JRA accused of mismanagement and underspending as it loses most of its experienced staff.

The City of Joburg has denied any crisis in the organisation responsible for its roads, but an investigation has revealed a troubled agency and the risk of its problems showing on the roads in years to come.

As many as five sources, from workers to senior managers who are either still with the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) or have left, have described departments paralysed by suspensions and an atmosphere of fear under a leader with no technical background.

It is alleged that of a R150-million capital budget, given to the JRA by the council for new development, only R50-million was spent by last week. Budgets not spent in time are lost, and the JRA’s financial year ends on June 30.

The council has not disputed these figures and has assured that the budget will be spent.

But the risk, sources say, is that poorly planned projects could be approved in a rush to beat the deadline and future budgets may be cut.

The Star has established that in the last few months at least four senior employees left the agency, another four are under suspension (some waiting to be reinstated) and two are about to leave.

Among the latest departures is executive manager Liam Clarke, who worked for the council for more than 20 years and was responsible for maintenance and business implementation.

Others include depot managers (who controlled large teams of workers), asset management experts and senior staff responsible for new road developments.

This is on top of last year’s resignations, which saw the likes of Raymond Matlou, general manager of finance, give up on the JRA.

Some of those who left did so under a cloud, while others were lured out by better offers.

The exodus of technical staff has raised alarm at the JRA’s ability to maintain almost 10 000km of roads, in some areas pocked by potholes, and build new ones around the city.

Other issues raised against the JRA and its managing director, Duduzile Maseko, include contractors having to wait for months to be paid, engineers being forced out through non-renewal of their contracts, and millions of rands spent on “ridiculous” social projects.

An example that has drawn heavy criticism is the building of children’s playgrounds next to busy roads in Soweto. Insiders say these projects fall outside the JRA’s duty.

However, Maseko last year walked away with a top award and a R30 000 bursary from the Department of Local Government for her work at the JRA.

Maseko has been accused of threatening to outsource technical work instead of renewing contracts with long-serving staff.

“Under her management the agency has deteriorated into a bureaucratic, mismanaged nightmare,” one source said.

“The morale is very low,” said another. “People spend their time job-hunting, and if they get a job offer they’ll go.”

The council has denied these allegations.

On the budget, spokesperson Nthatise Modingoane, said: “Since inception, the JRA has spent all its capital funding by the end of the financial year, and 2007/08 is no exception.”

He explained that at the end of last year, a forensic investigation delayed the start of some projects.

Modingoane would not comment on the exodus, saying the matters were confidential. However, there was a strategy to avoid losing key personnel.

He acknowledged the shortage of engineers in the country and said the problem was not unique to the JRA. And he admitted some contractor payments were delayed by the financial audit that saw the suspension of several staff.

“However, the JRA is confident it will not only be able to maintain and even improve the service delivery standards it has become known for, but will meet its mandate.”

Modingoane said more than R8,4-million was spent this financial year on maintenance and the agency’s board was satisfied with Maseko’s performance.

The roads agency was established in 2001 and initially run by Mavela Dlamini, who is now Joburg’s city manager.

AUTHOR: Alex Eliseev
DATED: 24th June 2008