Photo Credit: Tim Twidle
When the decision was taken last year that the Plett Ratepayers Association had no option but to get more directly involved in ensuring good governance of our town, we suspected that it would not be simple and easy, and we anticipated some push back from certain quarters. But little did we know that we would be faced with such determined push back even from quarters we expected to co-operate and support our efforts on behalf of the residents of Plettenberg Bay.
As much as the law is there for the protection of the residents’ rights, it does not operate automatically against those who break the law. But requires positive action from the law-abiding such as yourselves.
Under the circumstances, it is simply not possible for individuals to have the law enforced, and we are more convinced than ever that the decision for the RPA to take an active role on behalf of ALL the individuals of this town who are affected by the corruption was the correct one.
The law is complicated, unpredictable, unhurried and very expensive. We have been extremely fortunate that our senior counsel Martin Brassey shares our concerns and has gone way beyond what one would normally expect from senior counsel by generously sharing his knowledge and advice on matters way beyond those he has been briefed on. He has spent many, many hours on these matters for which we will never be able to repay him. However where he has had to work and stand for us in his professional capacity there is no escaping the cost. In order to cover these costs we have to call on those in our community who are fortunate enough to be in a position to commit really significant funds to the protection of the greater good. We have so far been able to raise relatively small amounts sufficient to cover the ancillary costs, but only the large donations can enable us to take the fight to the end.
The major issues that have emerged during the year and that we have been forced to attend to are:
• The Ngoqo Affair: Mr. Ngoqo was dismissed as municipal manager in 2012 for financial misconduct, then re-hired in March and given a sizable settlement. The labor court found his appointment unlawful in July and that should have been the end of the matter. Bitou Municipality has appealed the decision on his behalf. Rather than wait until his appeal is heard next year, MEC Bredell brought an application to disbar Ngoqo from his position with immediate effect. After seeing the MEC’s papers, we decided the residents were not being adequately represented, therefore we joined the matter as “amicus curiae” to reinforce the concern about the financial risk of Ngoqo remaining in office. The matter was heard in November and the judge said, in her view, this was not the sort of exceptional case in which so drastic an order should be made. We respectfully beg to differ, but our attention must turn to the main issue of the appeal, for which we are now preparing.
• Needless to say, the municipality’s spirited and expensive defense of Ngoqo’s personal interests is being funded by the residents of Plett. Likewise, for as long as they manage to keep him in the position unlawfully he is being paid a substantial salary with your money.
• That he occupies the position unlawfully is beyond doubt. Two courts have found so and our council is undeniably aware of that. They are also aware that they have a duty to conscientiously act in the best interests of the municipality, which they obviously are not doing.
• The Plett Ratepayers believe that Bitou Council must take the requisite action and remove him from office. To the extent that council has failed to do so, we have put the individual Councillors on notice that they will be held personally liable for the loss so caused.
The Forensic report.
• We applied for a copy of a forensic investigation commissioned by MEC Bredell in 2018, and are pleased to report that the MEC has now informed us he has given the report to Bitou Council and invited them to comment on its recommendations. Unfortunately the Mayor has not distributed the report to all the councillors, but has forwarded it to the municipality’s legal team. Council has until 20 January to respond and he has undertaken to give us copies thereafter. The MEC must then decide on what steps to take. Included in his powers depending on the content of the report is the option to place the municipality under administration. Only time will tell, but we are satisfied with what we have achieved so far and that the MEC seems to have concluded that the RPA is serious in its endeavors to return good governance to our town.
• Exorbitant Salaries paid to senior officials. Our struggle to extract accurate information regarding the salaries, qualifications, etc continues to grind its way through the so-called Promotion of Access to Information process with the municipality fighting us every step of the way, despite the fact that this information should be published on the municipal website. We are currently waiting for a court date with the magistrate’s court.
• Overpriced goods and services. Rumours of the municipality vastly overpaying for goods and services are rife but details are few. When particular instances are brought to our attention we cannot just act blindly, but must try to verify and confirm the facts in each case. Information is key, but given the secrecy in which the council and municipality operate it is difficult and time consuming to do so. Our manpower is limited so we are only able to give attention to a few of the most blatant issues.
• The Ratepayers’ Association has also continued, as it always has done, to monitor service delivery – particularly water, sewerage, power, and proposed new land and property developments which could impact on the lives of residents. These have been reported to members via e-mail and the website throughout the year, and in regular articles in the CXPress and year-end reports, so I won’t repeat them here.
Before closing, I would like to make two appeals.
First, for community involvement. We are in the process of collating information and establishing what issues should be attended to as a matter of urgency in event our municipality is put under administration. We are doing so because the time periods allowed for administration are very limited, and the more information and direction that can be provided beforehand, the better prepared the persons involved can be. We pick up from the media that administration is often a failure due to short periods allowed and administrators unprepared for what they find once they step in. So it is incumbent on those who are intent on returning good administration to do as much as they can to assist MEC Bredell and administrators when the time comes. We are aware of the tremendous untapped expertise that is available to us. It is our intention to form various committees and allow for volunteers to contribute their expertise. We need auditing expertise, investigative assistance, tender analysis. If you would like to help, please forward your name and field of expertise to our secretary, Margaret, and as soon as we are able to form these committees we will contact you.
Secondly, expand our membership. A motion was raised from the floor last year to increase our annual dues from R200 to R1200. This was, admittedly, a big increase but the right decision at the time because we needed a fast cash infusion to take on the legal matters required to send a message to the municipality that we were serious about restoring clean governance. With the help of some very generous people, some of the financial pressure is off of us. Therefore, we have proposed reducing the dues for 2020 to R600, R50 per month, or the price of a tot of whiskey. It is our hope that many more people will join and increase our membership to strengthen our voice when dealing with the municipality, on matters that impact the value of our members properties and investments, as well as the prosperity of the town. It is in every ratepayers’ interest to have a well-run municipality. Remember, a significant portion of the funds the municipality receives are paid by us as ratepayers. The Ratepayers’ key objective is the effective and efficient utilization of your funds. Your membership, and those of your family and friends, will help ensure good governance, protection of our property values, and keep Plett the idyllic place we love.
In closing, I would like to thank all our members for your support, and wish you a wonderful holiday from your team at the Plett Ratepayers’ Association.
All the best,