/ 16 April 2008

Erasmus commission’s work put on hold

The Erasmus commission’s sittings have been suspended pending the City of Cape Town’s application to the Cape High Court challenging the commission’s legality.

This emerged after a day of behind-the-scenes negotiations on Wednesday between the legal representatives of the various parties involved.

The commission, set up by Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool, was to have heard evidence from witnesses in the City of Cape Town’s so-called ”spy saga”.

Three separate urgent interdicts to put the commission’s activities on hold were brought in the Cape High Court on Wednesday morning, but Judge Hennie Erasmus adjourned proceedings soon afterwards to enable negotiations between the parties.

The interdicts were brought by mayor Helen Zille, representing the city, city manager Achmat Ebrahim and the Democratic Alliance.

Following lengthy negotiations, Erasmus reconvened the court shortly after 3pm, when counsel for the city, Ashley Binns-Ward, said the parties had agreed on a settlement and timetable of interim arrangements.

In terms of this agreement, the city’s main application would be heard on May 15 and 16.

The Erasmus commission, headed by Judge Nathan Erasmus, would continue its ”non-substantive” work, such as investigations and receiving documents, but would not hold sittings pending the application.

The commission would also not present any interim reports to Premier Rasool.

Judge Hennie Erasmus then made the agreement an order of the court.

Council speaker Dirk Smit launched the main high court challenge last week.

Smit said at the time the city was arguing that by acting outside the Municipal Systems Act, Rasool was trying to dodge legal constraints on what the province could and could not do when intervening in local government.

”This is an unlawful abuse of his office,” he said.

The commission was set up by Rasool last year to probe the city’s own investigation of councillor Badih Chaaban.

Rasool has since added a probe of Chaaban himself, and of the Democratic Alliance-controlled George town council, to its brief.

The city’s papers filed last Tuesday in the Cape High Court challenged the legality of the commission both before and after the additions. — Sapa