EDITORIAL | Politicians must not overstep legal line

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Political interference in the administration of municipalities, and government in general, is nothing new.
While there are laws such as the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) that prohibit politicians from taking part in tender decisions, and the Code of Conduct for councillors that forbids them from inappropriate interference, many do it anyway.
On Friday, this newspaper reported on Port Elizabeth law firm Gray Moodliar’s court challenge against the municipality for firing it after 20 years of service.
The firm accuses mayor Mongameli Bobani of showing a keen interest beyond what is legally permissible in some of the corruption and maladministration cases that Gray Moodliar had been handling.We will not comment on the merits of the case, as it is before the courts and the law will take its course.But what is shocking is the lengths to which ANC councillor Andile Lungisa was willing to go to get his hands on the files in Gray Moodliar’s possession.At a confidential council meeting, Lungisa said: “I do not know why we are afraid of Gray Moodliar because we can simply walk and go take what belongs to the municipality, if needs be, by force.“I don’t know why we are negotiating, negotiating, negotiating ... I think we must be able to ... use a little bit of force. Yesterday, the city manager reported on the question of Afrisec, [that] there were people who went there, cut all the locks, open the containers and then they were never arrested.”To say that they, as politicians, should go to an office and take municipal case files would not only amount to gross interference in the administration, it flirts with criminal behaviour.Our constitution gives councillors enough powers to pursue matters legally if they need to get access to information. But what we cannot do is allow politicians like Lungisa to normalise criminal behaviour.It sets a bad precedent. It is not bravery to go out and take files by force, it is thuggery.And there is a big difference between leaders pushing to do the right thing and overstepping the line.

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