A public relations firm headed by former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon and communications director Nick Clelland is set to receive over half a million rand from the City of Cape Town.
Resolve Communications, sub-contracted by the City to provide "strategic advice" to improve the City's drought crisis communication, was appointed by the City's advertising agency in November.
In written answers to News24, the City of Cape Town said Resolve Communications was awarded the subcontract at a cost of R164 500 per month in a bid to help reduce water consumption.
The agency's contract is set to end in February, amounting to a total payment of R658 000.
"It is a vast undertaking to develop programmes that can reach each and every resident. Resolve provides guidance on how best this can be achieved," the City responded.
"Changing behaviour is more cost-effective than building new infrastructure."
Resolve Communications - which on its website lists lobbying, advocacy, reputation management and strategic communications as its areas of expertise - maintained that its work with the City is above board.
The company refuted claims that a conflict of interest exists, despite the firm being headed by two former DA heavyweights.
"This question has a frankly absurd inference: that the party-political background of two principals in a company should qualify or disqualify that company from doing any work," Resolve Communications said in an email to News24.
"Our project lead, Nick Clelland, is an exceptionally skilled professional strategic communicator, with specialised experience in government crisis communications earned both locally and internationally. Tony Leon is not involved in this work at all."
On its website, the firm boasted that it has been able to change government legislation in favour of one of its clients.
Following a comprehensive communications strategy which included meetings with "relevant senior politicians, party-political leaders, business leaders and analysts", the firm was able to "re-negotiate the legislation to [the client's] satisfaction", a case study on the Resolve Communications website reads.
Conflict of interest
The firm, however, maintained that its lobbying work is entirely separate from its crisis communications work and will not influence City of Cape Town policy.
"It is our internal policy to always disclose any potential conflict of interest," the company said.
The City of Cape Town agreed, saying that Resolve Communications is not employed to develop policy but rather to provide "high-level strategic guidance on effective crisis communications".
"In general, the City protects against conflicts of interest in by requiring contractors to declare these interests before doing business with the City," it said.
Asked whether a tangible change could be seen in water consumption since Resolve Communications was appointed, the City said water consumption has continued to see "a downward trend".
"Given the very small margin of safety before we run out of water, it was suggested that the City bring in external industry experts to give a fresh perspective and guide teams on new strategies to [get] consumption down further and avoid Day Zero, when residents will have to queue for water," the City of Cape Town said.