The abrupt postponement of an Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality (EMLM) council meeting on Tuesday evening, intended to discuss suspensions and resignations in critical positions on Wednesday, was perceived as a ploy to avoid debating them by opposition councillors.
The EMLM “highly confidential” in-committee council meeting was to discuss the resignation of the chief financial officer (CFO), Nolubabalo Gqola, the termination of the contract of the technical services director, Linda Bolani, who has since resigned and is reportedly taking the matter up with attorneys, and the recent precautionary suspension of the municipal manager (MM) Nokuthula Mgijima for failure to do her job.
The MM was given seven days to indicate why she should not be suspended, which elapsed on Monday. Her response was to be debated in council and a resolution taken on the matter.
Bolani’s contract termination follows co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) MEC Xolile Nqatha’s letter indicating she did not meet the requirements for the job and he therefore did not concur with her appointment.
Mgijima’s precautionary suspension, orchestrated by council, came after council documents revealed that the troubled municipality, which struggles to deliver services to the people, had only spent 19% of its budget in the previous financial year, ending June 30.
Council was to either consider her response on why she should not be suspended and retain her, or appoint an acting MM if her reasons were found to be unsatisfactory.
Members of the opposition parties expressed disappointment in the postponement of the meeting, indicating no reasons were put forward to substantiate the sudden abandonment of an “important” gathering.
DA chief whip Sakhumzi Mkhunqe said the party would write to council speaker Bongiwe van Heerden asking for clarity on why the meeting was postponed at the last minute and why the agenda supporting documents were not circulated to councilors.
“We will also request the speaker to engage the rules and ethics committee to establish whether a councilor breached the code of conduct in leaking a ‘confidential agenda’ to the media. What is more concerning is that the items in the agenda have financial implications for EMLM and require council as a whole to seriously apply its intellect to the matters without further delay. The postponement message came though at 9pm. This reeks of typical ANC political collusions and manipulations. It is of grave concern that councilors, the decision-makers of this cash-strapped municipality, are excluded from council documentation which could have huge financial implications in the already-failing institution. It is especially important for all councilors to apply their minds to the fullest in assisting the EMLM to perform basic service delivery. The DA will continue to put the residents of EMLM first.”
EFF chief whip Luthando Amos said there was no way the municipality could be saved and that they had been calling for a dissolution since 2017, but Nqatha was a “useless” MEC.
“The mayor, Luleka Gubhula and the MM are also useless and their appointments are to the detriment of the people of Enoch Mgijima. The whole council is absent and does not regulate people in critical positions like the MM. The EFF once suggested the establishment of a resolutions register so that we may track down implementation progress, but that did not happen and the MM did as she wished, unregulated. This is proof that there is no leadership capacity and the mayor is a puppet who just sits there and watches everything unfold. The administrator placed by Cogta is equally useless, including speaker Van Heerden who is supposed to be the custodian of council rules, but breaks them at every turn.”
Amos said the MM was in charge of the administration of the municipality and was supposed to implement the financial recovery plan established by former administrator, Vuyo Mlokothi.
“What she did instead was spend only 19% of the municipality’s budget while the people on the ground are in need of service delivery. I am happy that the technical services director is reportedly taking the municipality to court so we may face litigation for our sins of appointing unqualified people.”
Cope councillor Nomazotsho Kopolo asked how anomalies faced by the local authority would be turned around if the ANC avoided discussing important issues.
“There are damning allegations involving people in positions that are critical to the running of the municipality, but meetings are postponed at the last minute with no clear indication of when they will held. The MM came to our municipality with a questionable background, yet council endorsed her appointment. The municipality’s finances are not properly handled by the MM, she ill-advised our officials and now we reap the fruits of our mistakes.”
EMLM spokesperson Lonwabo Kowa said the mayor was not available to interact with the media about the matters as they must first be tabled in council before being made public.