Day of reckoning

2010-03-03 00:00

MUNICIPAL management generally, and uMngeni management in particular, appears to be completely out of touch with reality. At the last council meeting there was a presentation of a new uMngeni municipal website, which was to be launched on Monday and is apparently the final step in completing the branding of uMngeni.

Sitting in the public gallery while this presentation was taking place were the four members of the team deployed by the Provincial Treasury to undertake a financial intervention in an attempt to turn the municipality’s finances around. They must have had the feeling that, as with the Titanic, this band would keep playing until the ship went down.

When the story of the excessive overtime being paid in Msunduzi broke in The Witness, the Democratic Alliance caucus requested a report on the overtime situation in uMngeni. We were told that it was none of our business and that we were not in the same position as Msunduzi. Well, it appears that we are in the same position as our neighbours. The finances of the uMngeni Municipality have now been taken over by a support team from the Provincial Treasury on the instructions of the MEC for Co-operative­ Governance and Traditional Affairs and the MEC for Finance.

Apart from assessing the financial position of uMngeni and reviewing­ all contracts and long-term loans, an important function of the intervention will be to freeze all expenditure. Only essential expenditure that has been approved by “an expenditure committee comprising the support team members and the accounting officer­” will be authorised.

Essential expenditure must be money that is spent to ensure the delivery of services. What current expenditure do we hope will be regarded as nonessential?

Reports come from every corner of the municipality of the work that gets done by the maintenance and grass-cutting teams over the weekends. What is more irksome than the overtime that has to be paid is the constant sight of these workers “parking off” in the shade.

The four mayoral bodyguards have to be a status symbol that we cannot afford. The cost over the past three and a half years is in excess of R3 million. The four guards seem to spend their days lounging in the mayoral car. Recently, we were surprised to see the local pizza delivery man roar down the driveway on his motor-bike. He drew up next to the mayoral car and delivered the pizzas through the open car window.

The less said about the management’s salaries the better. It is scandalous that a mere two percent of the workforce accounts for 14% of the salary bill. What have we got to show for it — a financial intervention by the Treasury.

All “current and recently awarded contracts” will be reviewed. This is encouraging news. Maybe we will find out why the Falls View Restaurant in Howick, which is a municipal property, has not produced one single cent in rental income for years, despite having tenants. It will probably be too late to find out how the contract to build the new Howick Taxi rank was granted in 2006. It cost many millions but cannot be used because the municipality does not own the adjoining land where the ablution facilities and office need to be built.

The 2008 and 2009 financial statements show that uMngeni has received over R10 million from various sources in conditional grants for specific projects, which has not been spent, yet the money is nowhere to be seen.

The letter from the MECs to the mayor, Edward Dladla, points out “that the status at the uMngeni Municipality is an indication that senior municipal officials may have committed financial misconduct and offences” and, as a result, the premier has appointed a commission of inquiry to “investigate allegations of fraud, corruption and the abuse of financial resources at the uMngeni Municipality”.

The dogged and relentless work of the DA opposition councillors over the past three and a half years to keep the uMngeni situation alive, together with the co-operation of the residents and their ratepayer groups has ensured that the day of reckoning has come and not a moment too soon. The Treasury team will have their time cut out for them but we are happy to welcome them to uMngeni.

 

• Pam Passmoor is a DA caucus leader.

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