Ratepayers may be landed with legal costs in party battle

DA councillors Trevor Louw, left, and Neville Higgins.
DA councillors Trevor Louw, left, and Neville Higgins.
Image: WERNER HILLS

Nelson Mandela Bay ratepayers might have to carry the legal costs incurred by three DA councillors when they took on their party.

This is if the council approves recommendations that the legal costs incurred by councillors Victor Manyati, Trevor Louw and Neville Higgins in their fight with the DA be shouldered by council.

The proposal was made by ANC councillor Andile Lungisa at a mayoral committee meeting last week.

The three councillors turned against the party on different occasions, starting from August 2018.

Manyati was instrumental in unseating the DA during the August 27 council meeting when he voted with the then opposition.

Louw and Higgins, in their turn, attended a council meeting when the DA caucus had agreed to stay away, giving the governing coalition a muchneeded quorum.

The pair were fired from the party but continued turning up at council meetings, with the DA going to court to have it declare them no longer members.

Mbulelo Manyati. File picture
Mbulelo Manyati. File picture
Image: Eugene Coetzee

They recently lost their attempt to have the judgment overturned.

Confidential minutes from last Wednesday’s mayoral committee meeting – seen by The Herald – detail how Lungisa verbally raised the matter while no documents had been tabled. “Reference was made to Section 109 of the Local Government Systems Act,” the minutes read.

“The issue of payment of legal fees incurred by the following councillors to seek legal counsel in respect of disturbances or disagreements which arose at a council meeting was briefly discussed.

“The committee resolved to recommend that the legal fees incurred by the councillors to seek legal counsel in respect of disagreements or disturbances which arose at a council meeting be borne by council.”

Acting city manager Peter Neilson, who had left the meeting at the time the issue was discussed, said it would be legal for the city to pay the councillors’ legal fees if council approved it. “First of all, it’s not what I think or what anyone thinks.

“There’s only one way that you can pay legal fees and that is through a Section 109, which basically requests council to pay for legal fees,” he said.

Neilson said the Jacob Zuma cases indicated clearly how political office-bearers could get the state to pay their legal bills.

“That can only be done through a Section 109 to council, with motivations and a full council agreement.

“It doesn’t matter what is minuted in a mayoral discussion, it requires a Section 109 by council,” Neilson said.

“Irrespective of what was resolved by mayco [mayoral committee], there’s a legislative requirement in terms of the contribution towards legal fees.

“It is set out in a judgment and in law that requires a Section 109 application.”

Neilson said should council approve the move, a process would then follow which would involve the city’s panel of attorneys.

“If council resolves, then there is legally nothing wrong. It’s a competence of the speaker to put it together.”

Asked if residents would be expected to foot the legal bills for Lungisa and ANC councillor Bongo Nombiba, who have been embroiled in legal cases, Neilson said: “That’s a difficult question, I have not seen a Section 109 application for council to consider payment of [their] legal fees.

“[The Section 109 request] is a political sponsor from the speaker and council would have to make budget available.

“Section 109 is a difficult thing to grant – there’s a judgment and it is very applicable.

“Because it’s an unknown, you’re committing the public to an unknown value – it’s a very difficult approval and that’s why there’s a very tight process to follow,” he said.

When asked for comment, mayor Mongameli Bobani said: “The statement you received from the acting city manager is enough on behalf of the city, no further comment.”

DA councillor Nqaba Bhanga said he was shocked when he heard about the possibility. “I cannot believe this, really I cannot – it’s a criminal offence. They must just try it – they are going to pay for this.

“These people have a disregard of the laws of the Republic of South Africa.

“They think they can use the public purse as they wish.

“I have never heard in South African law that the state pays for people who are fighting battles with their parties.

“They have crossed the line – not only the line, they have crossed the Red Sea.”

Bhanga said if council approved the payment of the costs the DA would challenge it and then take it to the public protector.

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