MM placed on suspension by ANC majority during a controversial council meeting.
“It doesn’t matter what the opposition says, we will push it through!” The words of MMC Ethel Nkosi still ring in the ears of the opposition as the ANC pushes through their agenda of removing the Municipal Manager. These words were uttered by the MMC in 2018 when opposition parties opposed the budget.
The last extraordinary council meeting was no different. Opposition parties vehemently opposed the suspension of the Municipal Manager, proposing that at the very least the Mayor and CFO should also be suspended and investigated.
The council meeting was scheduled for Wednesday. Only two items were tabled to the council. The first one was the Human Rights Report regarding the sewer spillages in Govan Mbeki Municipality (GMM). The second was the proposed disciplinary action against the Municipal Manager. The actual item was withheld until the last minute in contravention of the Councill Standing Orders.
Opposition parties called the item a witch hunt to divert the attention away from Ngxonono and her mayoral council. The DA said that they will not be part of the meeting and withdrew from the virtual meeting. The EFF also withdrew from the meeting and the FF+ followed suit. The ANC councillors that were left did not form a quorum and the meeting had to be reconvened on Thursday.
The item was presented again and the ANC used their majority to push the item through. Opposition parties again did not attend.
The Director of Community Services, Lizzy Shabalala, was appointed as acting Municipal Manager.
During the presentation of the item, the Mayor, Cllr Thandiwe Ngxonono, accused the Municipal Manager, Felani Mndebele of the late submission of the Annual Financial Statements. Her letter to the MM stated: ”You failed to submit the Annual Financial Statements which has led to the municipality not getting the equitable share, resulting in the non-payment of many creditors, therefore, entering the municipality deeper into debts as the municipality is being charged more interest on debtors.”
This is contrary to previous council meetings where the late submission of the Annual Financial Statements was condoned by the council.
Ngxonono claimed that the MM and his officials cost the municipality several millions of Rands but the MM denied this in his reply.
Ngxonono levelled several accusations against Mndebele, all of which the MM repudiated.
In his response to the allegations by the Ngxonono, Mndebele stated that “there is massive political interference meted out by the Executive Mayor since my appointment on the following issues, namely: recruitment/appointment of staff, the appointment of Service Providers to do business with Council and Payment of Service Providers.”
Mndebele made it clear that more information will be revealed during his disciplinary tribunal.
Mndebele stated that his day to day running of the municipality was made virtually impossible by the interference of the Mayor. She insisted on consulting on all decisions taken by Mndebele.
Opposition leader Democratic Alliance Councillor Ciska Jordaan said in her statement to the council: ”The DA is shocked, but not surprised with the response that was submitted by the Municipal Manager. What has been clarified, is what we have suspected all along and categorically stated in the last council meeting and we will repeat again: the Executive Mayor’s attempt to suspend the MM wreaks of political interference and blame-shifting.
This is confirmed by the claim that the Executive Mayor neglects to do performance assessments of the MM but now wants to recommend for his suspension saying that he is not performing.”
“It should be a concerning eye-opener, that the council continuously condones incompetency as in the case of the late submission of the AFS which was condoned by the council twice. This then becomes our burden – it is caused by incessant majority voting while councillors are often clearly not even aware of what it is they are voting for but simply siding with the ruling party despite the advice of the Opposition – and cannot be blamed on the administration.”
She continued: “The MM appallingly mentions how he attempted twice to discipline an official for non-performance, and that this is well known and have been found by the Office of the Auditor-General, Provincial Treasury and the Executive Mayor who promised to consult the MEC for CoGTA and the ANC so as to be able to advise the MM as if it is her decision.”
“Furthermore, the DA is deeply disturbed by the allegations that there is massive political interference meted by the Executive Mayor in a number of matters and that the MM was expected to consult with the Executive Mayor on all decisions to be taken.”
Ciska pointed out the following to the Mayor and council: “These, are allegations of high-level corruption and a criminal offence that is liable to a fine or imprisonment according to section 119 of the Municipal Systems Act and should be investigated.”
“Any councillor who supports these recommendations of the Executive Mayor, after having read the allegations that are made by the MM and taking into cognisance the words of the President that I have quoted earlier, is clearly not voting with his or her conscience and honouring the oath that they have taken to serve.”
Before withdrawing from council Ciska ended her statement with the following: “I think we have made it unconditionally clear Honourable Speaker, that as the Democratic Alliance we reject this item in its totality, we continue to call for the Executive Mayor to be held accountable for the mess this municipality is in and since the ANC is clearly going to steamroll this witch hunt, out of protest, the DA, therefore, withdraws from this meeting, in the effort of leaving the council without a quorum.”
The mayor also has duties in accordance with the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA). Several areas have prescribed duties in the act but the area that needs to be highlighted is contained in Chapter 7. (Taken directly from the act)
RESPONSIBILITIES OF MAYORS
52. The mayor of a municipality-
(a) must provide general political guidance over the fiscal and financial affairs of the municipality:
(b) in providing such general political guidance, may monitor and, to the extent provided in this Act. oversee the exercise of responsibilities assigned in terms of this Act to the accounting officer and the chief financial officer, but may not interfere in the exercise of those responsibilities;
(c) must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the municipality performs its constitutional and statutory functions within the limits of the municipality’s approved budget:
(d) must, within 30 days of the end of each quarter, submit a report to the council on the implementation of the budget and the financial state of affairs of the municipality: and
(e) must exercise the other powers and perform the other duties assigned to the mayor in terms of this Act or delegated by the council to the mayor.
Freedom Front Plus Councillor Aranda Nel-Buitendag said in a statement to The Bulletin: “The FF plus feel the suspension of the Municipal Manager is unacceptable. The allegation that was made by the Executive Mayor of the MM is absurd.”
“In our previous council meeting, there was documentation to follow the right process to suspend the MM. The FF Plus voted against the suspension and so did other opposition parties, however, the ANC overruled us as opposition parties with their majority.”
“The FF Plus feels that the CFO of GMM is responsible for the late submission of the Annual Financial Statements by staling the submission, ensuring that the financial reports did not reach AG in time.” said Aranda.
“The best came to light in the MM‘s report where he implicated the Executive Mayor in wrongdoing by interfering in the MM’s job so that he could not perform his duties as a MM properly.”
“This shows that the EM failed, in her position as mayor, to do the oversight and not interfere in officials work,” concluded Aranda, “What is the EM hiding in this process? Is she removing the MM so that they cannot point a finger at her at all?”
The Bulletin can only conclude that whilst the politicians battle it out in Council Chambers, residents will still have to endure load-shedding, sewage spillages, poor refuse removal and other service delivery failures.