Tim Lindsay-White

2008-06-13 00:00

The Democratic Alliance (DA) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) have locked horns with the African National Council (ANC) in the uMngeni council over the freedom of ward committees to report to council, and to be reported back to by council and not be diverted by the municipality.

The issue arose after I called for the ward committee needs to be a standing item on the council’s agenda, having pointed out on several occasions that not once had the ward committees been represented in council nor reported back to by council as required by legislation and the municipality’s own policy. Council has simply not been carrying out its mandate with the people. The majority of ward committees are non-functional, while the few that have been regularly meeting since July 2006 when that were established have received no reply to any of the matters raised in respect of their wards.

What is particularly worrying to the residents of uMngeni is the way the ANC caucus members consistently allow the municipal manager to dictate to them, dismissing the constitutional imperative to preserve the separation of powers between administrative and political bodies, and thus having the effect of the municipal manager dictating to the people he is there to serve.

Ward committees are not structures of the administration. On the contrary they are overseers of the administration. They are legislated committees of council, chaired by councillors, and are obliged to report to council, and council is obliged to report to them. The object of a ward committee is to enhance participatory democracy in local government structures (Structures Act section 72(3)). The primary function of a ward committee is to be a formal communication channel between the ward community and the council and its political structures.

Nevertheless the municipal manager, supported by the ANC caucus, is trying to force the ward committees to report to him, with him alone deciding what, if anything, is relayed to council despite section 74(a) of the Local Government Municipal Structures Act 117 of 1998 clearly stipulating that recommendations be made “to the ward councillor, or through the ward councillor to the local council/executive committee”. Furthermore, the Policy for the Establishment of Ward Committees for uMngeni Municipality requires that “the recommendations from the ward committees reach the council, and ensure that resolutions made by the council reach the ward committees”. The Speaker’s office would be the best to co-ordinate this requirement, but this recommendation by the DA and IFP was dismissed by the ANC.

The municipal manager has further sought to dictate what could and could not be discussed by the ward committees. It was resolved that “the discussions during meetings should be based on the needs of each ward and must be developmental in its nature”. However, section 74(a) of the Structures Act clearly states that “a ward committee may make recommendations on any matter affecting its ward”, which would include municipal operational issues which are constantly receiving complaints that are not being answered.

It was further resolved that “a system be instituted in order to have a way of assessing the nature of discussion that takes place and the nature of intervention that council can apply in dealing with the matters”. Such a draconian measure would be an infringement of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution.

With ward committees being forced to report directly to the municipal manager and not to the mayor (as chair of the executive) or to the Speaker (as chair of the council), the position is far from satisfactory and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

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