Image: Morné van Rooyen

By Kwazi Dlamini

One hundred days after the local government elections, there seems to be no end in sight to the goings-on at the Karoo Hoogland municipality – specifically, regarding the allegedly irregular appointment of its municipal manager. The Northern Cape municipality has remained mum about the appointment of Jan Fortuin, while queries relating to the appointment remain unanswered.

Karoo Hoogland appointed Fortuin as the municipal manager in 2018 after the position had been vacant for a while. Out of the four candidates the municipality called for interviews, Fortuin was the only candidate to show up, while the others cited personal problems and excused themselves from the process.

At the recommendation of the mayor, Veruschska Wentzel, Fortuin went through a supposedly satisfactory competency screening and he was appointed to the leadership position. Wentzel then wrote a report of appointment to the MEC of Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs, Bentley Vass. In response to the report, Vass said that Fortuin did not meet the minimum requirements for the municipal manager position by virtue of not possessing the five years’ experience in senior management as required by the post. Instead, he only had two years and eight months of the relevant experience.

According to a September 2019 article in the Diamond Fields Advertiser, Vass had said that “The municipal manager must have five years’ relevant experience at a senior management level. Unfortunately, the experience as a councillor and mayor is not recognised as senior manager experience, nor the experience as school manager. Only the experience as district manager can be recognised, but it is only two years and eight months, not the required five years.”

The MEC therefore advised Wentzel to re-advertise the post and repeat the recruitment process, but this did not happen. Instead, Fortuin was given 18 months to achieve the relevant competency levels, which comprised nine assessments.

A whistle-blower approached Corruption Watch (CW) with these allegations in 2021 after noticing unscrupulous behaviour by Fortuin. The whistle-blower alleges that the municipal manager entered into an agreement with a colleague, for him to complete the required assessments on behalf of Fortuin in exchange for cash.

However, the dodgy deal quickly went downhill when Fortuin decided to reimburse the colleague not with cash as agreed upon, but via a salary increase for the colleague’s wife. Fortuin then allegedly told the colleague that the latter is only employed at the municipality because the ANC bestowed a favour on him.

The reporter told CW that opposition parties at the municipality have raised the matter of Fortuin, his irregular appointment, and his questionable behaviour with the municipal council, but Wentzel refuses to entertain any discussion relating to the municipal manager.

CW reached out to Karoo Hoogland municipality to test the veracity of these allegations but did not receive a response. CW also sent questions to the office of the MEC about whether there was a follow-up on the re-advertisement of the municipal manager position at Karoo Hoogland and whether they are aware of the allegations against Fortuin. This communication, too, was ignored.

The controversial Fortuin remains the municipal manager at the municipality where, opposition parties claim, the ANC is protecting him from further scrutiny “at the expense of the people of Karoo-Hoogland municipality, whom he is meant to serve”.