An independent councillor and the DA challenged the validity of the MEC for Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs (Coghsta), Bentley Vass, to dissolve the municipality and appoint an administrator.
THE NORTHERN Cape High Court has dismissed an urgent application to set aside a decision to dissolve Renosterberg Local Municipality, with costs.
Renosterberg Municipality is one of eight municipalities in the Province where by-elections were held on Wednesday.
The towns of Petrusville, Philipstown, Van der Kloof and Keurkieskloof fall under Renosterberg Municipality.
Independent councillor Matthew Posthumus and DA councillors Hendrik Boosyen and Elfredine Geraldine Bekkers challenged the validity of the decision by the MEC for Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs (Coghsta), Bentley Vass, to dissolve the municipality and appoint an administrator.
They argued that the MEC should have first attempted to resolve the issues within the municipal council before “imposing the extreme measure” of dissolving the council.
The MEC for Coghsta appointed a team of officials to conduct an urgent assessment into the state of affairs at the municipality in July 2020.
It was noted that the municipality did not provide the necessary support and co-operation to the investigating officials despite the mayor and certain councillors acknowledging that the local authority was “dysfunctional in various respects”.
The steps were taken after both Vass and the premier were informed in June that the municipality was unable to pay Eskom R88 million it owed the power utility.
While ratepayers were up to date with their account payments, they were often without electricity for up to 16 hours per day when Eskom cut the power supply to the defaulting municipality.
The municipality was also failing to pay its pension fund contributions, where some employees were unable to retire as they could not rely on receiving an income from their pension.
Local communities also suspected serious maladministration, corruption and a lack of consequences at the municipality, where it was observed that councillors were too involved in personal political infighting to hold proper and effective council meetings.
Service delivery was affected to such an extent that the police station has no electricity and cannot be accessed by the community via telephone.
The municipal manager and councillors did not know basic information about the state of affairs of the municipality.
No financial information or section 71 reports were presented to council and it was revealed that councillor’s remuneration exceeded the gazetted determination.
The municipal supply chain management was contrary to the local government Municipal Finance Management Act and code of conduct for councillors and the municipality was unable to appoint senior officials due to its “financial predicament”.
In her judgment, Judge Cecile Williams stated that the applicants did not raise the “appropriateness of less stringent measures” that should have been imposed.
She added that the submission that the municipal manager and mayor were willing to meet and co-operate with the MEC was “not at all supported by correspondence”.
“What is clear is that the correspondence does not evince a willingness to co-operate but rather an obdurate persistence in attempting to delay in dealing with the burning situation within the municipality and an insistence to deal with the problem on their own terms.”
Judge Williams referred to a message sent by the municipal manager on July 13 where it was stated that there was no urgency to engage with the MEC.
“I am at a loss to understand the current urgency of your desire for engagement. The mismanagement being identified and dealt with at present dates from the commencement of the current term in 2016 and remained undetected by your office and your oversight. Kindly allow Renosterberg to attend, finally, under competent management to position itself before demanding attention inevitably destined to distract from the exigent tasks at hand.”
The municipal manager was further quoted as “being flabbergasted that an MEC would stoop to demand the corpus of information specified to be delivered within some five-odd business hours”.
The municipal manager was also exasperated that during July the municipality was expected to comply with specific deadlines while its offices were closed due to a Covid-19 scare, where the municipal manager had to be placed in isolation.
Judge Williams stated that the MEC had taken the responsibility to deal with the debt owed to Eskom by dealing with them directly.
“This act was met with huge criticism and accusations of unnecessary interference which could scupper ongoing negotiations between the municipality and Eskom.”
She pointed out that the complaint appeared to have originated after the MEC instructed the mayor to hold a special council meeting, to be held on September 7, to inform the communities about the dissolution of the municipality.
“The argument is that the MEC sought to give effect to the dissolution one day before the permitted effective date in terms of section 139 (3) (b). The 14-day waiting period after the section 139 (3) (a) notices had been sent to the minister and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) expired on September 8.
“When the MEC in his answering affidavit drew attention to the fact that the decision to dissolve the municipality were both made in terms of section 139 (1) and section 139 (5) and that a dissolution in terms of section 139 (5) does not provide for a waiting period before it takes effect.”
Judge Williams was satisfied that the MEC had intervened as the municipality was facing a crisis in its financial affairs and was unable to fulfil its obligations.
“The factual position is, however, that the dissolution in terms of section 139 (5) (b) supersedes that in terms of section 130 (1) (c) which would effectively mean that the 14-day waiting period does not apply.
“The MEC admitted in his supplementary answering affidavit to making a mistake in his notification to the NCOP. He acknowledged that he does not have the authority to vary the terms of the provincial executive committee resolution, which makes no reference to a 14-day waiting period and that he did not seek to do so.
“The applicants in my view cannot rely on the MEC’s mistaken utterances in the face of legislation to the contrary. In my view, the application for review cannot succeed.”