PLETTENBERG BAY NEWS - Two years after a storm erupted over what has been deemed the illegal reappointment of the Bitou Municipality's municipal manager, who was dismissed from the same municipality over financial misconduct in 2012, the Labour Appeal Court found last week that Lonwabo Ngoqo's reappointment was indeed illegal.
While the Bitou Municipality said this week that it was "reviewing" its options following the judgment, the opposition is demanding that the bill for the court proceedings not be footed by ratepayers and that the councillors responsible for Ngoqo's reappointment be held personally liable for the costs.
The matter relates to the irregular appointment of Ngoqo as municipal manager as well as the irregular payment of R781 184 to Ngoqo in February 2019.
The council decided to appoint Ngoqo despite the fact that he had been dismissed from the very same municipality in 2012 after disciplinary proceedings found him guilty of financial misconduct.
Western Cape local government, environmental affairs and development planning MEC Anton Bredell took the matter to court after exhausting all other options and challenged the legality of the actions taken by council, which he deemed as a ploy to "circumvent the law".
In terms of legislation, a municipal manager who is found guilty of serious financial misconduct by a disciplinary hearing, must be placed on a register and is not allowed to be appointed as a municipal manager for the next ten years. This was apparently ignored. As a check and balance, the appointment of a municipal manager must be approved by the relevant MEC for local government. Bredell objected to the approval but the council resisted, which forced the MEC to enforce his decision via the courts.
In August 2019 the labour court ruled in Bredell's favour. The court found that the decision taken by the council was unlawful. It ordered that the settlement agreement between the municipality and Ngoqo, as well as Ngoqo's appointment as municipal manager, be set aside.
The municipality then took the matter on appeal.
Dismissed with costs
The judgment in that appeal was delivered via e-mail last Thursday, 11 February, informing the parties that the appeal had been dismissed with costs. "The Bitou council will now be liable for the costs for a case that it continued to drag out for longer than was necessary," Bredell said following the judgment.
"This was to the detriment of the citizens of Bitou. It's a pity that some council's leadership insist on going to court using council's money to drive their own personal agendas."
DA constituency head in Bitou, Cathy Labuschagne, called on mayor Peter Lobese and his ANC coalition partners, who voted in favour of Ngoqo's appointment, to pay the costs out of their own pockets. "They voted in favour of Ngoqo's appointment, well knowing that the appointment would be illegal," Labuschagne said in a statement.
She said the DA believed that this could be a watershed judgment that could facilitate the dismantling of the "corruption network that was systematically constructed in Bitou Municipality after the 2016 local government elections".
The Plettenberg Bay Ratepayers Association shared the sentiment. "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 R3- and R4-million," said chairman Peter Gaylard.
"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 legitimise 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 litigations is Ngoqo and not the municipality."
Bitou municipal spokesman Andile Namntu said that the Bitou council was still in the process of reviewing its options pertaining to the matter and would issue a statement "in due course".
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