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Bitou Municipality Luxury Car Ruling Met With Ratepayers’ Resistance

Published March 26, 2024
2 months ago

The Plettenberg Ratepayers Association is rallying its resources to tackle a controversial court decision that has permitted Bitou Municipality officials to lease luxury cars amidst widespread economic strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The judgement, which sparked a contentious debate over the morality of opulent spending during a time of crisis, sanctioned the council's expenditure of R1.3 million over three years on two luxury vehicles. The agreement includes a R700,000 car allocated to Mayor Peter Lobese who has only one year remaining in his current term.

This financial move came under intense scrutiny amid the pandemic's peak, with residents bearing the brunt of the associated hardships. Many found themselves in dire financial situations with lack of food security becoming an increasingly prevalent issue. In response to this perceived misallocation of funds, the community rallied together, initiating a petition demanding that the mayor opt for a more modest vehicle. This would allow the remainder of the allocated funds to be redirected towards assisting struggling Bitou residents.

The Ratepayers Association took significant steps by filing a legal application with the intention of overturning what they dubbed an 'unlawful' decision. Yet, despite these efforts, two weeks prior, Judge Ajay Bhoopchand dismissed their case. While acknowledging the backdrop of the unfolding humanitarian crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic, Judge Bhoopchand emphasized that the core of this case rested upon legal technicalities rather than the ethical implications of the leasing contract. He concluded that the ratepayers had not successfully established a case of unlawfulness, stating the municipality holds the right to acquire vehicles under specific circumstances.

However, the fight seems far from over for the Ratepayers Association. Steve Pattinson, the organization's chairperson, made it clear that based on their legal team's assessment, there were substantial errors in the judgment concerning the facts and the application of the law. Buoyed by this belief, the association has decided to forge ahead with an appeal. Pattinson expressed grave concern over the potential precedent this ruling could set for other municipalities if left unchecked, potentially greenlighting a disregard for lawful protocol in the provision of perks to political officials.

The Ratepayers Association's dissent highlights a widespread public sentiment that calls for prudent fiscal management and ethical leadership, especially in times of crisis. As they move forward with the appeal, there is a collective hope that their actions will re-establish the community's expectations for their elected officials and ensure an equitable utilization of public funds.

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