/ 24 October 2008

Metro invokes defunct law to gag media

The Ekurhuleni metro council invoked a defunct ordinance from 1939 to ban the media and public from a secret meeting about controversial land transactions in the municipality two weeks ago.

The Mail & Guardian‘s lawyers this week wrote to Ekurhuleni speaker Patricia Kumalo, demanding a copy of the transcript of the meeting which she had closed at the request of ANC councillors.

The council discussed three forensic reports by risk firm Pasco into various land transactions in Ekurhuleni. The reports finger Ekurhuleni councillors and officials for alleged wrongdoing, which may have cost the municipality more than R30-million.

The council decided to have ­Pasco’s reports scrutinised by an external audit firm and banned the firm from performing any further investigations in Ekurhuleni.

Attorney Peter Mahlangu of law firm Cheadle Thompson & Haysom wrote to Kumalo on behalf of the M&G on Tuesday, informing her that section 23 of the Local Government Ordinance 17 of 1939 had been repealed by the Gauteng Local Government Laws Amendment Act 1 of 2006.

The 1939 ordinance was used by Kumalo to ban the M&G from the meeting.

“The effect of this is that the council excluded our client and members of the public from the meeting of October 9 2008 on the strength of a repealed law,” wrote Mahlangu.

Ekurhuleni letter (PDF)

Read Kumalo’s full letter

According to him the Municipal Systems Act of 2000 now regulates the exclusion of the public and media from meetings of council.

The Act states that the public may not be excluded “when considering or voting on any other matter prescribed by regulation”. This, according to Mahlangu, includes the transfer of municipal land.

Mahlangu also quotes clause 2 of the code of conduct, which demands that the councils act “in good faith, honestly and in a transparent manner”.