Cllr slams Durban’s ‘empty promises’ budget

Ward 97 councillor, Andre Beetge lambasted the city for its inability to fulfil budget promises made last year. Cllr Beetge, who is also the Democratic Alliance spokesman for the Municipal Public Accounts Committee (Mpac), pointed out deficiencies and discrepancies in housing, water, electricity, cleaning and solid waste, rates, and Metro Police during his response to the proposed R45.8-billion budget tabled by Mayor Zandile Gumede during the State of the City address in Durban City hall on Thursday, 31 May.

“In 2017 the municipality only delivered 3,591 new houses against a then demand of 400,000. In 2018 we only delivered 3,161 units – 430 units less than the previous year, so the budget remained underspent,” said Cllr Beetge.

In 2017 promises were made that the province would reimburse the municipality for the R3.98bn bridging finance provided to supply houses in 2016. “Not one cent has since found its way back to the ratepayers of eThekwini. The province now refuses to repay the money, claiming the land now no longer belongs to them,” he said.

Cllr Beetge also said the budget is notably lacking in funding towards providing residents with title deeds. “Why not put promise to action and grant people the right to legally own a little bit of land?

READ ALSO: R45-bn city budget in spotlight

“Despite promising that 14,400 new water connections would be installed during this financial year, only 1,729 have thus far been achieved, 12,671 short of expectation – yet the budget appears spent? Whether plans to employ 140 community-based and connected contractors to fast-track the process will yield the desired outcome is left to be seen.”

Cllr Beetge said the municipality buys water for R238m but loses roughly R86m or 36% of the water bought due to non-existing maintenance and shortage of water meters and pressure relief valves (PRVs) which further strains the aging infrastructure.

“Instead of maintenance, repairs consume most of the R455m repairs and maintenance budget – pre-mature legislation in terms of local content for meters and PRVs and demands by local labour forums in the name of radical economic transformation seems set to increase the total expenditure budget to R6.9b, an increase of R744m (11.7%) over the previous year.

The municipality obviously hopes to offset these losses by a 15% increase in water tariffs for domestic and 15.5% for business, as opposed to the 13.7% raised by bulk supplier Umgeni Water. But then again, someone has to foot the bill if the city hopes to employ an additional 1,389 plumbing contractors in the run-up to the elections.”

READ ALSO: Municipality enforces amnesty period to assist in debt relief

He said the reported new electricity connections of 9,671 falls far short of the annual target of 22,000, yet the budget increases by R1bn (7.5%) to a staggering R14.4bn for 2018/19.

With regard to cleaning and solid waste, Beetge is astounded that the city remains drowning in filth and waste with a staggering six-year high budget of R2.1bn. “We hear of 366 community-based contractors employing 1,770 people to facilitate refuse removal services in our non-urban areas but let me ask any resident from KwaMakhutha or neighbouring areas whether refuse is removed regularly and to expectation, and they would honestly have to answer no.

It is a concept that has failed as a project – it needs to be stopped, investigated and re-launched but only after problems have been resolved and loopholes for political interference closed.

Smoking tyres, broken bottles and smouldering refuse compactors bear witness to a department in total disarray, while investigative reports confirm corruption, incompetence and no doubt ‘jobs for pals’ as reflected in the thousands of EPWP appointees who benefit from the R75.3m grant in return for their political loyalty but who are not prepared to do a day’s work for a day’s pay.

Ward 97 councillor, Andre Beetge.

We recall the introduction of a two-bag collection system a few years ago which included the orange bag recycle programme. Despite numerous enquiries, the orange bags became more and more difficult to obtain while the contractor persisted with a further two-year contract. That same company eventually made it onto the city’s ‘blacklisted 42’, leaving the hard-fought recycle programme virtually non-existent.”

Cllr Beetge questioned the lack in motivation to increase the rates base, collect uncollected debt or reduce water and electricity theft. “Instead the city seeks to rather re-evaluate and inflate property values along with a 6.9% rates increase, which is 2.8% above the inflation rate of 4.1%.

We call for incentivised payment schemes as some form of counter measure to recovering outstanding debt that has increased by R887m to R8.8bn in 2018 – this in comparison to R7.9bn in 2017, which accounts for a R2bn increase in the two-year period since 2016.”

 

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  AUTHOR
Earl Baillache
Journalist

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