Utrecht (Emdlangeni) Municipality (Kzn) Intervention: MEC briefing

Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

FINANCE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ADMINSTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE
23 October 2007
UTRECHT (eMDLANGENI) MUNICIPALITY (KZN) INTERVENTION: MEC BRIEFING

Chairperson: Mr S Shiceka (ANC, Gauteng)

Documents handed out:
Briefing Document on theIntervention In the Emadlangeni Municipality
Document pack from KwaZulu-Natal Department of Local Government and Traditional Affairs:
Annexure A: Notification Letter to NCOP
Annexure B: Notification Letter to Minister Mufamadi
Annexure C1: Suspension letter to Mayor Cllr Khoza
Annexure C2: Suspension letter to Municipal Manager Mr Kubheka
Annexure C3: Suspension letter to Official Mr B Zungu
Annexure D: Letter of appointment to Mr T Tubane
Annexure E: Letter of designation in terms of Section 36(3) of the Local Government Municipal Structures Act, 1998
Annexure F: Minutes of Special eMadlangeni Council Meeting held on 3 September 2007.

Audio recording of meeting

SUMMARY
Following the intervention by the KwaZulu-Natal Executive Council in the eMadlangeni (Utrecht) municipality, and its coverage in the press, the Committee requested that the MEC of Local Government appear before them to give an account of the intervention. The MEC presented a thorough document pack outlining the action taken by the Executive Council under his oversight. He informed the Committed that the court hearings and suspensions concerning the investigated Councillors and municipal employees were currently under way, and that there might be need for further intervention in the municipality if political motivations continued to render its council dysfunctional. Committee members asked questions concerning the total number of municipalities under investigation in the province, the scope and duration of the Utrecht intervention, the conduct of the councillors, and the allegations that the investigation had political motivations. The Committee was preparing to visit the municipality in November to hear from all the parties.

MINUTES
Provincial Executive Council Intervention into EMadlangeni / Utrecht Local Municipality (the Municipality): MEC for Local Government  Housing and Traditional Affairs, KZN briefing
The Chairperson noted that this meeting would deal with intervention in the eMadlangeni / Utrecht local municipality. This matter had been aired in the media, and the Committee had decided that it would be best to discuss the full matter with the MEC for Local Government from the Province, especially since this was the second intervention of this nature during his tenure. The Committee would also visit the municipality on 6 and 7 November.

Mr Michael Mabuyakhulu, MEC: Local Government, Housing and Traditional Affairs, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), thanked the Chair for the opportunity to meet the Committee, and introduced the Senior General Manager of Local Government, Mr Lionel Pienaar, who was also responsible for the intervention and the documents before the Committee.

Mr Mabuyakhulu began by confirming that the Provincial Executive Council (PEC) had intervened in the municipality according to Section 139 of the Constitution. He tabled a briefing document that explained the background to the investigation, and the irregularities within the municipality. On 14 May PEC received the final reports of the investigation along with the recommendations of action. The report seriously implicated Mayor Khoza (who was also the Speaker) and four senior council employees. The PEC then passed the report on to the Municipality for it to effect its own disciplinary actions within 21 days. Mayor Khoza, either by omission or commission, made it a point that the matter did not surface before the municipal council. After 90 days of inaction, this was seen as complicity by those implicated in the report, and the PEC, after extensive deliberation, decided to intervene. This intervention was not to dissolve the municipality, but rather to take over the functions of discipline.

A special committee was appointed to investigate the Mayor and other Councillors, as well as municipal employees. The documents before the Committee underlined the action taken in that regard. It also contained a report from the Acting Municipal Manager, dated 18 October 2007, that provided a comprehensive report on the practical operations of the municipality. The report detailed numerous cases of maladministration, non-compliance with provisions of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) and the dysfunctional state of the present council. The continuing problems might require that the KwaZulu-Natal PEC would have to intervene again in terms of section 139(1)(c), but he stated that this would be seen as the last resort.

Discussion
The Chairperson noted that the Committee had not yet met with KwaZulu-Natal for the state of the province report, but that the Committee wished to be well briefed in anticipation of discussions on the report. Because there seemed to be many situations where there was disregard for the law, and because KwaZulu-Natal had 61 municipalities, he had to ask how many other similar cases of mismanagement there might be in the province.

