Dur­ban by­law may bar me­dia, pub­lic from cru­cial meet­ings

The Herald (South Africa) - - NEWS - Bon­gani Mthethwa

THE Dur­ban city coun­cil has ap­proved a con­tro­ver­sial by­law which could ef­fec­tively ban the me­dia and the pub­lic from at­tend­ing some of its cru­cial meet­ings.

The ap­proval comes de­spite strong ob­jec­tion from op­po­si­tion par­ties and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Even a demon­stra­tion by civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions out­side Dur­ban’s In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre on Wed­nes­day against adop­tion of the Rules of Or­der Amend­ment By-Law did not stop the ANC-con­trolled eThek­wini mu­nic­i­pal­ity from vot­ing in favour of the law.

The DA also tried un­suc­cess­fully to push for an­other de­bate on the amendments be­fore any vot­ing took place but were over­ruled by coun­cil speaker Wil­liam Mapena, who said the mat­ter had been de­ferred in Oc­to­ber for vot­ing.

In a state­ment is­sued late on Wed­nes­day‚ the city dis­missed claims by the op­po­si­tion and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions that the by­law was un­con­sti­tu­tional as in­cor­rect and said that there was noth­ing un­to­ward about the amend­ment.

“Sec­tion 160 of the con­sti­tu­tion as well as Sec­tion 20 of the Mu­nic­i­pal Sys­tems Act pro­vides clear guide­lines for hold­ing mu­nic­i­pal meet­ings,” city head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions Tozi Mthethwa said.

“Both state that a mu­nic­i­pal com­mit­tee or coun­cil must open their meet­ing to the pub­lic.

“How­ever‚ the leg­is­la­tion fur­ther pro­vides for certain meet­ings to be closed to the pub­lic sub­ject to the na­ture of the is­sues be­ing dis­cussed.”

The adop­tion of the by­law now ef­fec­tively means the city may close its meet­ings to the pub­lic and the me­dia if there might be a dis­clo­sure of:

Con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing any person;

Any in­ves­ti­ga­tion‚ re­port or in­ter­nal au­dit re­port that could be com­pro­mised by its pub­lic dis­clo­sure; and

Trade secrets of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity or fi­nan­cial‚ business‚ sci­en­tific or tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion which is likely to cause prej­u­dice to the business or in­ter­ests of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

But civil so­ci­ety groups and the op­po­si­tion in­di­cated they would con­sider chal­leng­ing the by­law in court.

Mean­while‚ the DA’s Nicole Gra­ham said the adop­tion of the law pointed to the ANC-led coun­cil head­ing down a dan­ger­ous path.

“The pro­posed amend­ment by­law is a threat to the demo­cratic func­tion­ing of the coun­cil.

“It al­lows for ar­bi­trary and au­to­cratic de­ci­sion-mak­ing . . . [and] gags coun­cil­lors and the me­dia.”

Leg­is­la­tion pro­vides for certain meet­ings to be closed to the pub­lic

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