Breakdown of Bitou governance and democracy.
Governance in Bitou once again went from bad to worse collapsing completely after April 2021 when both parties with great fanfare and much posturing supported a long overdue vote of no confidence in Mayor Peter Lobese.
No sooner had the deed been done, the DA reneged on their agreement to let the ANC govern until the election, by staging a power grab in cahoots with Lobese in exchange for giving him the position of Speaker – the very person they slated as being unfit to hold office.
This gave the DA/AUF coalition a majority but the ANC refused to go quietly as required of them in a democracy and a flurry of litigation between the two camps ensued. The DA having taken power faced a hostile administration and failed to make headway. Gcabayi clung to his position as acting mayor and Wildeman kept calling council meetings which the DA/AUF coalition refused to attend rendering the meetings inquorate and unable to function.
Despite the DA having elected Nel as mayor, he did not carry out the functions of an executive mayor and failed to exercise any of the delegated powers. Gcabayi, on the other hand, continued to function as mayor and taking the decisions as if he had delegated authority, including the approval of the highly controversial Signal Hill ERF 156 application.
As the Plett Ratepayers’ Constitution stipulates: “The Association shall be non-party political and non-racial” so the RA demanded that neither of the parties use public funds to prosecute their party-political squabbles. Our demands fell on deaf ears. As soon as stability returns to the municipality, we will investigate and should we find that public funds were used, we will take action to recover the funds.
Provincial Forensic Investigation Report/Implementation Plan.
This year we continued our efforts to obtain clarity and action relating to the 2018 Provincial Forensic Report and the so-called “Implementation Plan” ostensibly meant to hold those identified as miscreants, to account.
To this end the RA directed no less than 59 communications to the Bitou Councillors, MEC Bredell and even in desperation to Premier Winde, asking them to tell us what they have done to investigate, recover funds, and discipline the miscreants named. Ignoring our Constitutional rights to access to information and the Constitutional imperatives of governance that is open, responsive and accountable they all chose not to respond to our requests.
The upshot of their failure to deal effectively with the matter and/or to give us the required information was that the persons identified as looting our public coffers continued to do so with impunity over the past three years. We will continue to put pressure on them, but it is obvious that openness, responsiveness and accountability were foreign concepts to the previous council.
Grants-in-Aid Fund Report. The abuse of Grants-in-Aid funds (Mayoral Discretionary Fund) forms the bulk of the corruption identified in the above Report. We have asked council to provide a report on who has received funding and the accounting thereof, as required by the MFMA, but again none of the councillors responded. We also submitted to council that this fund be omitted from the 2021 budget since it results in millions of Rands put in the mayor’s hands, with no council oversight, no statutorily-required reporting, no auditing for compliance, and has been openly abused for years. The new council has assured us of transparency so we will ask them to put this on their action list.
Exposing bad governance. Much time and effort were put into providing input for the oversight reports of the 2021 budget with all its excesses; 2019 annual report with the Auditor-General’s report showing a lack of consequence management and shockingly bad decision-making; exposing irregular expenditures of R350 million; wasteful spending; dodgy tenders worth millions, over R300 million in outstanding debt, to name but a few. It has been reported to our members throughout the year, and we will continue to expose and call to account corrupt officials and councillors as and when issues come to our attention.
Mayoral car. Up until July 2014 legislation allowed municipalities to provide mayors with vehicles for their exclusive official use, thereafter the practice was disallowed. The Bitou municipality and council ignored the legislation and continued to provide the mayor with a luxury vehicle and paying all costs involved, both official and private, costing the public millions of Rands, and approved buying a new luxury vehicle for this purpose in June 2020.
The issue came to our attention in 2020 when council resolved to acquire not just one but 2 new luxury vehicles for use by the mayor and deputy mayor as part of council’s “cost cutting measures.” (Yip. Cost cutting measures. We kid you not.)
We asked Council to rescind their unanimous but unlawful decision to acquire the luxury vehicles, and when ignored, we applied to Court to interdict them from doing so. In the process Council then agreed to stay the acquisition of the vehicles until the matter can be heard. We await a court date.
With the advent of a new council, we fear that the issue may very well raise its ugly head in the near future so the RA will write to the municipal manager and the new councillors informing them of the position.
Overpayment of Senior Officials.
It came to our attention that council had resolved to pay and were paying senior officials salaries way beyond what is prescribed by law. We appealed to them to rescind the unlawful decision and recover the lost funds. Our pleas were ignored and we were forced to institute legal proceedings against the officials and councillors to halt the unlawful payments and recover the money. The municipality and all 13 councillors are opposing the Ratepayers in this matter. We are awaiting a court date for this matter.
Ngoqo Dismissal. In February 2019 Council again appointed Ngoqo as MM who had been dismissed as Bitou MM in 2012 for serious financial mismanagement and who as a result thereof is barred for 10 years from holding a senior position in any government institution.
MEC Bredell requested that the appointment be rescinded and when that failed to bear fruit he instituted legal proceedings. Council, using municipal funds, opposed the MEC and despite suffering numerous defeats in the courts have now applied for leave to appeal the matter to the Constitutional Court to the sole benefit of Ngoqo.
The RA joined the MEC in his action and has opposed the application for leave to appeal. We await the Constitutional Court’s decision on whether or not to hear the appeal. Further steps, including the possible recovery of wasted funds from the individuals responsible will be considered when the time is ripe.
In summing up, Council’s dismal failure to establish a functioning MPAC (Municipal Public Accounts Committee) contributed to a large extent to the deterioration of governance and the ease with which the municipality was hijacked by criminal elements over the past five years.
We congratulate the new councillors on their appointment and earnestly hope they fulfill their oath of openness, responsiveness and accountability, with a focus on service delivery for the entire community of Bitou.