Mr Mabuyakhulu answered that he wanted to avoid discussing generalities, but talk of specifics. He insisted that, compared to other provinces, Kwazulu Natal (KZN) was very strict in adhering to prescripts, and was able to identify problem areas and act in accordance with the law. There had been 32 investigative cases, and information on the investigations had been given to the NCOP, as the Province was not shy to do what was right and investigate. The municipalities were highly sensitive to this, and now knew that if they did not act in accordance with the law, action would be taken. In regard to the investigations, he noted that there were several municipalities where the forensic investigations were still being finalised. The PEC was busy with the final audit, and if it was found that people had acted improperly, the PEC would intervene in the same way as in Utrecht. He assured the Chairperson that the Committee would be provided with the final audited number of “delinquent” municipalities by the time of the state of the province report. Until then, he could not give a specific number.

Mr A Moseki (ANC, North West) stated that it was clear that the provincial government had resolved to deal with delinquency. The intervention had revealed a number of problem issues within the specific municipality. He wished to ask if there had been any criminal prosecutions, as there were not only illegal political and administrative actions in the municipality, but some that bordered on criminal actions too.

Mr M Mzizi (IFP, Gauteng) also asked why the cases were not being seen and treated as fraud. He was speaking specifically to the item of the briefing document concerning Mr R Stannard, and said that justice delayed was justice denied.

Mr Mabuyakhulu responded that the report had set out what would have to happen with regard to criminal activities. Criminal proceedings against individuals were currently being instituted to achieve redress. 

Mr Moseki inquired as to the current behaviour of the remaining six councillors, and wondered what could be informing such a kind of behaviour.

Mr Z Ntuli (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) was also concerned about the behaviour of the councillors and wanted to check the political principles of these councillors. He asked if they were opposed to corruption and willing to help resolve the problem.

Mr Mabuyakhulu noted the unfortunate tendency in the council to “defend their own” rather than work for justice. He explained that the conduct of the councillors in question was informed by the public pronouncements of their political leaders, who thought that the PEC investigation was a smokescreen to take away the power of a certain party. This was untrue, as the PEC had approached the matter completely within the rules and norms of national justice. Even the suspensions were only cautionary, and it was unfortunate that the political parties had not been able to see the real issues.

Mr J Le Roux (DA, Eastern Cape) noted that the problem of a split council arose because there were only six councillors. He asked why the post vacated by the speaker had not been filled.

Mr Mabuyakhulu said that PEC had to follow the code of conduct in relation to councillors and could not fill the vacancy because the mayor was only on suspension and not yet finally removed.

Mr Mzizi commented on the enormous amount of media coverage given to this intervention. He also wanted to know how many other municipalities were in similar problems.

Mr Mabuyakhulu replied that he wanted to avoid giving an “equal apportionment of guilt” and that each municipality under investigation was to be dealt with according to its own efficiency or deficiency.

Mr Mzizi raised the allegations that the Acting Municipal Manager had been previously suspended from another municipality.

Mr Mabuyakhulu informed Mr Mzizi that the proceedings were still pending against the Municipal Manager, who had been suspended, and as yet there was no finality on the outcome. The allegations remained mere allegations until they had been tested by the courts. In regard to allegations against the Acting Municipal Manager, he clarified that he had been suspended pending an investigation, but was completely cleared by the investigation. There was nothing wrong with the Acting Municipal Manager, other than that he had become unpopular for reigning in councillors that had received irregular payments.

Mr Mzizi also raised the allegations that Mr Mabuyakhulu was only targeting municipalities controlled by political parties other than his own. He asked if the authority to investigate came from motions tabled before the full PEC, or whether there was any political motivation.

Mr Mabuyakhulu responded emphatically to these allegations by noting the number of municipalities under investigation, and the myriad of reasons for those investigations. There was no malice in his work, and every case had a justified and non- political reason for investigation. The Utrecht municipality was one of the smallest and poorest municipalities, with only had seven councillors, and relied wholly on grants for its operation. He asked rhetorically what advantage there would be in targeting this municipality.

Mr Mzizi queried the planned visit by the Committee, in light of the appeal still pending before the Courts, and wondered if the intervention by the Committee at this stage was correct. 

