Budgeting should be a political process

2011-04-07 00:00

I WRITE this in response to "Msunduzi rates set to rise eight percent" by Thando Mgaga, dated March 31.

The determination of the annual municipal budget and municipal service tariffs is a political process. It is of necessity one of contestation around priorities. Yet year after year tariff increases bear no relation at all to the local socioeconomic context in which poor families struggle or the wider national and international milieu. This year our water, sanitation and refuse are going up by eight percent in Msunduzi Municipality. Rates are going up six percent. Lights are going up 23,3%. There is no acknowledgement that poor families ordinarily struggle to pay for their services, and yet this year the tariffs are increasing again.

What the tariff increases might imply for poor families falling under the jurisdiction of Msunduzi Municipality is deeply worrying. We are starting to see hints of winter. How many families will be without lights, and will have to manage with drips of water and very little food? Food prices have gone up. Transport prices have gone up. Now water, sanitation, refuse and rates and lights are going up. And people don't have jobs. Social grants are inadequate and Msunduzi Municipality does not have good social policies in place to protect the poor. What kind of a society is Msunduzi Municipality trying to create? A society characterised by wretchedness? A society of sickness, of hunger, of desperation and indignity, of anger and bitterness?

This year is an election year. It is time for citizens, current councillors and potential candidates, and the city's current political leadership to acknowledge that the determination and prioritisation of the municipality's budget is not an administrative process — it is a political one. It should not be left to municipal officials, administrators and technocrats simply to balance the books. The municipal budget and tariffs are supposed to be contested to ensure that the needs of ward constituencies are met. And if this means that constituencies cannot afford increases in their water and lights bills then the budget and tariff proposals should not be supported. And these objections will be fully justified because they would be in direct response to the needs, struggles and conditions of poor citizens.

It is so very, very strange that in an election year, not one African National Congress councillor can stand up and say: "No, this budget does not speak to the priorities of my constituency. These tariff increases are going to hurt my people."

Not one, even though taking a stand, with potential massive support from communities, carries such remarkable personal benefits?

Maybe councillors really do have no idea about the hardships of the people whom they claim to represent. Maybe they don't realise how much power they actually have. Maybe that is why they give over their very significant powers to administrators who steal this political space by threatening with their calculators and "balanced" budgets.

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