GEORGE NEWS & VIDEO - Three opposition parties in the George Council, the ANC, PBI and AIC, are ecstatic over a ruling by the Cape Town High Court that each party involved in a recent court case - the DA-run municipality included - is responsible for its own costs.
This follows after the George Municipality, Speaker Gerrit Pretorius and Mayor Leon van Wyk filed an application to the High Court, to compel a collection of opposition parties (excluding the FF Plus and ACDP) to pay the full cost of a case regarding council attendance for the tabling of the annual budget.
Although a total of six opposition parties were listed as respondents, only three parties - ANC, PBI and AIC - chose to oppose the application.
Judge Vincent Saldanah gave a strong warning to all parties involved, saying the court will not become a political playground. "Do not misuse this court," he said.
The opposition's legal representative, Stephan Kleynhans, said the judge quoted paragraph 11 from PBI Councillor Virgill Gericke's answering affidavit, saying there was clearly no unwillingness from the opposition to attend meetings, and that there would not have been issues had Council stuck to an earlier agreement over the adjustment budget.
Gericke's paragraph stated: "Respondents clearly participated, remained in participation of all council meetings, intend to do so in future, therefore I submit that this application is not urgent, premature, unfounded and humbly pray that this Honourable court dismiss this application with costs."
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The DA caucus obtained a Cape Town High Court order on 29 June to force the ANC and other opposition parties to attend a council meeting suspended on 28 June, following several walk-outs by the opposition. The tabling of the 2020/2021 budget was at stake.
Mayor Leon van Wyk said the municipality approached the High Court to obtain a mandamus court order to force opposition councillors to attend council meetings, "to do the work they are obliged to do as required by the Municipal Systems Act".
The reason for the walk-outs had to do with the opposition's R104-million wish list of projects which the DA agreed to incorporate in the 2019/2020 adjustment budget. It included upgrades and services in various communities in George. The DA-ruled council was in need of four votes to pass the adjustment budget and agreed to the opposition's request.
However, none of the items were incorporated in the 2020/2021 annual budget. Its absence raised a red flag and the opposition retaliated by leaving Council without a quorum.
A grant made to the municipality for an essential bridge over the N2 was at stake if the annual budget could not be successfully tabled.
Following the June high court order the opposition cooperated (with the understanding that the wish list will be included) and the budget was passed. "We agreed to attend the meeting, but the list was still absent," said ANC councillor Langa Langa. "They then took us back to court to punish us, wanting us to carry the costs. The court whipped them and we are happy and elated!"
Virgill Gericke of the PBI expressed his concern about the costs of the latest court application. "The minimum amount for the legal costs is estimated at R500 000 and the taxpayer will have to pay."
Since the tabling of the annual budget, it seemed as if the storm had subsided, so why rock the boat with the cost application?
Acting Municipal Manager Charles Lubbe explained George Municipality had no choice but to obtain an order on costs as the previous ruling stipulated that arguments on costs must stand over.
"This had to be done to obtain clarity for audit purposes," said Lubbe. He said the matter is now closed.
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