Council 'capture' protest

Protest: Civil society demonstrates against proposed by-law banning public, media from municipal meetings

07 December 2017 - 07:24 By Bongani Mthethwa
ROOT CAUSE  A  Right to2Know poster leans against a tree  near the ICC where a council meeting was taking place. Ethekwini mayor  Zandile Gumede wants to close some  council meetings to the public Picture: Jackie Clausen
ROOT CAUSE A Right to2Know poster leans against a tree near the ICC where a council meeting was taking place. Ethekwini mayor Zandile Gumede wants to close some council meetings to the public Picture: Jackie Clausen

Civil society organisations staged a protest outside Durban's International Convention Centre on Wednesday against a controversial set of rules proposed by the eThekwini municipality which, critics say, seeks to ban the public and media from attending meetings and accessing information.

The organisations have described the proposed Rules of Order Amendment By-law as unconstitutional and are demanding that it be immediately withdrawn as it "removes transparency with regard to certain decisions and activities of the municipality and promotes a culture of secrecy".

In October the municipality decided to defer the adoption of the by-law after opposition parties voiced concern about some aspects of the proposal and had contended that the by-law was unconstitutional, impractical and unfair. The DA threatened to take legal action if the by-laws were adopted.

Organisations which participated in a placard demonstration on Wednesday included the Active Citizens Movement, Right2Know Campaign, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Abahlali baseMjondolo, South African Muslim Network and several ratepayers' organisations.

The protesters carried placards saying: "Stop corruption; Promote transparency"; "Citizens have a right to know"; "Protect our constitution"; "Transparency stops corruption"; and "Keep Council meetings open".

The organisations said if the city amended clause 7 of the Rules of Order, it would, in effect, mean that important decisions - such as the awarding of tenders or reports of investigations into misconduct and corruption - will be hidden from the public.

"It will open the way to local government capture under our very eyes," they said.

The Rules of Order Amendment By-law was discussed at the full council meeting which sat at the ICC. The by-law says the council may close its meetings to the public and media if there might be a disclosure of:

Confidential information regarding any person;

Any investigation, report or internal audit report that could be compromised by its public disclosure; and

There may be disclosure of trade secrets of the municipality or financial, business, scientific or technical information which is likely to cause prejudice to the business or interests of the municipality.

The municipality has denied the proposed by-law will ban the public and media from attending any of its meetings, saying the by-law was aimed at ensuring the council's rules and orders were kept updated and relevant to its businesses and proceedings.

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