gilbert and Luzaan Kettledas.
According to well-placed sources, the group has claimed they have been unlawfully suspended since December last year for refusing to bow to pressure from the department’s senior management to illegally pass certain drivers in their learner’s tests and practical exams or allow unqualified drivers to obtain driver’s licences. After attempting to open a case at the Uitenhage detective branch yesterday, the group were instructed to lay the charges with the Port Elizabeth Organised Crime Unit in Newton Park.
The unit is responsible for investigating fraud and corruption within the traffic departments.
Police spokesman Superintendent Priscilla Naidu confirmed the charges needed to be opened at the Port Elizabeth unit, because detectives would investigate the counter-allegations in conjunction with the claims made.
The charges have opened a can of worms over long-standing allegations and counter claims of wide-spread corruption in the department’s upper echelons for which it has come under fire in recent months. These include incidents of officers accepting bribes and issuing fraudulent licences.
According to signed affidavits “which Weekend Post has in its possession” from those suspended, the charges are against a high-ranking licensing officer, a top law enforcement officer and a senior examiner.
“They were suspended because they refused to be their (top management’s) puppets,” said a municipal employee close to the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity. When approached for comment, the five suspended officers said they were bound by a confidentiality clause in their contracts which prohibited them from speaking to the media. But according to the municipal source, the group, along with three other colleagues who did not hand in affidavits, were unlawfully suspended by the department last year.
The informal charges include receiving bribes from driver’s licence applicants, failing to complete forms, using colleagues’ passwords while working on official documents, and “completing transactions with applicants not present”. Lawyers say the department did not give the eight an opportunity to state their cases and had failed to present formal charges within 60 days of their suspension.
George Malgas, a Uitenhage lawyer acting on behalf of Januarie, said he had received no word from the municipality despite sending a letter to manager Graham Richards last week demanding formal charges be presented to his client.
“The things the (suspended) group was accused of doing are the same things they (senior management) are guilty of,” the source said. “They are corrupt and need to be exposed.” Yesterday, DA MP Pine Pienaar hit out at corruption within the department, calling on police to launch a province-wide inquiry.
“It shouldn’t just stop at local municipal levels, but at all municipalities throughout the country. The police must get involved with this investigation across the province, because lives are at stake,” he said. “An illegal driver’s licence is life-threatening.”
Pienaar said road deaths were directly attributed to fraud within the traffic department, as many unqualified drivers went on to cause serious and fatal accidents. “Road fatalities in this province are already far too high,” he said. “It is growing and by 2010 it’s projected that as many as 3000 people will die on our (Eastern Cape) roads.”