Oudtshoorn’s embattled council has approved settlement packages for three top managers amounting to an estimated R2.5 million.
The municipality, during a special council meeting on Thursday, decided to pay out its controversial former manager, Reverend Noel Pietersen, chief financial officer Keith Jordaan and former director of corporate services Thembani Gutas.
According to the approved severance packages, Pietersen, whose contract expires in July, will be paid out R650 000, excluding tax (which will also be paid by the municipality), for the remainder of his term.
Pietersen was dismissed in February 2009 by the then DA/ID-led council after being found guilty of using R17 500 of town funds for a personal defamation lawsuit.
But when the ANC took control in August last year, he was reappointed with back-pay amounting to R1.5m.
The payout was contested in the Western Cape High Court, but the application by the municipality’s former DA speaker Pierre Nel was rejected. The money was paid out in June, although the case is in the process of an appeal.
At the beginning of August, Pietersen was placed on special leave for the duration of the Special Investigating Unit probe into serious maladministration at the municipality.
Pietersen denied the allegations – claiming there was a political motive behind a preliminary SIU report implicating him.
According to the terms of Jordaan’s deal, he will receive nine months salary – which will be paid out on a monthly basis. Gutas, meanwhile, was given a settlement package of R450 000, excluding tax.
A shocked Western Cape Local Government MEC, Anton Bredell, criticised the severance packages, accusing the ANC of disrespecting ratepayers.
“It’s a total waste of taxpayers’ money. They are giving payouts as favours to people. We will not sit still and watch as they make huge payouts at the expense of the people.”
Bredell said the municipality’s financial state was already dire and the payouts would only exacerbate the situation.
Local DA councillor Chris MacPherson said the Klein Karoo town was in a state of chaos, and laid the blame on the mayor, Gordon April, who he claimed had been making decisions without having any delegated powers.
He said the DA/Cope caucus has issued a vote of no confidence in the mayor, deputy mayor and speaker at Thursday’s meeting.
“We’ve had more than eight special council meetings but not one scheduled council meeting since the May 18 elections. This is denying ratepayers their right to public participation in council matters. The mayor does not have delegation powers, he cannot make any decisions because the council has not decided on the delegations. They are ignoring all the laws governing council.”
Regarding the payouts, MacPherson said it was not the preferred outcome but it was the only way out.
“We have to start with a clean government. We cannot allow these matters to drag on indefinitely at an even higher cost to the taxpayers. It’s best to see the people go, they have done enough damage – in the long run it’s better than getting involved in drawn-out legal battles.”
April confirmed the mutual termination of Pietersen, Gutas and Jordaan’s contracts. He said they would remain liable for any criminal proceedings should any wrongdoing be established in investigations.
Meanwhile, Mpho Mogale, who was seconded by the national department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs to Oudtshoorn, has been temporarily appointed acting municipal manager.
The move comes despite a hard-hitting letter by Bredell to acting Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nathi Mthethwa, urging the withdrawal of Mogale’s secondment to Oudtshoorn.
Bredell indicated that he would take corrective action including going to court for an order declaring the appointment null and void. “The envisaged appointment of Mr Mogale is without prior advertising of the position in question…”
Bredell said in terms of the Act a municipality must first advertise the post and only when it does not attract suitable candidates (after twice being advertised) can the municipality apply to second a suitable person. – Saturday Argus