The Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality (EMLM) council recently opted to skip all agenda items pertaining to municipal finances after a lengthy debate on the matter, with the majority of councillors calling for them to be discussed.
This after council speaker Bongiwe van Heerden indicated that some items in the agenda had outstanding information and therefore could not be discussed, leading to a squabble among ANC councillors who were divided on the matter.
One of the items that were skipped was a report about supply chain management (SCM) policies and regulations that were transgressed by former EMLM administrator Dr Vuyo Mlokothi.
The report indicated the local authority owed more than R6m in legal fees, of which 17% was incurred during Mlokothi’s tenure.
“Mlokothi commissioned legal firms to purge employees without following proper SCM processes.
An expense of R995 845 18 was incurred, an action which was against SCM policy prescripts. The transgression and violation of SCM regulations is to be reported to council and national treasury,” reads the report.
Recommendations in the report suggested Mlokothi be held personally liable and corrective measures be implemented.
However, councillors spent almost an hour debating whether certain items be skipped or discussed, to which council whip Nombuyiselo Ndlebe called for a 10 minute recess.
United Front councillor Aaron Mhlontlo requested reasons from Van Heerden as to why the items should be skipped as they contained some of the most important information regarding municipal finances.
“We are told of outstanding information but no one will say exactly what that is. It is incorrect to use feelings when making council decisions as that will have dire implications on the people on the ground.”
EFF councillor Luthando Amos said the finance standing committee which made recommendations to some of the reports that were not discussed was ready for the documents to be discussed.
ANC councillor Phaphama Madubedube, who was previously ignored by the speaker when he indicated he had something to say, confronted the speaker indicating he had been ignored twice in a row.
Van Heerden had previously ignored two other ANC councillors in a council meeting and was called out by councillors of opposition parties for breaking the rules.
“Council is the highest decision-making body in Enoch Mgijima therefore we cannot be told about the mayoral committee’s (Mayco) failure to hold its meetings. We, the finance committee, held ours and since we report to council and not the Mayco we should do as council pleases.”
UDM councillor Mthuthuzeli Hokolo said it was clear that infighting in the municipality affected the operations of council.
“The speaker did not follow the proper procedure to remove items from the agenda. The rules are clear that once an agenda has been adopted, all items on it are to be discussed. What you are doing, speaker, is against the law and as a custodian of council rules, you are leading us astray.”
ANC councillor Siyabulela Mgoqi indicated it was not the speaker’s prerogative to remove agenda items as she pleased, but she could rearrange them.
“It is strange that you only want to remove the items that relate to the finances of the municipality when the public knows we are a bankrupt institution. Let us discuss these items so that we may come up with ways to better our financial situation.”
DA councillor Sakhumzi Mkhunqe said all councillors were equal, including the Mayco, therefore permission to remove items should be obtained from council as a whole and not certain individuals.
“If we decided to remove items, we might as well remove all the remaining items and adjourn the meeting. If we decide to continue we will discuss everything on the agenda as adopted because that is what the law requires. The speaker must understand that if she decides to break the law, the DA will not have been part of that decision.”
ANC councillor Noluthando Nqabisa said she was afraid it would seem as though council was hiding something from the media and public who were present at the meeting, and did not understand why the items were removed.
“I fail to understand why the speaker refuses the items to be discussed as though we are hiding something. It is important that we discuss all our court cases because we have taken people to court and they are still on our payroll because the cases have not been concluded. We need to debate how we can mitigate this so that we conclude our legal battles and stop paying people who are no longer in our employ. Why would anyone not want to discuss this very important issue?” she asked.
EMLM municipal manager Nokuthula Mgijima told council there were two most important items to be discussed, one of which concerned a project that would prove the development of two small towns in the area.
Councillors agreed for the items to be discussed and that all remaining items be discussed in the next special council meeting set for October 29.