eThekwini DA leader wants budget overturned as she was 'muted' in virtual debate

08 June 2020 - 17:04
By Tania Broughton
eThekwini DA councillor Nicole Graham has sought an urgent interdict to overturn the city's budget.
Image: 123RF/STOCKSTUDIO44 eThekwini DA councillor Nicole Graham has sought an urgent interdict to overturn the city's budget.

The DA in eThekwini wants a court to declare last month’s budget hearing, during which its leader was “repeatedly muted”, to be unlawful and order that a new virtual hearing be held.

In an urgent Durban high court application lodged on Monday, the party’s leader on the council Nicole Graham says the leadership of the majority ANC had failed to adhere to “constitutional and statutory” obligations when it approved the budget on May 29.

“This application concerns the nature and extent of the obligation upon a council to ensure public participation in its decision-making processes,” she says.

“The meeting was undemocratic.”

Graham outlined how the Facebook feed, being viewed by 15,000 people, suddenly turned off after nearly three hours - and just two minutes into her budget speech.

“And then I was denied my right to participate in the second broadcast. I was repeatedly muted by someone with access to the controls, that is an administrator. No-one could hear me,” she said.

She had no connectivity issues. Instead a small picture of a microphone, with a line through it, kept appearing on her screen.

In total she was muted nine times.

During this the speaker repeatedly asked members not to mute her “but took no real steps to address the problem or identify who was doing it”.

“The meeting simply moved on without any input from the main opposition party,” she said.

The IFP presenter, who spoke next, had no issues.

“As councillors, the adoption and debate of the budget is probably the most important work we perform. This is even more so during this pandemic, because local government has been called upon to rise to the challenge of supporting communities. We have been required to provide housing, food, economic and social relief which calls for extra judicious budget adoption processes going forward to ensure funds are utilised where they are needed most.”

The draft budget, Graham said, had raised serious concerns and public participation was crucial.

“There will be a dispute as to whether the muting of my speech was intentional or not. It matters not. The fact that I was denied my opportunity to make submission on the municipal budget is grounds for the relief I seek.

“The public were also excluded from and denied access to seeing what occurred in the council by shutting down the first broadcast.”

Graham said the budget was now “tarnished by unlawfulness”.

“I anticipate that the respondents may raise the “no difference” argument - that the budget was approved by the majority of (ANC) councillors and it made no difference whether or not I had been permitted to make my address.

“But there is no way to know if some councillors may have shifted their opinion if I had. And democracy, like justice, must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. The live stream was switched off at critical moments.”

She said the meeting needed to be “rerun” in a constitutionally compliant manner.

She also wants the court to direct that new guidelines be developed regarding the use of technology and muting privileges.

The respondents have until Friday to file any opposing affidavits and the matter has been set down on June 17.