Council’s back-to-basics meeting ends in mud-slinging

2014-09-25 00:00

A BACK-TO-BASICS approach by the Msunduzi council will see potholes, burst pipes, cable theft, sewage spills and electricity outages become councillors’ number one priorities.

“We must get back to basics and serve our communities better,” was the message Msunduzi Mayor Chris Ndlela brought back after attending the Presidential Local Government Summit in Midrand, Johannesburg last week.

However, the message was short-lived as Tuesday’s council meeting, where he delivered the message, degenerated into a finger-pointing exercise over which councillors did and did not hold community meetings.

It started off with the mayor spelling out chapter and verse on the back-to-basics campaign. He said councillors must report to the speaker, Babu Baijoo, on a monthly basis how they had served their communities; how many people they had helped and when last they held open public report-back meetings.

Baijoo in turn would do monthly reports on councillors’ and ward committee meetings. This would include how many issues were brought to the attention of councillors and how these were being addressed. Baijoo would also report on all action being taken to address fraud and corruption.

The mayor’s monthly report would include all activities by councillors on campaigns to improve the culture of payment for services, against illegal connections, cable theft and the removal of manhole covers.

The municipal manager has a lengthy list to fulfil. His report will include:

• a tally of how much was spent on the capital budget in the previous month;

• how many electricity outages there were and the average length of time taken to fix them;

• how many sewage spills there were and how long it took to fix them; and

• backlogs in the delivery of housing, roads, water, electricity and sanitation that were addressed.

It was during the discussion on Baijoo’s report on the number of meetings held in wards that the mayor launched his attack.

He told DA councillor Jay Singh — in whose ward the most recent service delivery protests took place — that none of the issues raised by the protesters had ever come up in his meeting reports.

The mayor also asked DA councillors Dave Ryder and Glen MacArthur about the lack of meetings in their wards.

At this point, DA councillors spoke out on why they were being singled out when there were ANC councillors who had also not held meetings. ANC councillors retorted that the DA were free to question them.

Ryder said that two meetings he had called were not quorate. He had held one a week ago and the minutes would be sent to the Speaker’s office. He reminded councillors that he did not have a ward assistant nor a ward office.

MacArthur started answering and was stopped by Baijoo, who said that he never answered directly, but always went on in a roundabout manner.

More on this story: page 4

There are mixed views so far on Msunduzi Municipality’s other initiatives to put the public first.

*The call centre has improved and this was also recognised by oversight body the Municipal Public Accounts Committee (MPAC).

An area that still has to be rectified is the matter of feedback to customers. Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the problem lay with the faults office which dispatches electricians and plumbers to tend to problems. Staff in these offices do not open their e-mails from the call centre promptly, nor do the give feedback once a job was done or if the technicians were encountering problems.

Mafumbatha said they were looking at solutions to this problem, including housing the call centre and faults office under one roof.

*The jury is still out on the Service Charter. There are still problems with phones not being answered promptly across departments.

Deputy Municipal Manager for Corporate Affairs Mosa Molepo had told the Executive Committee (Exco) that not all staff were in tune with the service charter and that there was ongoing training. This included what it meant to be a public servant.

She said the situation was a work in progress and would improve as each business unit was now working on a plan to put a monitoring system in place and to provide regular reports to council.

Exco member Judith Lawrence said the problem lay in not having enough staff to answer the phones. “If we don’t have enough staff to answer the phones, we cannot make this commitement that phones would be promptly answered.”

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The worst department when it comes to customer care turns out to be Treasury Hall at 333 Church Street, where residents pay their municipal bills. Process Manager for Revenue Bongani Ngobese said in a report to council they had received a number of complaints from the public relating to ill-treatment of customers, “especially at the front counter and the cash hall”.

Ngobese said there were persistent complaints against a specific staff member who had been sent for counselling, where he was made aware of the “gravity of public concern relating to his behaviour”. The manager said staff were receiving ongoing training in customer care and that the situation would be constantly monitored.

A recent letter sent to Witness Warriors read: “Can you please disguise yourself and visit 333 Church Street and see what service you get.

“There are 12 women there to deal with customer complaints, yet one has to wait hours for attention. We faithfully post our meter readings on the cards given, yet it is ignored... any old figures are punched in.

“All the staff seem to do is eat or polish their nails...”

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