PLETTENBERG BAY NEWS - The Plettenberg Bay Ratepayers' Association has turned to the labour court to intervene in actions by the Bitou local government concerning its municipal manager (MM).
"Sometimes, the actions of our government can convince one that we have slipped down the rabbit hole and are living right next door to Alice in Wonderland. It would be funny if the implications, financial and otherwise, for our town and country were not as serious as they are," said PBRA chair Neville Petersen.
Over the past year, Bitou Municipality has made "irrational and even bizarre" decisions which have forced them as ratepayers to start playing an active role in the town's governance, he said, one such being the rehiring of MM Lonwabo Ngoqo.
The labour court found on 13 August that Ngoqo's appointment in February this year was unlawful – after he was dismissed in 2012 over financial misconduct.
'Council resisted MEC's decision'
Legally, Petersen explained, an MM found guilty by a disciplinary hearing of serious financial misconduct, must be placed on a register and is not allowed to be appointed as an MM for the next 10 years. "Inexplicably that was not done," Petersen added.
"As a check and balance, the appointment of an MM must be approved by the relevant MEC for local government. The MEC objected to the approval but the council resisted. This forced the MEC to enforce his decision via the courts."
Petersen said council has since applied for leave to appeal. "The normally unavoidable consequence of the application for leave to appeal is that the decision under appeal is suspended until the appeal process is finalised, meaning Ngoqo remains ensconced until the appeal process has run its course. That could take years."
He said there is a legal solution available, in that the MEC may under exceptional circumstances apply, which he has done, to the court that the decision under appeal be enforced in the interim.
Petersen said the PBRA has since taken legal advice and applied to enter the fray as amicus curiae (friend of the court).
"The interests (of the Bitou ratepayers) are recounted at some length in the submissions of the MEC, but he operates at one removed from the municipality and so is unable to speak to local concerns directly. The submissions of the municipality, for their part, regrettably show little concern for the interests of residents, but are devoted to a defence of the council's manoeuvres and the advancement of Ngoqo's interests.
'Distressing reluctance to engage'
"By concentrating on legal technicalities, they show a distressing reluctance to engage with the central issue, which is whether their appointee can lawfully occupy a position of trust within this local authority," PBRA attorney Martin Hurwitz said.
He added that the PBRA will, if admitted as an amicus, present argument on the merits of the application for leave to appeal, among others. "If admitted as amicus in the application to enforce the order, the PBRA will make submissions on whether, pending the outcome of the appeal (supposing leave is granted), the municipality can legitimately implement the contract of employment that it must, at least for the interim, concede is unlawful," Hurwitz said. "The PBRA will also wish to make submissions on the consequences of placing Ngoqo back in a position of trust when he has previously been dismissed for serious misconduct. Finally, it will deal in general with the relative levels of prejudice that would ensue were an order to enforce the court's judgment to be granted." The court will hear the matter on Friday 25 October.
Despite attempts to obtain comment from the municipality, this was not forthcoming by the time of going to print.
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