Municipal council meetings are held once a month, except when a special meeting for urgent purposes is called, says political analyst Prof Erwin Schwella.
It is compulsory to have at least one meeting every three months.
Various portfolio committees are established within municipal councils, and many of the decisions passed at council meetings are proposed within these committees.
According to the South African Local Government Association (Salga), at least seven days’ notice must be given for general council meetings, and the items to be discussed must be disclosed. Special meetings need a notice period of 48 hours. The notice must be signed by the speaker and the municipal manager.
According to Salga, one of the major innovations of the 1996 Constitution was the elevation of local government to a sphere of government. A municipality consequently has the right to govern the local government affairs of its community. This means that while national and provincial governments may supervise the functioning of local government, this must be done without encroaching on the institutional integrity of local government.
The South African Constitution gives two sources of legislative power to local government:
1 ] A municipality can make by-laws on the matters listed in schedules 4B and 5B of the Constitution.
2 ] A municipality can also make laws on any other matter that has been assigned to it by national or provincial government. Assignment takes place when national or provincial government delegates one of its own legislative competencies, or parts of that competency, to local government.
Council decisions are passed when the majority of the councillors present at the meeting vote in favour of an item, providing a quorum is present.
“You are able to attend a council meeting as a member of the public. All council meetings are required to be open to the public, except for committee meetings. Attending council meetings is a good way to understand how councils make decisions,” says Schwella.
The South African Local Government Act states that a municipal council must conduct its business in an open manner and every meeting of the council and all committees, including the executive committee/mayoral committee, should be open to the public. There are certain exceptions, however, if warranted by the nature of the business being discussed.
Chapter 4 of the Municipal Systems Act requires municipalities to involve communities in decision-making processes, and to consult and cooperate with the community.
In terms of the act, local communities have the right to contribute to decision making, to submit recommendations and complaints to the municipal council, to be informed of council meetings and decisions, to be updated about council affairs, and to attend open meetings.
Chapter 4 of the act also requires information to be accessible to all people. This can be done through ward committee meetings.