R2K Statement: Proposed eThekwini By-Laws Unconstitutional
The Right2Know Campaign condemns the proposed amendments to the eThekwini Municipality’s Rules of Order, and note with concern the culture of secrecy and unaccountable governance that these by-laws represent.
After learning of the proposed new unconstitutional by-laws that are set to be voted on in the eThekwini municipal council meeting on Thursday, Right2Know is calling on the vote to be postponed to allow for public consultation and a revision of these rules.
Section 5 (b) subsections 3 and 4 of the proposed new rules will give the Executive Committee powers to close its meetings to the public and the media in circumstances not only where there may be disclosure of confidential or privileged information regarding any person to the public, but where any investigation, report or internal audit report which is in the course of consideration, could be compromised by its public disclosure, and where there may be disclosure of any trade secrets of the Municipality, or financial , business, scientific or technical information other than trade secrets, which is likely to cause prejudice to the business or interests of the Municipality.
The proposals also state that a member of the media who is in attendance at a meeting may not use any type of device to record the proceedings of a meeting without the necessary permission of the Speaker or the Chairperson of EXCO as the case may be. The provisions only allow for the media to take notes in writing. Section 11 (e) subsection (ii) stipulates that “during a Council or committee meeting, Councillors, traditional leaders, officials and all persons present must, where applicable, not use a cellular phone or electronic device during meetings, in a manner which communicates any information relating to a matter under consideration while such meeting is still in session.”
These proposed amendments violate the people’s right to access information and thus, curtail their capacity to hold the municipality accountable. By no means should the public, including the media, be excluded from meetings of the council. Should there be special circumstances that warrant closed-door deliberations, these circumstances should be announced and debated in an open council meeting before deliberations commence. Moreover, these provisions will infringe on media freedom and the right of journalists to practice their profession. Councillors, traditional leaders, officials and all persons present in a council or committee meeting have a right to impart information on the proceedings of the meeting in order to enhance transparency and accountability.
It is clear that these proposals are informed by a desire to escape public scrutiny. It is worrisome for the eThekwini Municipality to be considering provisions that will violate the constitution and foster corruption and nepotism. The council of eThekwini Municipality is set to meet on Thursday the 26th of October 2017 to vote on the amendments. Representatives of the Municipality have confirmed to Right2Know that the vote is on the agenda and that they do not plan to provide for public consultation or engagement on these proposed by-laws before the vote takes place.
Right2Know calls on the municipality to postpone the vote that is set for Thursday in order to allow for input from the public and interested stakeholders. Furthermore, R2K implores councillors to uphold the principles of transparency, accountability, good corporate governance and reject amendments to the Rules of Order that seek to deny media freedom and access to information rights.
R2K KZN will be picketing outside the eThekwini Municipal offices on Thursday, 26 October,from 10am onwards, to hand over a submission on the proposed by-laws for the committee to consider, and to call on the meeting to postpone the vote until they have provided proper consultation opportunities.
For further comment contact:
Carina Conradie, R2K Access to Information Organiser, 0715714470
Ngazini Ngidi, R2K KZN Coordinator, 07355556455
Thabo Maile, R2K National Working Group member, 0781194257
Note to media: Please attribute contents of this statement to the Right2Know not to any individuals within R2K unless you contact a spokesperson for specific comments.
Sent on behalf of R2K by: Biko Mutsaurwa
Right2Know Communication Rights Organiser
More about the Right2Know Campaign:
www.r2k.org.za | @r2kcampaign | fb.com/right2know