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Cllr Werner Esterhuizen, proportional councillor for the Freedom Front Plus in the Makhado Municipality. Photo supplied.

Freedom Front Plus councillor in hot water over absence

Date: 09 February 2024 By: Andries van Zyl

One of the more interesting items on the agenda for the next meeting of the Makhado Municipal Council is the decision to reprimand a councillor for failing to attend meetings or apply for a leave of absence prior to the meetings.

As publicly elected officials, councillors are expected to be the eyes and ears of the people who elected them, acting as their voice in the council. Therefore, if they are not present, their electorate's voice is not heard. They also cannot report back to their constituency on matters involving them. While missing a few meetings might be forgivable if being a councillor were a voluntary service, but councillors receive a salary. In the case of the Makhado Municipality, the average monthly pay for a councillor is around R27,000, which includes benefits such as a cellphone and travel allowance. (This average monthly pay was calculated based on the Makhado Municipality's financial statements for the year ended June 2023, and readers should note that councillors have seen salary increases, at the upper levels, since then.)

The councillor in question is Cllr Werner Esterhuizen, a proportional councillor for the Freedom Front Plus. He was elected to the council in April last year, following the resignation of Cllr Dale Halgreen.

On 7 November last year, the then Speaker of the Makhado Municipality, Cllr M D Mboyi, informed Esterhuizen in writing that, according to item (5) of Schedule 7 of the Uniform Standing Procedure for the Imposition of Sanctions on Councillors for Non-Attendance of Meetings, he should respond in writing within 14 days as to why he did not attend the 106th council meeting held on 28 July 2023, the 175th council meeting held on 30 August 2023, the 176th  urgent special council meeting held on 11 September 2023, and the 177th Urgent Council meeting held on 18 September 2023. According to Mboyi, Esterhuizen did not apply for a leave of absence for any of these meetings.

In his response, Esterhuizen expressed his sincere apologies for not attending the meetings, acknowledging the importance of his presence at these events. He cited his busy work schedule as the reason for his absence, adding, “Unfortunately, due to unforeseen personal circumstances, I have been facing challenges that required my immediate attention and presence.” He further stated that attending to these challenges had taken precedence over his commitment to attend council meetings.

Esterhuizen was then informed that he should appear before the Ethics Committee, which he apparently did not, which led the council to decide on his reprimand. The decision to be presented to the council states: "That note be taken that the Ethics Committee notified Cllr W L Esterhuizen, who contravened the requirement to appear before the Committee to make a presentation, either in writing or verbally, as to why he should not be found guilty of being absent from three or more consecutive meetings of the Council and its committees", and "That note be taken that it is the responsibility of a Councillor to make an application for leave of absence if he is not attending meetings of the Council and its committees".

The Ethics Committee found Esterhuizen guilty of contravening section 5 of Schedule 7 of the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act, No. 117 of 1998, as amended, recommending that sanctions to be imposed against him, which include a 50% deduction from his monthly salary, half of which will be deducted in the months of February and March respectively, and a written warning.

In response to their councillor's conduct, Ms Jana Pullen, provincial media officer for the Freedom Front Plus, stated that they had been made aware of Esterhuizen's conduct. "We accepted his letter of apology. We also note that he appeared before the Ethics Committee and take cognisance of the findings that are yet to be tabled before Council. We have addressed the matter internally as we certainly view this in a serious light," said Pullen.

Pullen mentioned that their provincial leadership had addressed the matter with Esterhuizen regarding his misconduct and non-attendance. "Cllr Esterhuizen gave his full cooperation, and the province pledged to support him wherever he needs assistance with his work as a councillor. Cllr Esterhuizen assured the province that he will commit to attending the council meetings as well as other council work expected of a councillor," Pullen added, emphasising the belief that councillors must prioritise attendance at council meetings to stay updated on municipal matters.

"Although Cllr Esterhuizen did not attend three consecutive council meetings, it is important to note that this does not mean he is not doing any other work in the community. The local profile of the party is not dependent on just one representative but on all structures of the party in the region and province," said Pullen.

Pullen concluded by stating, "We support the council's processes which should be followed regarding this matter. We will not be conducting an internal disciplinary process regarding this matter. As a principle of law, one cannot impose more than one form of 'punishment'. The fact is Cllr Esterhuizen is already subjected to sanctions as recommended by the Ethics Committee and due for council's approval. We have, however, put internal processes in place to ensure that Cllr Esterhuizen attends council meetings, failing which he may be removed as a councillor."

 

 
 
 

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Andries van Zyl

Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.

 
 

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