Makana judgment shows value of civic activism
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) commends the commitment to social justice by the Unemployed People’s Movement and its legal team which resulted in a court order forcing the dissolution of the incompetent and corrupt Makana council.
On 14 January, the High Court in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) ordered the Eastern Cape government to dissolve the Makana Local Municipality council, appoint an administrator until a new council is elected, and implement the financial recovery plan drawn up in a previous intervention in 2015.
This is a victory by organised civil society against a failed and non-responsive municipality and an equally non-responsible provincial government.
“This is a lesson to corrupt and badly managed municipalities around the country, particularly those which have been under interventions but showed no improvement,” says Michael Holenstein, OUTA Manager for Local Government. “This ruling encourages oversight over local government, which is urgently needed.”
The councillors who were paid to oversee the council will now forfeit their positions and salaries, and will regain these only if they are re-elected by the community. This is a significant victory in holding politicians to account.
There have been indications that the Eastern Cape government is considering appealing the judgment. We urge the Eastern Cape executive council to implement the intervention immediately. The province should consider the welfare of the Makana community, not the bruised egos of the inept councillors.
The court had found that Makana Municipality had failed in its constitutional mandate to provide basic services to its community. The court dissolved the council because the municipality had failed to implement a Financial Recovery Plan (FRP) approved by the Eastern Cape MEC of Finance way back in 2015 during a previous intervention. Sections 139 and 146 of the Municipal Finance Management Act are quite clear as to the responsibilities of the provincial executive in such interventions.
OUTA believes this judgment is just the start of a solution to repairing Makana’s failed municipality. Turning Makana around needs political will.
“There is still the risk that the same councillors might be voted back into power, which defeats the point,” says Holenstein.
OUTA calls on the community to ensure that the failed council is not merely re-elected. Instead, this may be an opportunity for the community to put forward candidates in the upcoming election, to ensure they are well represented and involved in the matters of local government. This could include independent candidates. Political party candidates often prioritise the interests of their party over serving their communities, so independent councillors may have a stronger interest in serving those who elect them.