The Plettenberg Bay Ratepayers’ Association is pleased to announce that the Labour Appeal Court has upheld the earlier Labour Court’s decision that Bitou Municipality’s appointment of Lonwabo Ngoqo as Municipal Manager in February 2019 was unlawful.
In 2012, Ngoqo, while employed as Bitou Municipal Manager, was found guilty of serious financial misconduct and dismissed. In terms of the law, a finding of serious financial misconduct on the part of a senior municipal official, precludes that official from being appointed by ANY municipality or government department for a period of ten years.
In 2018/19 when the then Bitou Municipal Manager left under a cloud, the mayor invited Ngoqo to apply for the vacant position. In January 2019, the Bitou Council in defiance of the employment ban and in the full knowledge of his dismal performance, resolved to appoint Ngoqo to the position. To add insult to injury, Ngoqo was paid R781,184 to “compensate” him for the costs he had incurred in his earlier legal battles against his dismissal.
When his appointment became known to the MEC for Local Government Anton Bredell, who has oversight over the appointment of municipal managers, he engaged with Bitou Municipality and advised them for obvious reasons, not to make the appointment. The mayor/council defied him and went ahead with the appointment.
The MEC, quite correctly, took the matter to the Labour Court to have the settlement and appointment set aside.
The Labour Court found the decision taken by Bitou Council was unlawful and ordered that the settlement agreement entered into between the mayor/Municipality and Ngoqo be set aside, and that Ngoqo’s appointment as Municipal Manager also be set aside.
That should have been the end of the matter, but the mayor, exercising the Council’s delegated authority appealed the decision.
The Ratepayers wrote to all councillors informing them that the appointment and continued employment of Ngoqo had yet again been found to be unlawful and that he should not be allowed to continue, and appealed to them to take the necessary steps in council to give effect to that. Sadly, our advice and request were ignored.
The mayor, again exercising his delegated authority, appealed the judgment on behalf of council and the municipality. This irrational and potentially harmful move compelled the Ratepayers to take an active role in averting the Ngoqo disaster and applied to the court to be joined as a respondent in the appeal.
The Labour Court of Appeal heard the matter in September 2020. The three judges dismissed the appeal with costs awarded against the municipality.
This should now be the end of the matter, but given his record it is possible that the mayor will throw good money after bad and apply to appeal to the Constitutional Court. If so, hopefully the Council will rein him in.
As matters stand, it has now once again been confirmed that Ngoqo’s appointment by the council was unlawful, the settlement was unlawful and his employment since February 2019 was unlawful. It follows from that that all the costs involved in his unlawful employment, salary and perks etc have been incurred unlawfully and must be recovered from Ngoqo or from those responsible for his unlawful appointment and continuous unlawful employment.
We will be writing to all councillors requiring them to take the necessary actions in terms of the MFMA to recover this substantial amount of money which is estimated to be between R3m and R4m.
It is our opinion that the legal costs incurred on behalf of the municipality throughout the entire saga should be recovered as it was never in the best interest of the municipality to fight to legitimize the unlawful appointment and employment of a person who is not a fit and proper person to hold responsible office and has repeatedly been found by the court not to be so. In any event his record of employment proves he is not trustworthy. The only person who could have benefitted from the desperate, reckless and ultimately fruitless litigation is Ngoqo and not the municipality.
We will watch developments closely and will again appeal to all councillors to execute their fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the municipality.