Newsmaker: Pull your weight, or else, mayor tells Joburg staff

2012-03-24 14:58

He leans back on the blue sofa shaking his head slightly in surprise like a parent who has just learnt that his child isn’t pulling his weight in class.

“Some of the answers you got from people,” says City of Johannesburg executive mayor Parks Tau of the things he heard from municipal staff during a three-week fact-finding mission before his state of the city address on Thursday.

“You would sit back and wonder to yourself. Hantle hantle ho etsala eng mo? (What’s really going on here?)”

Judging by his reaction, it is clear he was shocked by some of his findings. But ever the diplomat, and careful not to create a picture too negative of the people employed to make this city of approximately 3.8 million people work, Tau tries to downplay his shock.

“Sometimes you would ask people, why didn’t you do this? And they would tell you they are waiting to hold a meeting with some other department just to get information. Meanwhile, the problem remains unsolved for weeks,” he says.

“In some cases I would just take out my computer, log on to the city website and say to the person, here is the information. Now, why do you need a meeting to find this?”

Tau says while there are employees who are committed to serving the public, there are some who are lazy and others who fail to take responsibility. This, he says, has to change.

He cites the example of a metro cop sitting behind a speed camera while there is heavy traffic congestion right there, which they could help alleviate.

“There are those with this attitude that I work for the municipality, it’s my home, and I will leave here in a coffin. We need to deal with that sort of attitude by saying to people: you have a job, do your job because if you don’t, we will hold you responsible,” he said.

“That is why I’m convinced that if we make people sign service level agreements, this organisation will thrive. I made it clear we can’t treat the people of Johannesburg like that. If you haven’t done your job, we will have to deal with you.”

We are seated in the mayoral boardroom on the second floor of the council building in Braamfontein. The big window behind him offers a glimpse of the streets, buzzing with the heavy flow of late-afternoon traffic, signalling the end of another long day.

But for Tau, it is not about to end any time soon. Earlier that morning he stood before a full council chamber for close to an hour and a half, delivering his address. Later, when he emerged to address a media contingent, it was apparent his voice had taken a battering. “I’m not sure if I’m still audible,” Tau joked hoarsely, before taking questions.

Tau, now 41, literally grew up in the City of Joburg’s council. At 33, he was the youngest councillor on the mayoral committee holding the portfolio of finance, strategy and economic development. This is the department that oversaw the chaotic billing system that has become the subject of a probe by the National Consumer Commission.

This week, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Deputy Minister Obed Bapela was in town for meetings, saying the crisis was allowed to spiral out of control due to the “slackness of some officials”.

When asked whether he took responsibility for the billing chaos, Tau said the municipality has accepted responsibility and was working on solutions.

In his speech, Tau spoke of plans to deploy 10 Joburg metro police officers to each one of the city’s 130 wards, a model adopted from the New York Police Department.

He also announced that the city would invest more than R100 billion in infrastructure in the next 10 years, including the construction of a multimillion-rand theatre in Soweto.

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