Mr Mabuyakhulu clarified the nature of the appeal. The challenge by the councillors related to the cautionary suspension they had received for interfering with the investigation process. Mr Mabuyakhulu, acting on the Municipal Systems code, had sought cautionary suspension, and the councillors had appealed against the court ruling. The investigation had been finalised in May, and the councillors were now suspended fully pending the investigation of the main charges. The full suspension was not under appeal, and the suspension would not change.

Mr Mzizi wanted to know which year the deadlines were given.

Mr Mabuyakhulu said that the deadline of 21 days for disciplinary action was given on 14 May 2007.

Mr Mzizi asked whether the suspension of the mayor and councillors was suspension with or without pay.

Mr Mabuyakhulu said that only in extreme circumstances would suspension without pay applied. They were still receiving their pay.

Mr Mzizi inquired as to the number of “ghost employees”, and how the lost funds would be recovered.

Mr Mabuyakhulu noted that the “ghost employees” was a new development being dealt with by the Acting Municipal Manager. The Province, through a provincial Management Assistance Programme, was assisting him to resolve all of the identified problems.

Mr Mzizi sought clarity on the possibility of a Section 139(1)(c) intervention if the council continued to be ‘dysfunctional’. He wanted to know if there was a deadline for the Council, after which it may be wholly dissolved.

Mr Mabuyakhulu answered that there was no deadline, but this was rather a caution to the councillors that he would have no option other than to bring a Section 139(1)(c) intervention if they did not co-operate. He appealed to Mr Mzizi and other party representatives to talk to their respective councillors and urge them to stop hindering the work of the PEC.

Mr Mzizi also made the comment that the report was one-sided at the moment.

Mr Mabuyakhulu did not accept the idea that the report was one-sided. This was the only report available, and it was presented after independent investigation. It contained findings independent of himself and other provincial councillors. The findings were clear; it was only the reaction to them that could differ.

The Chairperson noted that the report made mention of Councillor N P Stannard as well as a Mr R Stannard.

Mr Mabuyakhulu clarified that they were father and son; Mr R Stannard was the son, and Mr NP Stannard, a councillor and speaker, was the father.

The Chairperson asked how long the PEC would continue to intervene in the municipality.

Mr Mabuyakhulu answered that the PEC would take their executive obligations seriously, and fully implement the recommendations of the investigation. The disciplinary actions against individuals should have been finalised in mid-November, but the legal representatives of the suspended individuals had requested extensions. The process should be finished by the end of January 2008, when the PEC’s executive powers would come to an end. 

The Chairperson then asked what executive obligations the Executive Council had.

Mr Mabuyakhulu responded that the terms of reference of the intervention were to set up a special committee and deal with disciplinary hearings and matters. All the other normal council business would be run as usual by the Acting Municipal Manager and the existing council members. The PEC was not usurping their powers in any way. The Department was giving support via the Management Assistance Programme, which was a limited scope intervention. He urged Committee members such as Mr Mzizi to help the PEC in ensuring that the intervention would have to go no further.

Mr Ntuli raised the question whether there was a need for the Committee to visit the municipality, in view of the limitations on the intervention, and the fact that there were still pending investigations and hearings.

Mr Mzizi commented that he did not think there was any problem in holding the visit, but that the only dilemma would be that the Committee would want to speak to the suspended public officials in the public arena.
 
The Chairperson noted that it was the responsibility of the NCOP that whenever there was a Section (1)(b) intervention the committee should go and listen to all sides concerned and verify the issues. They would not be interfering in the ongoing judicial process, but would be obliged to visit to get information.

Mr N Mack (ANC, Western Cape) agreed that it was the Committee’s job to visit and see if they approved of the intervention.

Ms M Mdlalose (NADECO), a member of the Portfolio Committee on Local Government said that it was the duty of parliament to do oversight and consider whether it agreed with the outcome. She would think it was early to reach that agreement.

The Chairperson explained that the duty was to visit, and gain sufficient information to decide whether the intervention, in the Committee’s opinion, was justified. He gave a ruling that the visit would proceed.

The Chairperson noted that he was satisfied with the report given by Mr Mabuyakhulu.  The Committee would continue with the state of the province reports and meet with Mr Mabuyakhulu later again to hear about the state of all the municipalities in his province. He noted that the MEC would be running a Global Conference on Traditional Leadership on Friday and Saturday, and encouraged his colleagues to attend.

The meeting was adjourned.

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