BITOU NEWS - Who's the Boss…in Bitou that is. The gloves are off in an all-out bash-up between political factions in Bitou to decide who is actually in control of the town.
The DA, along with the AUF, recently toppled the ANC-run municipality after the majority of councillors elected DA Caucus Leader Bill Nel as mayor. The position became vacant following a vote of no confidence in former mayor Peter Lobese.
The election happened during a controversial council meeting last week, where several other positions also changed hands. Deputy Mayor Sandiso Gcabayi was booted and replaced by Nomphumelelo Ndayi.
Speaker Euan Wildeman was also removed and replaced by Lobese.
The Bitou council has been in a precarious position since the last local government elections which saw the DA obtain six seats in council, the ANC another six and the AUF one. This led to several coalitions between the AUF and the two other parties.
This time Lobese voted with the DA, which led to the recent developments in Council.
The ANC, through Gcabayi, has however cried foul, labelling the meeting that saw these changes take place "illegal" and stating that they would be heading to court to overturn this move.
"We are proceeding with an urgent application to set aside the illegal decision by councillors Nel and Lobese. The application is to review and set aside this despicable act," Gcabayi said in a statement. He also denounced the "attempted coup" by the two councillors.
Nel however hit back. "Uncertainty and turmoil developed in the Bitou Municipality since the removal of Lobese from the office of executive mayor by a vote of no confidence," he said.
"This was compounded by a surge of staff dismissals, new appoint-ments, positional changes as well as interdepartmental movements of staff members under the guidance of the acting executive mayor (Gcabayi) and his de facto mayoral committee."
According to Nel, Lobese then realised that the best interests of the town would be served if he aligned the vote of his AUF party with that of the DA.
"This alignment of votes established a new majority of councillors while the ANC became a minority government without a quorum to convene council meetings and pass the council resolutions required for the administration to function."
Nel said to resolve the impasse, the new majority of councillors petitioned the speaker to convene a special council meeting to deal with, among others, the election of an executive mayor and the consideration of votes of no confidence in Gcabayi and Wildeman.
"As the speaker's discretion is removed once the majority has petitioned a meeting, he acceded to the request of the majority of councillors and duly scheduled the requested meeting."
Nel said should the ANC coun-cillors bring legal action, there were "unassailable facts" that remain in place whatever the outcome.
"The ANC no longer has the majority and will remain unable to establish the legally required quorum to call council meetings or pass the council resolutions required for the administration to function. The majority of councillors do have the ability to call legally quorate council meetings in order to pass the council resolutions required for the administration to function. If council remains unable to pass the budget within the prescribed time, Bitou will be placed under administration and Council will be dissolved," he explained.
Nel said based on this, several decisions were taken, one of which was to place municipal manager Lonwabo Ngoqo on special leave until further notice.
Ngoqo has become a controversial figure within the municipality. Ngoqo was dismissed from the Bitou Municipality over financial misconduct in 2012, but was reappointed in 2019. This was challenged by Western Cape MEC for local government Anton Bredell through a court application.
The labour court ruled in Bredell's favour. The municipality then took the matter on appeal. In February this year the appeal was dismissed with costs, but the municipality decided to appeal the decision once more.
Nel said the manager of legal services has now been instructed to prepare an item to serve at the next special council meeting to have the application to the Constitutional Court withdrawn.
Another major decision was to place a moratorium on all staff appointments and reverse all staff "movements" since 16 April. All administrative staff appointments since 1 May were also suspended for re-evaluation.
Nel also instructed Bitou law enforcement to ensure that the offices of the former mayor and the speaker are vacated.
He further instructed law enforcement to collect the official vehicle being used by Gcabayi and recall all security services and the driver for Gcabayi.
"Let it be known that no luxury vehicles, drivers, or security services will be required by the newly appointed executive and deputy executive mayors as well as by the newly elected speaker," he emphasised.
Nel also said the salaries of Gcabayi and Wildeman have to be adjusted to that of "normal councillors".
"In addition, the salary levels of the newly elected executive mayor, deputy executive mayor and speaker must be adjusted to the correct levels."
Another decision that was enacted was to instruct the directorate of community services to prepare an item for the next council meeting where the outstanding housing projects for Ebenezer, Qolweni, Kurland and Green Valley will be handed to the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements for completion.
"The relevant department/s are instructed to prepare an item for the next council meeting whereby Bredell is officially requested to provide the Bitou Municipality with a support team that consists of a well-experienced municipal manager, a well-experienced chief financial officer, a person with extensive experience in community service matters and any such other person or persons as the MEC may deem necessary to ensure the redrafting and submission of the budget presently under consideration is completed," Nel said.
Gcabayi however said that these statements by Nel were "entirely based on false premises and call to be ignored".
"The statement by Nel is sought to cause confusion, panic, uncertainty and to intimidate our hardworking administration," Gcabayi said.
He also referred to the ANC councillors as the "current council". "Our responsibility as the current council is to ensure that the municipality's conduct renders themselves both with administrative and legislative integrity."
Gcabayi said a council meeting that had been postponed from 18 May was convened on Monday 24 May, but that neither the DA councillors nor Lobese showed up. "The speaker (Wildeman) has ordered an investigation in this regard." This meeting has now been postponed to 31 May to "pass a resolution for the budget".
"We therefore, once again, call for calm in the administration and call on all of them not to accept illegal instructions form illegitimate 'executives', who incidentally are operating from the comfort of their homes."
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