FIRED BITOU HEAD TAKES OVER IN SUNDAYS RIVER: THE HERALD

EASTERN Cape Local Government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane is to investigate the appointment of Sundays River Valley municipal manager Lonwabo Ngoqo who was fired by Bitou municipality for financial mismanagement last month. Qoboshiyane said yesterday that based on the findings he would advise Sundays River on how they should deal with the matter.

The DA wrote to Qoboshiyane on Wednesday asking him to nullify Ngoqo’s appointment to one of the Eastern Cape’s recovering municipalities.

Ngoqo was dismissed from Bitou a month after being found guilty in December on four counts of misconduct. But he is appealing, although it is not clear when the appeal will be held.

His lawyer, Hardy Mills, said he was waiting for a response from the Bargaining Council on his application to get an appeal date.

In the letter to Qoboshiyane, which The Herald has seen, DA MPL Dacre Haddon wrote: “Kindly be advised that Mr Ngoqo was appointed as municipal manager of Sundays River municipality after dismissal from Bitou municipality which constitutes an illegal appointment . . .

“As such and in accordance with . . . the Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment . . . you are required, within 14 days of receiving notification of the appointment, to force compliance on the validity of the appointment.

“Please kindly give this matter your urgent attention to nullify this illegal appointment.”

Ngoqo was appointed as municipal manager at a special council meeting on Monday. He started on Tuesday, a month after he was fired as Bitou municipal manager.

A clause in the Municipal Systems Act prohibits an official who has been found guilty of misconduct from being appointed in a similar position for at least 10 years.

Two of the four counts against him relate to a failed land deal in which the Western Cape Human Settlements Department had granted Bitou about R28-million to buy land for low-cost housing.

The province ordered a second opinion valuation which put the land’s worth at just R2.4-million.

The Sundays River Valley Municipality was placed under administrator Vuyo Zitumane in 2010, but the administration order was lifted at the end of last year.

Contacted yesterday Ngoqo refused to comment about his appointment. “You have information I do not have,” he said. “My case is on appeal and I don’t want to dent my appeal by commenting on this matter.”

He referred further questions to his lawyer Mills, who issued a statement reading: “Unfortunately the minister [Haddon] lost sight of the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence, as guaranteed in . . . our constitution.

“It is trite law that a case is pending from the moment of its commencement until it has been finally disposed of in the judicial process, which includes the judgment of the final possible appeal.

“The finding of guilt was referred to the Bargaining Council for review.

“The matter is thus sub judice and the appointment of my client as municipal manager at Sundays River is not illegal as alleged.” A letter sent to the Bargaining Council by Mills, which The Herald has seen, read in part: “. . . we are extremely concerned that our client’s right to a fair trial is being jeopardised by certain parties by the blatant breach of the sub judice rule, as well as the presumption of innocence principle as guaranteed by 35(3)(h) of the constitution.

“We hereby request that a date be allocated to this matter as soon as possible please.”

Provincial Local Government spokesman Mvusi Sicwetsha confirmed the matter had been brought to Qoboshiyane’s attention but said they had not yet received a letter from the DA.

Sicwetsha said: “He [Qoboshiyane] regards the matter as a sensitive issue which needs a calm and prudent response.”

He added: “We are going to investigate and then advise the municipality properly, based on their request to us on how to deal with the issue.”