The Structures Act defines the speaker as a councillor elected in terms of section 36 of the Act to be the chairperson of a municipal council as envisaged in section 160 (1)(b) of the Constitution.
The speaker's role in a municipality will mostly depend on the internal arrangements made by the municipality itself. The formulation of the terms of reference for the speaker in terms of section 53 of the Systems Act will be a critical process.
The speaker’s role in a municipality is key to ensuring oversight, accountability, integrity, discipline of office, and the efficient running of council meetings. As such, impartiality in the exercise of his or her function is essential for the speaker. The speaker must distinguish between his or her activities as a politician and his or her functions as a speaker. It also means that the function of the speaker and the non-partisan exercise of that function must be respected by members, parties and interests represented in the council.
The key principles underlying the role of the Speaker are:
(a) chair of council meetings;
(b) implementation of the Code of Conduct; and
(c) exercise of delegated functions including -
i. facilitating public participation in legislative matters;
ii. establishment and functioning of ward committees; and
ii. support to councilors.
General principles regarding the functions of the speaker
The overall principle in the determination of the function of the speaker is that the speaker is in charge of the legislative arm of the municipal council.
This means that he or she must guard the integrity of the legislative process. Further, the speaker must protect the 'checks and balances' between the legislature and the executive, in other words, the 'oversight' that the council must exercise over the actions of the executive.
The speaker is the guardian of the integrity of the council and the guardian of members' privileges and interests as council members. The privileges and interests of councillors include freedom of speech and immunity in the council as well as the use of council facilities, receipt of allowances, training and support, etc. Importantly, this role, combined with the speaker's role in terms of the Code of Conduct (Schedule 1 to the Systems Act), requires the speaker to guard against the abuse of councillors’ privileges and interests.
The speaker must demonstrate impartiality. The type of functions that the speaker must exercise requires him or her to be recognised by all parties and interest groups in the council as the legitimate guardian of the integrity of the council and of council members.
An important implication of this is that the speaker is accountable to the council. The speaker is not elevated above the council. He or she must exercise his or her duties within the rules determined by the council. The speaker is not accountable to the executive of the municipality, since the speaker must protect the council's constitutional control of the executive.
This means that the speaker must be able to perform his or her function independently from the executive arm of the council. It is clear in that a mayor cannot be a speaker at the same time (except for municipalities of a 'plenary type'). This is necessary to clearly distinguish between the executive and the legislative arms of the municipal council. Accordingly, it should follow that a councillor elected as speaker does not sit on executive committee or mayoral committee
Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.