Council and Litigation Report – Debi Nicholson

The Ratepayers’ Association’s shift of focus to ensuring good governance has gathered momentum in the past year.  Bad governance on the part of Council and mismanagement on the part of officials pose an enormous threat to Plett’s future sustainability.  Inefficiency and wasteful expenditure in the day-to-day operations constantly consumes our resources.  Breathtakingly poor decision making by Council is equally harmful. The auditors have pointed out that the municipality’s “consequence management” is well below par.  We can confirm what they say and that blatant corruption and theft is not dealt with by Council nor MPAC, with the result that the corrupt thieves who are busy stealing us blind can act with impunity, often under the protection of the highest political office bearers.

There is no management of the Supply Chain department (tenders) and control over expenditure is all but non-existent.  We are trying to devise new methods to enforce legal compliance, transparency and accountability.

An update on our activities follows:

MEC Bredell Corruption Report.

After requesting a copy of the Minister of Local Government’s forensic report on Bitou for almost a year, and finally having to PAIA it, we have been amazed that nothing has been done with it.  MEC Bredell instructed Bitou Municipality to investigate and take action against corrupt officials.  But after almost two years, Bitou Municipality has done nothing, and as far as we know Bredell has not followed up with them.

Bitou Municipality hired two law firms to help them formulate a plan of action…and that was as far as it went.

The RPA offered to help with evidence gathering, offered to help with a guiding and monitoring brief, but no takers.  Getting impatient, we asked MEC Bredell for a copy of Bitou’s action plan on 13 August 2020, and made the same request to Premier Winde on 16 August, and again to Bredell on 29 September, with no reply.  Apparently, we expect too much of our Provincial officials.

Overpayment of Salaries.

As you may recall, Bitou council approved a 20% “scarce skills allowance” for its already-overpaid municipal officials in December 2019.  We asked the councillors to rescind the allowance in April 2020 or we would hold them personally liable if salaries were not brought in line with legislated limits.  MEC Bredell also sent Bitou a letter instructing them to rescind the policy and to recover the money.  We asked Bredell to follow up on 28 July but it fell on deaf ears.  So we took Bitou Municipality to court to stop the overpayment and to pay back the millions they have stolen from the ratepayers and residents of Bitou.   The case was scheduled to be heard on 10 November as a default hearing, which means it was unopposed, but at the last moment the DA councillors decided to join with the ANC councillors to defend their decision to overpay municipal officials and to oppose us.  We are now awaiting a new court date.

Mayoral car.  In the middle of the pandemic when everyone was suffering the devastating effects of the economy, Bitou council approved over a million and a half rand for new luxury mayoral cars for the mayor and his deputy, plus salary increases for themselves.  We kindly asked them to rescind both decisions, and when ignored, we went to court and interdicted the purchase of the vehicles.  The matter was postponed on 4 November. We are busy joining the Council formally. Technically, the cars can be acquired in the meantime, but it is unlikely for even Bitou to do anything so foolhardy.

Ngoqo Dismissal.  Bitou’s once-again “Municipal Manager,” who was dismissed in 2012 for serious financial misconduct, was illegally rehired in 2019.  The RPA participated in his appeal hearing on 16 September in the Labour Appeal Court and we are awaiting judgment any day.

Irregular and unauthorized expenditure, and dodgy tenders.   Half of Bitou’s total expenditure of roughly R700 million is either unauthorized or irregular, and its debt is over R350 million.  Something has to give.  Just a few examples of municipal performance: R1 million for vehicle tracking systems which no one is tracking.  Millions spent on a fencing spree.   A million rand on uniforms for the Finance department?  R30 million loss of revenue from potential fines because the municipality cannot get its act together.  Purchasing truckloads of toilet paper from Limpopo. But we are zeroing in and making progress.

Without the assistance, guidance and perseverance of Martin Brassey SC, none of this would be possible.  And we thank Attorney Martin Hurwitz for all his generous work.