Confusion has become the order of the day at Sua Township Council after the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, announced the dismissal of all councillors in kgotla meeting last week, only to somersault this week claiming that she has just started the dissolution process.
On Monday Venson tried to set the record straight by explaining her actions in a hurried 'press briefing' where journalists were not afforded an opportunity to ask questions. The wrath of the minister comes about after Sua Township councilors refused to attend council meetings demanding to be paid outstanding mileage allowances. Although the tone and language of the minister at the kgotla meeting sounded final, Moitoi must have received good counsel as she toned down this week and claimed that she has only kicked off the process that will culminate in the dissolution of the council.
Sowa Township Council has been in the news lately; firstly three members of the Local Authority are suing it for outstanding mileage allowance payments which they purport to have accrued ever since they resumed duty post 2014 general elections.
The second one which was the reason behind Moitoi’s press briefing is that following the decision by the three to sue the council, an issue of conflict of interest ensued and the three could not be part of the council proceedings hence collapsing quorum, this then rendered the council unable to make a resolution to appoint an attorney to defend it in court.
The matter which is before the high court went ahead without representation from Sowa Township Council to defend the matter. According to the three’s attorney, he strongly argued against an attempt by Sowa Township Council to file papers in court and they were subsequently struck out. The matter is now awaiting judgment provided the council does not file papers requesting to be allowed to defend its case in 14 days.
During the Monday press briefing, Moitoi explained that the next step after engaging the community was to set up an enquiry, a step which she said she has also done. She pointed out that this is provided for by the Local Government Act Section 89 sub section 2 which says: “ Where the Minister considers that one or more of the situations in subsection (1) exist, the Minister shall, before exercising the powers conferred under this section , by notice in the Gazette direst an inquiry to be held, to review, consider and report on the situation.
“It is a process. It is not a once off event. It started off with the minister announcing to the community in Sua about the intention to dissolve. That is what I did last week,” she told journalists on Monday, adding that the next step is to set up an enquiry, a step which she has already taken. "This is provided for by the Local Government Act Section 89 sub section 2 which says: Where the Minister considers that one or more of the situations in subsection (1) exist, the Minister shall, before exercising the powers conferred under this section, by notice in the Gazette direct an inquiry to be held, to review, consider and report on the situation," she said.
According to Moitoi, a team that has been sent to carry out this process started work on Monday. They constitute of a former councilor of Sua Township council and three government officers. Moitoi explained that her ministry is carrying out this process with the assistance of the Attorney General’s Chambers.
The Local Government Act dictates that, after this step "upon dissolution of a Council in accordance with section 89 (a) all members of the council shall cease to hold office and the seats of elected and nominated members shall be deemed to have become vacant; and The minister shall by further order published in the Gazette- appoint not more than 10 members within the Administrative District to form a commission which shall have the status of the council which has been dissolved, and may exercise all the powers and authorities vested in such council until a successor is constituted".
It has however since came to light that Moitoi’s press briefing was nothing but a hurried PR stunt devoid of many truths and facts.
A member of the Sowa Township Council who this publication spoke to on Thursday, Botho Ntirang said they were supposed to meet with the inquiry team that on Thursday but were surprised to receive calls on Wednesday informing them that the inquiry has been suspended indefinitely.
Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Head of Corporate Communications, Masego Ramakgati declined to explain why the inquiry has since been suspended and referred this paper to the Attorney General Abraham Keetshabe.
The latter has however denied any knowledge of such development at Sowa Township Council and the involvement of the Attorney General’s Chambers thereof.
“The Attorney General does not know anything about the dissolution of Sowa Township Council. We only know there are some councilors who have taken the local Authority to the High Court over outstanding mileage payments. We as the Attorney Generals Chambers are looking into the court documents in that matter with a view to making an appearance to represent the Local Authority,” said Keetshabe.
Further commenting on the issue, councilor Ntirang fired salvos at Moitoi, saying beside the fact that they as councilors believe she has mishandled the issue, they also believe she do not have grounds to dissolve the council.
“We do not know the reason why the minister is saying she is dissolving the council because the council has to be dissolved due to serious reasons and after careful consideration. All situations cited by the Local Government Act which may warrant dissolution are not present in our case, unless she proves otherwise “he said.
Ntirang accused Moitoi of dissolving the council at a Kgotla, even before she appointed a commission of inquiry to review, consider and report on the matter.
“Her mind was made up at that Kgotla meeting, what purpose would the inquiry serve then. By announcing her decision to dissolve the council what does she want the inquiry to do? Overrule her maybe?” remarked Ntirang.