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DA, ANC in spat over financials

The ANC leader in Drakenstein, Moutie Richards, is facing a disciplinary hearing following an earlier letter he wrote to Paarl Post in which he raised his concerns about the financial governance of the Municipality.

Last year Richards made the ANC’s concerns known regarding the Municipalities debt collection, and the general financial state of the Municipality.

In a second letter to Paarl Post he wrote that in the spirit of accountability and transparency to residents and taxpayers in the region, the ANC has requested an independent investigation be conducted by the Audit Committee and the Office of the Auditor General to indicate the real state of finances in the Drakenstein Municipality.

“Residents and taxpayers of Drakenstein must indeed ask themselves whether the Executive Mayor of Drakenstein, Councillor Conrad Poole, and his executive mayoral committee have executed their mandate as the stewards of good governance in Drakenstein to the best of their ability,” he wrote.

The deputy mayor, Gert Combrink, responded to the letter and said it is clear that Richards does not understand the accrual accounting basis on which the Municipality must operate.

Combrink also said that Richard is well aware that the mayor and his Mayoral Committee are executing their mandate as stewards of good governance in the interest of Drakenstein’s residents.

After the letters in the Paarl Post the Speaker of Drakenstein Municipality, Aiden Stowman, authorised an investigation of Richards.

According to Stowman the investigation is in terms of the code of conduct.

“The Speaker is required to act in terms of the Municipal Systems Act (2000) if he suspects that a Councillor has possibly transgressed the Code of Conduct for Councillors, as stipulated in the legislation.

“The investigator scrutinised a possible breach of the Code of Conduct for Councillors. An independent investigator submitted a report to the office of the Speaker with a recommendation that Council’s Disciplinary Committee take the matter further,” Stowman said.

Last week Richards’ disciplinary hearing was postponed until 28 March. The Municipality did not answer as to why the meeting was postponed, only that it was postponed by the chairperson of the committee.

Dennis Cruywagen, on behalf of the ANC Boland Region secretary Sabelo Mahlathi, said the ANC has slammed as an assault on freedom of speech the decision by the Municipality for hauling Richards, the leader of the opposition, in front of a disciplinary hearing.

The ANC also said the attempt to silence its public representatives is another harbinger of the DA’s desperation as it loses support and is being wracked by internal divisions.

“Councillor Richards is accused of having compromised the “credibility and integrity of the municipality” because of comments he made in the local newspaper, Paarl Post, in July 2019.

In a statement, the Boland Regional Secretary of the ANC, Sabelo Mahlathi, accused the DA-controlled municipality of trying to silence its critics.

He said: “Councillor Richards spoke the truth when he told the newspaper that the municipality is in a financial crisis. A report by the Auditor-General has confirmed the veracity of his remarks. In a brazen act of vindictiveness and intimidation, Drakenstein Municipality is seeking to silence him and the official opposition. We will not be silenced and will continue to speak out.”

Mahlathi added Drakenstein Municipality was launching an assault on the Constitutional right to freedom of speech. “Councillor Richards is a South African, an elected public representative, who enjoys all the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. He is not a Drakenstein Municipal employee who can be dragged in front of a disciplinary hearing for violating council policy.”

He added that the allegations against Richards would have a chilling effect on less courageous councillors and frighten them from voicing their concerns publicly and in line with their obligations under the Municipal Systems Act. “We demand that these charges be dropped, that the hearing is stopped.”

He said in the statement that Richards was being targeted because he and other community leaders have taken up issues on behalf of the poor. “During the recent controversy about the application of water electricity issues in Drakenstein, Councillor Richards and others were central in the fight to secure a better deal for the poor. The DA’s action against him is meant to shut him up.”

Paarl Post asked the Municipality if it is indeed not Richards’s right to freedom of speech to give his opinion to the newspaper, but they did not respond to this.

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