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The Municipal Code of Conduct
The Code of Conduct (which can be found at Schedule 1 to the Municipal Systems Act) prescribes how municipal councillors, ward committees, and administrative officials must behave, and the penalties for improper behaviour.
What the Code of Conduct says
In general, the Code of Conduct requires that councillors must perform their duties:
- in good faith (or with a desire to act fairly towards others)
- in the best interests of the municipality (which includes the interests of the community).
In addition, the Code of Conduct requires that:
Councillors must declare to the municipal manager, in writing, all their financial interests, within 60 days of their election (The Municipal Systems Act, Schedule 1: Code of Conduct, item 7(4)). You can demand to have access to the interests declared by one or more councillors.
A councillor must disclose (make public) any interest he has in any matter that is being considered by the council or its committees. This can be a direct or indirect interest, personally or through a spouse, partner or associate. Unless the council decides that the interest disclosed is trivial or irrelevant, that councillor must withdraw and not participate in council or committee meetings on that matter. (The Municipal Systems Act, Schedule 1: Code of Conduct, item 5(1))
A councillor must disclose any special benefit that he or she, or his or her family member or spouse or partner will get from a contract that has been or will be signed with the municipality (The Municipal Systems Act, Schedule 1: Code of Conduct, item 5(1)). This must be done at the first council meeting where this is possible.
Full-time councillors are not allowed to have any other paid work without the permission of the council. (The Municipal Systems Act, Schedule 1: Code of Conduct, item 8)
The Code of Conduct also states the following:
Councillors may not use their positions or confidential information for personal profit nor for the improper benefit of any other person. (Municipal Systems Act, Schedule 1: Code of Conduct, item 6(1))
Councillors may not request or accept any rewards, or gifts or favours for :
- voting or not voting on a matter before the council or any committee
- persuading the council to make a decision one way or the other on any matter
- making representations to the council
- disclosing confidential information. (The Municipal Systems Act, Schedule 1: Code of Conduct, item 9)
Councillors may not disclose confidential information of the council to people who are not allowed to know it. (The Municipal Systems Act, Schedule 1: Code of Conduct, item 10)
Councillors are not allowed to interfere with the municipal administration. It is a criminal offence for a councillor to attempt to influence an employee or agent of the municipality not to enforce a law or a council decision. This offence can be punished by a fine or a jail sentence of up to two years. (The Municipal Systems Act, Schedule 1: Code of Conduct, item 11)
Enforcing the Code of Conduct
You can demand the enforcement of the Code of Conduct. The person who is mainly responsible for enforcing the Code of Conduct is the speaker of the local council. He or she must investigate if there is a reasonable suspicion that the Code of Conduct has not been complied with. After giving the councillor an opportunity to respond, the speaker must prepare a report which must be given to the council and made public. The council is then able to investigate whether a breach of the Code of Conduct has taken place. This investigation must be done by a committee of councillors. If the council decides that a councillor has breached the code of conduct, the council can:
- issue a warning,
- reprimand the councillor
- fine the councillor
- request the MEC (Provincial Minister) to suspend or remove the councillor from office.
If the council’s own investigation is not enough or produces a flawed result, the MEC can intervene and conduct his own investigation. The MEC has power to suspend or remove the councillor from office.
Most of the code of conduct applies also to traditional leaders who take part in a municipal council, but such traditional leaders cannot be reprimanded or fined. The council does have the power to request the MEC to suspend or cancel the traditional leader’s right to participate in the council.