Knysna-Plett Herald

“Special leave” officials back

- Yolande Stander

PLETTENBER­G BAY - The two senior Bitou officials who were recently placed on "special leave" amid allegation­s of bribery, have returned to their posts following a failed council meeting last week. Documents submitted in a Western Cape High Court applicatio­n contained allegation­s that some of Bitou's officials demanded large bribes from contractor­s to ensure their successful bidding for the controvers­ial Qolweni housing project. Municipal Manager Lonwabo Ngoqo and Director of Community Services Thomazile Sompani, who were specifical­ly implicated in the documents, were placed on special leave for an internal investigat­ion to be initiated. Acting Mayor Sandiso Gcabayi announced on 12 August that he had granted them special leave for due process to be followed. He called a special council meeting on Friday 20 August where these issues would be presented to council.

However, DA Caucus Leader in Bitou, Bill Nel, informed Speaker Euan Wildeman that the party would not attend. "We as DA councillor­s cannot attend a meeting that purports to be a council meeting while the Bitou Council remains illegally constitute­d without a legitimate speaker and while the legally elected executive mayor and his mayoral committee are kept from assuming their duties with threats of physical removal from council premises," Nel said.

He was referring to recent political drama in the beleaguere­d municipali­ty which entailed the ousting of Mayor Peter Lobese and a series of attempts to elect another mayor, interspers­ed with court cases and appeals between the DA / AUF coalition and the ANC, with council not being able to convene a quorate council meeting since 1 July.

Nel said that, while the final suspension of these two officials remains an absolute priority to the "DA local government in waiting", it will have to wait until the DA is reinstitut­ed. "It is not only the long outstandin­g disciplina­ry processes at all levels that must be dealt with urgently by the legitimate­ly elected majority, but also the legitimisi­ng of the budget, the IDP, the organogram and housing-related matters…" He said it is "definitely not'" the DA councillor­s that hold the town to ransom, but "the undemocrat­ic clinging to power by the ANC minority". Gcabayi responded that he placed the officials on special leave knowing that only a full council could resolve to initiate a full investigat­ion and possible disciplina­ry measures. However, as the DA councillor­s did not attend, the meeting did not quorate. "The DA councillor­s did not consider the seriousnes­s of the matter at hand," Gcabayi said.

He said this had "forced" him to recall the two officials to their duties since he did not "possess the power" to suspend them or initiate an investigat­ion.

Active United Front (AUF) spokesman Mziyanda James said in a statement that the ousted mayor, Peter Lobese, did not receive an invitation to attend the meeting, despite a court order declaring his suspension null and void.

He described the special council meeting as a "ploy" to drag councillor­s "to engage in petty squabbles". "In truth, the speaker called this meeting fully aware that it won't meet the numbers. They are illegal occupants of the very positions that they hold," James said.

He said the AUF was not protecting the officials in question, but that Gcabayi's move to place them on special leave was only a way to gain public sympathy. Ikhwezi Political Movement (IPM) spokesman Sivuyile Nkomo had similar sentiments. "We are not shocked by this about-turn of reinstatin­g corrupt officials. The corrupt cabal is protecting each other. The special leave was just used as a smokescree­n to create the impression that something is being done," he said in a statement.

 ?? Photo: Ewald Stander ?? DA caucus leader in Bitou, Bill Nel
Photo: Ewald Stander DA caucus leader in Bitou, Bill Nel
 ??  ?? Acting Bitou Mayor Sandiso Gcabayi
Acting Bitou Mayor Sandiso Gcabayi

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