George Municipality only answered questions about its refusal to allow Mediclinic to build a new hospital in the city after Moneyweb published an article on the issue.
It took seven days, but the answers make for interesting reading and give an intriguing glimpse into the workings of decision-making within a municipality.
The decision effectively puts an investment of R700 million at risk, yet the municipality seemed peeved that questions about the reasons behind it were posed to the municipal manager at all.
“A quick search of the George municipal website and the local newspaper would have revealed a number of statements made by the municipality in this regard,” says Chantel Edwards-Klose from the municipality’s communications department.
However, the basis of proper journalism is not to merely copy and paste parts of other newspapers’ articles, but to ask questions, check facts and give relevant parties the opportunity to respond.
A quick look at said statement on the municipality’s website shows that pertinent questions regarding the issue are not all addressed.
It seems one of the major reasons for declining the application was that the development proposed much more than just a hospital for Mediclinic; it included other infrastructure, such as doctors’ offices and related services.
The statement also creates the impression that the decision to refuse the application was taken before the application was even made.
Below are the responses to our questions as answered by Delia Power, acting director of the municipality (quoted word-for-word).
Is this the final decision?
Every decision taken by the municipality is final. Once an administrative action is taken it cannot be revoked, unless challenged in a court of law.
Can Mediclinic appeal the decision?
This application has already gone on appeal, and the final decision of the appeals authority was published with reasons supporting the decision.
Why was the application rejected?
Full details of the decision and reasons are captured in the final decision and the reports of the expert advisors that were appointed to assist the appeals authority. This documentation can be made available upon receipt of an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.
[The aim of this Act is to promote transparency and give anybody access to information from public or private bodies once they can give reasonable justification why information should be made available. A famous example was the case in 2011 when Sake24 approached the courts in terms of the act to force Eskom to disclose the price at which it sold electricity to aluminium smelters.]
Who rejected the application – officials or councillors?
The first refusal of the application was done in terms of delegated powers held by the authorised official [the acting deputy director for town planning]. The applicant then submitted an appeal to the decision and the appeals authority upheld the decision of the authorised official.
The applicant then took the decision of the appeals authority on review and the court set the decision aside. The court ruled that the applicant resubmit to the appeals authority [the executive mayor], that an oral hearing be held and that independent experts in town planning and planning law be appointed to advise the appeals authority.
The hearing took place on April 1 where the applicant, objectors and municipality were represented and were given the opportunity to submit their evidence and elaborate on their arguments. In the final decision, after consideration of all the facts, the appeal authority upheld the previous decisions taken in respect of the application. To our knowledge, no further application for review has been filed in respect of this application.
Why not allow a new hospital for the use of residents and a R700 million investment?
In our previous media statements the municipality qualified that it is not opposed to the expansion of the hospital. Several alternative sites have been identified and [were] discussed with the applicants even before inception of the application in 2016.
The municipality has also pledged its commitment to expediting the application processes on these sites in order to fast-track the implementation of the project. The hospital has indicated that they are working on an alternative and the municipality will honour its commitment to expedite internal processes.