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The Mayor of Gaborone, Kagiso Thutlwe, has come under fire from one of his own councillors for falsifying a resolution on behalf of the Gaborone City Council’s Executive Committee.
On September 14, 2017, Thutlwe wrote a letter titled “Billboards Appeal to the Office of Mayor” to three companies: Master Carpentry & Joinery, Jun Bud Holdings and Goleba Out Door. The letter to Master Carpentry & Joinery reads in full: “Reference is made in regard to your appeal to the Office of the Mayor concerning billboard applications. We have applied our mind in your matter and took it to the Executive Committee for consideration in its sitting on the 12 September 2017. The Executive Committee resolved to take deliberate steps to radically empower the marginalised groups. In reference, 30 percent was a reserved minimum to each company owned by verified marginalised groups thus it was resolved to a minimum of 12 sites approved to Master Carpentry & Joinery (Pty) Ltd as per your request (applications) as a pilot and as government affirmative action to reserve 30 percent for the marginalised groups being women, youth and disabled persons. You are advised to liaise with Physical Planning Department to facilitate with immediate effect.”
The same letter and quota went to Jun Bud Holdings while Goleba Out Door got 10 (not 12 sites) like the other two companies. What seems odd is the latter requesting the same number of sites.
Marulamantsi Councillor and Deputy Chairperson of the Physical Planning Committee, Sergeant Kgosietsile, contests that the Executive Committee never made such resolution and that if it had, such resolution would have had to be formally presented to the Full Council – which never happened. The other point that he makes is that the Mayor’s involvement in this matter is not only unusual but unlawful as well. His explanation of “unusual” is that communicating Council resolutions to members of the public is a purely administrative matter that doesn’t require the personal involvement of the Mayor. The explanation of unlawful is that the Town and Country Planning Act confers power and authority to deal with the issue at hand on the GCC Physical Planning Committee and not on the Mayor’s office.
While Thutlwe advised the three companies to liaise with the Physical Planning Committee, it would seem that he didn’t himself liaise with relevant GCC staff himself. A month after the letter was written, a Council employee, K. K. Masara, cautioned Goleba Out Door about its “illegal erection of billboards”, which is the title of the former’s letter to the company. The October 27, 2017 letter reads in full: “It appears that there are billboards that you have erected along major streets within Gaborone planning area without planning permission. These operations are in breach of the Town and Country Planning Act of 2013. The developments that you have undertaken are therefore illegal and you have breached the law. You are therefore to stop all the illegal activities within the city, remove all the erected billboards and to convert the land to its original state within 7 days. Failure to do so will result in an enforcement notice being served against you as per the Town and country Planning Act of 2013.”
The strange thing about this letter is that, as a GCC employee, Masara is supervised by the Town Clerk (GCC’s administrative head) who is a member of the Executive Committee that, according to Thutlwe’s letter, resolved to give preferential treatment to Goleba Outdoor. The stranger thing is that Masara wrote that letter on behalf of the Town Clerk who was supposedly party to a decision to allow the company do what a letter written on his behalf says is illegal. Everything being equal, Masara should never have written that letter because the Town Clerk should have formally notified him/her of the Executive Committee’s resolution.
This is a point that Kgosietsile harps on to buttress his assertion that Thutlwe falsified the resolution in question. Harking back to an earlier point, the councillor says that the nature of the written communication between Masara and Goleba Outdoor is an example of standard practice: an employee – and not the Mayor – writing an outside party a letter over what is basically an administrative matter.
Thutlwe’s decision was also not communicated to the GCC Physical Planning Committee, which in terms of the Town Planning Act, issues the planning permission that Masara’s letter says Goleba Outdoor didn’t have. While Thutlwe’s letter exempts the three companies from having to pay the usual fees, it didn’t (couldn’t) exempt them from going through all the necessary steps of occupying sites. That, however, is what happened: as Masara’s letter reveals, the companies didn’t get a planning permission which the Act prescribes for all companies.
The other oddity of this matter is that while Thutlwe’s letter makes a point about empowering marginalised groups which he identifies as women, youth and people with disabilities, only three people benefitted sans a competitive selection process. On the face of it, the letter conveys sentiment that this dispensation was not about targeting individuals within those groups but everybody within those groups. From what Sunday Standard learns – which Thutlwe has neither confirmed nor denied because he never responded to our enquiry – the decision to reserve 30 percent of outdoor advertising space to stated marginalised groups was never formally communicated to those groups, only to the three companies in question.
Odder still, is an assertion by Kgosietsile that way before Thutlwe wrote the three companies, the precise marginalised groups he mentions in his letter were bombarding the Physical Planning Committee with applications to be granted special dispensation similar to the one that only Master Carpentry & Joinery, Jun Bud Holdings and Goleba Out Door benefitted from.
The Mayor’s office and the Physical Planning Committee are clearly working at cross-purposes on this issue. Last year, more than a year after Thutlwe’s special dispensation to the three companies, the Committee itself resolved to give preference to said marginalised groups and to that end, identify suitable sites. It also resolved to distance itself from sentiments expressed in the Mayor’s letter, taking it upon itself to “consult Goleba Out Door with a view to rectifying what His Worship the Mayor communicated to the company.” Sunday Standard learns that while the wording doesn’t so reflect, similar communication was to be made with the other two companies.
All effort to get Thutlwe’s side of the story (undertaken both by telephone and email beginning February 27) failed. The latest pronouncement by Town Hall on this issue is a March 15 press release that conveys its “disturbance” about illegal advertising on public land and private properties in Gaborone. The release is addressed to “all advertising companies, agencies, events managers, promoters, distributors, retailers and the general public.”
“Please be advised that according to planning law it is an offense to carry out any developments on land within Gaborone boundaries without prior consent and/or approval of Gaborone City Council. This includes all physical developments, installation, erection or upgrade of any Billboard Structures as per the provisions of Town & Country Planning Act 2013,” the GCC statement says.
Interestingly, no less a personage that GCC’s political head short-circuited requirements of the same Act in favour of Master Carpentry & Joinery, Jun Bud Holdings and Goleba Out Door.