Opposition suspects ‘foul play’ after EMLM files are burnt

FLAMES: A municipal building at the Gardens Clinic smoulders after a fire. The damages were estimated at about R300 000 Picture: ZINTLE BOBELO

Opposition parties are suspecting foul play after ‘crucial files’ were reportedly destroyed in a fire when the Enoch Mgijima Local municipal public accounts committee (MPAC) and integrated planning and economic development (IPED) offices was engulfed in flames on Friday.

Municipal spokesperson, Lonwabo Kowa, said the building incurred huge damage estimated at R300 000, stating that the cause of the fire was still unknown and that investigations were ongoing.

“There has been massive damage as some crucial files and assets have been burnt. It is the second time this building has caught fire and no one has been apprehended, but both investigations are still on. One office in the same building caught fire on July 5,” he said.

Weighing in on the matter, Luthando Amos of the EFF highlighted that the building housed a council committee tasked to investigate issues of maladministration and irregular expenditure among others. “It is the vanguard of the institutions public purse. As we know the municipality is under administration. There are payments which were made over the years for councillors who had furthered their studies in a known University, such were cases that MPAC was following up on. We are definitely suspecting foul play and we appeal to the law enforcement officials to assist us in getting to the bottom of what transpired.”

DA Zuko Mandile was concerned the building was not cordoned off for the safety of the public. He added that suspicions were raised when he was advised by security that the fire had started the previous day and a truck allegedly, from the municipality, arrived to collect furniture before the building burnt down. “There are a lot of cases council has referred to MPAC for further investigation which have not yet been resolved. For example, the sale of rhinos, maladministration, possible theft of municipal property, irregular expenditure, fuel and diesel misuse. Documentation was unfortunately in that building. The law should take its course because we are suspecting foul play here.”

Aaron Mhlontlo of the United Front Plus who was shocked to learn of the incident said: “We have always been raising the issue of underutilized securities employed by EMLM but are not physically on the sites. Not only IPED offices are vulnerable to vandalism but almost all community halls at Mlungisi location, Whittlesea , Molteno, Sterkstroom etc. The portfolio committee may be in a better position to respond appropriately. I feel pity for councillor Sakhile Mvana who has lost so many documents. Though I may not have facts , but I also suspect foul play, something like an inside job related to politically unfolding issues/developments,” he said.

Sources claim that the fire was reported on Thursday  morning July 23 but was attended on Friday. However Kowa stated that the fire was reported at 8.05am on Friday. “There was no fire on Thursday as there were staff members who left the offices at 4.30pm when there was neither fire nor smoke in the building.”

Services had to be temporarily halted at the Gardens Clinic as the municipal building was in the same precinct. When The Rep arrived at the scene fire fighters were working on extinguishing the blaze with a group of staff members and people visiting the clinic watching in dismay as the fire engulfed the building.

Police spokesperson captain Namhla Mdleleni has indicated to The Rep that police were investigating a case of arson and no arrests had been made.

The investigation will help give direction on the cause of the fire and what will be done thereafter. It is possible that this could be a case of arson but this has all been left to the investigating team,” Kowa pronounced.

Nomazotsho Kopolo of Cope said the incident showed that the building was not safe to begin with but because the municipality was cash-strapped it was going to be difficult to beef up security.

Chris Hani health district director Sindiswa Tywabi said staff members and people visiting the clinic had to be evacuated for safety. “We received calls that there was a fire in the municipal building. Our Gardens Clinic is in the same precinct, but fortunately the clinic was not affected by the fire, although people had to be evacuated from the scene and services halted. However, by midday the services were up and running. We are still to hear from the municipality what the cause of the fire was and what it is that we should keep in mind in order for us to be on the alert for any further occurrences. For now the services are up and running and we are to be guided by the municipality going forward,” she said.

71-year-old Helen van Straaten who went to collect medication and get her blood pressure checked will have to wait for the facility to be in full operation, as will other patients. “I only have two pills left and I had to wake up early because my son had to drop me off on his way to work.” She indicated that the delay was an inconvenience, but she had no option but to wait.