BUFFALO City Metro barred the Daily Dispatch from a community services portfolio standing committee meeting yesterday.

The move drew criticism from local government and traditional affairs MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane and opposition parties.

The Dispatch had earlier declined to leave the meeting and as a result committee chairwoman Nomfezeko Ngesi and acting community services director Kholekile Tapile refused to start until the reporter had been removed.

After numerous calls, council speaker Luleka Simon and the metro’s ANC chief whip Sangweni Matwele arrived and instructed the reporter to accompany them to the speaker’s office.

There, Simon said “standing council rules” forbade the public or media from attending BCM committee meetings.

But the speaker could not produce a copy of the rules. BCM’s community services directorate has been embroiled in controversy after its director Jerome Ismail was suspended by council.

Ismail faces a disciplinary hearing after an independent report found he missed meetings and was implicated in the collapse of the city’s waste removal system, putting the city at risk of disasterrelated claims from the public.

Qoboshiyane’s spokesman Vusi Sicwetsha confirmed the right of the public and media to attend municipal council and committee meetings, “unless they are closed to them”.

“This is in our Constitution as well as in the Local Government Municipal Systems Act.

“The spirit of both documents is anchored on transparency in the affairs of the municipality.”

Sicwetsha added: “Committees have a duty to inform the public and the media whether meetings are closed or open. Municipalities should do the same.”

Buffalo City DA chief whip Kobus Botha and councillor Lance Weyer said two national laws, as well as Section 69 of the metro’s standing rules and orders by-law stated all meetings of council were open to the public.

This was subject to confidential items being placed in a special minute book on “pink” paper.

Weyer said reasons for confidentiality had to be clearly stated in agendas and had to be in accordance with Section 20 of the Municipal Systems Act.

DA provincial legislature chief whip Bobby Stevenson called the ejection of the reporter “unconstitutional” and accused the ANC of trying to protect “comrades and cronies” from public scrutiny.

Stevenson said in terms of Chapter 7, Section 160 (7) of the Constitution, all committee meetings of the council were open to the media.

“The media only have to recuse themselves for a confidential item, not the whole meeting.”

COPE Eastern Cape spokesman Nkosifikile Gqomo said: “We are shocked. There is no way the ANC can apply media censorship to a committee that is dealing with issues of public interest.

“We call on BCM to invite the public to their committee meetings. The public have a right to know what they are hiding there.”

UDM MPL Max Mhlati said: “I am about to chair a Scopa meeting and every journalist is free to come in and take their seats and report.”