CAPE Town traffic cops were taken on a R25 000 "booze cruise" in Table Bay harbour this week by Labat Traffic Solutions, the company that holds a lucrative contract to operate the City of Cape Town's speed cameras.
Labat said it had invited officers with whom it worked closely to its year-end function as a "gesture of appreciation". But after inquiries by Weekend Argus, Metro Police chief Bongani Jonas has ordered an investigation into the three-hour excursion, which took place during working hours.
Labat holds a controversial five-year contract with the city to supply speed cameras and other traffic enforcement equipment and to administer the collection of traffic fines. It gets 50% of all speeding fines plus 25% of all other traffic fines.
At midday on Thursday a select group of traffic officers from the speed enforcement section were seen laughing and joking as they waited to go on their cruise from the Waterfront. Labat works closely with this section.
The city has been trying to limit the monthly cost of the contract with the company, run by former South African Rugby Union chief Brian van Rooyen.
Bongani Maqungwana, executive support officer for Dumisami Ximbi, mayoral committee member for safety and security, said it was "very problematic" that a city contractor had entertained a group of selected officials.
He also questioned why these officials were allowed to go on the cruise in working hours, and said it should have been cleared with Metro Police management.
"Bongani Jonas was shocked when I told him and said he would launch an urgent probe into the matter," Maqungwana said.
Another senior city official, who asked not to be named, said: "Entertaining clients in the business world is normal practice but it is highly irregular when large amounts are spent on officials by a private contractor that is a service provider - particularly if such a contractor is dependent on the city for its income."
Weekend Argus was told about the trip by a group of traffic officers who said it raised serious questions.
A copy of the invoice obtained from the charter boat company showed that at least R5 000 was earmarked for booze.
Council safety and security committee chairman JP Smith said the trip was a "work-related year-end function" which had been sanctioned by department heads.
But Labat spokesman Shaheed Mohamed said the trip was his company's year-end function and only a selected number of officers who worked closely with the company had been invited.
Mohamed acknowledged that the performance of traffic officers was "a factor" in determining Labat's income from the city.
The company would also hold a more formal function for top management which would include invitations to city management staff.
"The officers, 28 of them, who we invited were those working at the coalface who were too busy to be taken off duty in the peak season coming up now," Mohamed said.
"But I know who leaked the story about our boat trip. I had been warned to expect some trouble.
"We invited just officers from Operation Reclaim, and then those who we did not include spoke out."
Officers attached to Operation Reclaim focus on warrants of arrest which have been outstanding for extended periods and unpaid traffic fines. Labat administers these cases and collects a percentage.
In April, city manager Achmat Ebrahim ordered an internal audit into the council's contract with Labat fol lowing an investigation that revealed the city had taken over the execution of all traffic warrants of arrest from Labat, even though the company was still being paid to do the task.
Labat's contract has been dogged by controversy.
Twice the company was given notice by the city to jack up its performance. The invalidation of 44 000 camera fines last year was conservatively estimated by traffic officers to have cost around R8.8 million in lost revenue, half of which would have gone into city coffers.
From the outset questions have been raised about the tenders to Labat, especially against the backdrop of the firm's holding company, Labat Africa, being R14m in debt.
But Smith said most of the contractual problems had been ironed out.