NGOs and Ratepayers organisations around South Africa can learn something from this argument by the Knysna Ratepayers’ Association against the DA’s intended secret, disciplinary hearings against councillors today.
“RATEPAYERS STRONGLY OBJECT TO DA BOSSES CAVALIER TREATMENT OF MAYOR WILLEMSE AND COUNCILLOR MYERS
Yesterday, Thursday 5 July, the Knysna Ratepayers Association’s Committee sent the following letter to Mr Anton Coetsee, the Initiator in the planned disciplinary proceeding of Mayor Mark Willemse and Councillor Peter Myers, and to James Selfe, chairman of the DA’s Federal Executive. The DA bosses in Cape Town cannot be allowed to treat our best and brightest DA councillors in this fashion, and must stop interfering in Knysna’s governance on purely political grounds!
KNYSNA RATEPAYERS ASSOCIATION
Our Ref: 5 July 2018
MW and PMJ Disciplinary Proceeding
Mr Anton Coetsee
Mr James Selfe
By email: email@example.com
RE: DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE/COUNCILLORS MARK WILLEMSE AND PETER MYERS
Dear Mr Coetsee,
An extremely positive interview of Knysna Mayor Mark Willemse that appeared in today’s Knysna-Plett Herald(1) mentioned that he had been summoned to Cape Town this Saturday for a disciplinary hearing to investigate allegations of misconduct. Upon further investigation, we discovered that Councillor Myers is facing the same or similar charges, in the same proceeding, on the same day.
The Knysna Ratepayers Association wishes to register the strongest objection to the scheduled hearing.
Firstly, because we see no evidence of misconduct of any kind. The people of Knysna overwhelmingly support Willemse in his new role and insist that the DA must also support Willemse and Myers in their efforts to restore good governance and effective service delivery to our town—efforts which are being frustrated by this disciplinary proceeding.
Far from bringing the name of the DA into disrepute, the two councillors have taken a bold first step toward restoring the people of Knysna’s trust in the party. Disciplining them would be extremely counterproductive, both for Knysna and the DA. Holding the hearing in Cape Town will simply exacerbate the local perception that the DA cares only about itself and its internal squabbles, to the detriment of Knysna residents.
Secondly, because dragging Willemse and Myers onto the carpet on such short notice, at such a far remove from Knysna, is extremely unfair and violates their fundamental due process rights.
• It violates their right to sufficient notice to have time to prepare their case.
• It violates their right to call witnesses, since the many witnesses they will presumably need to call all live in Knysna. There is simply not enough time to make arrangements to ferry them all to Cape Town by Saturday, and in any event, who will pay their expenses?
• We understand that the hearing is only scheduled for one day—Saturday, 7 July. This is absurd. There is absolutely no chance that a fair hearing can be held in a single day.
In the earlier disciplinary proceeding against Councillor Myers, hearings have always been held here in Knysna. If that panel could sit in Knysna, why can’t the panel in the joint proceeding against Councillors Willemse and Myers also sit here?
The KRA also wishes to take this opportunity to request leave to make representations in these hearings. We cannot do so if they are held in Cape Town, and we cannot do so if they are held this Saturday.
Our representations will include our contention that the hearings in this new disciplinary proceeding must be open to the public. If the panel wishes to have the hearings held in camera, we request permission to make representations in limine as to why the hearings should be open to the public.
The starting point for the contention that these hearings should be public is that the DA Federal Constitution does not prohibit open hearings in the case of provincial disciplinary proceedings. Section 10.5.3 of the DA Federal Constitution only provides that “Panels of the Federal Legal Commission are held in camera. “
In addition, Part A “Rules of Procedure for Disciplinary Hearings in terms of Chapter 11 (now Chapter 10) of the Federal Constitution” of Annexure D “Rules for Disciplinary Hearings and other Processes of the Federal Legal Commission and Hearings of Provincial Disciplinary Committees” does not provide that disciplinary hearings by Provincial Disciplinary Committees must be held in camera.
Accordingly, the Provincial Committee in this proceeding has discretion to hold the hearings in public, in Knysna. Why should it do so?
Firstly, because Knysna’s residents have a keen interest in attending these proceedings, whose outcome will have an enormous impact on our town until the next elections. Mayor Willemse enjoys broad support in his efforts to turn this town around, and he and Councillor Myers are largely responsible for the Knysna council’s few achievements in the last two years. Enquiries have revealed that Willemse’s predecessor enjoys little or no support from any of Knysna’s ethnic communities at this point, including her own. It appears that she no longer even enjoys the support of her own ward. Recall that Councillor Willemse was elected with the broad support of the communities represented by the ANC, which first voted to remove his predecessor. Willemse also has the unconditional support of the Knysna Ratepayers Association, as does his colleague, Councillor Myers. Knysna’s residents are interested in these proceedings, and they are very concerned.
Holding these proceedings in secret will deny all of Knysna’s diverse communities an opportunity to make up their own minds about the fairness of the proceedings and their outcome, whatever it may be. Adopting a strained, formalistic approach to these proceedings that views them as a purely internal party matter would simply disregard the public’s interest in them. Taking that position would also be divisive. Knysna has recently experienced serious unrest. Holding secret proceedings in a matter of such importance to Knysna’s residents has the potential to lead to yet more unrest, further damaging our town and its reputation as a safe destination for domestic and international tourists alike.
Secondly, these proceedings should be public because the right to a public trial is a core component of procedural due process. Secret trials are the hallmark of despotic regimes, not democracies. A public trial is the most fundamental safeguard against judicial and quasi-judicial injustice. Our Bill of Rights guarantees every accused “the right to a fair trial, which includes the right… (c)to a public trial…”.
Thirdly, section 16(a) of the Bill of Rights guarantees “freedom of the press, and other media”. Holding disciplinary proceedings in camera necessarily excludes the press and prevents it from fulfilling its role as a watchdog, by witnessing the administration of justice, and reporting on the proceedings to the public.
For all these reasons, the hearing scheduled for Saturday, 7 July must be postponed, the venue must be changed to Knysna, and the hearings must be open to the public, including the press.
NB: Please note that we have briefed the question of the need for DA disciplinary proceedings to be public before– in the still pending disciplinary proceeding of Councillor Myers earlier this year. Our submission to the panel in that proceeding refers (see Annexure A).
You can comment at www.facebook.com/knysnaratepayers/posts/356871341510415.