An 'aspirant' metro

2009-10-01 00:00

RECENT reports about prevarication as far as the city’s metropolitan status is concerned are not at all encouraging. Indeed, there may not be prevarication at all, but some sort of deliberate strategy to have the issue suspended or the ruling of the Muni­cipal Demarcation Board (MDB) changed. Whatever the truth is, the city cannot afford to revert to the singularly unsatisfactory state of being an “aspirant” metro. Apart from the tech­nical matter of senior officials having already been elevated to the position of deputy municipal manager, with commensurate salary increases, on the grounds that such positions are aligned to metro status, planning for the city’s economic development (not that a great deal has been done hitherto) has already taken the promised municipal grading into account.

Since 2000 and the implementation of the MDB’s municipal blueprint for “wall-to-wall” munici­palities, Msunduzi’s position within the Umgungundlovu District Municipality has been fraught with difficulty. Whatever possessed the architects of the configuration to label Msunduzi, Mangaung (Bloemfontein) and Buffalo City (East London) “aspirant” metros is a mystery in itself, for since that date, nothing substantial has been gained to suggest that these cities will be more metropolitan in 2011, when the dispensation is formally implemented, than they were in 2000. In our local case, the decision led to the existence of a strong, self-sufficient local municipality being at the economic heart of a district where the annual budget is considerably less and where capacity has been a distinctly poor relative to that of the city itself. Responsibilities that should have been assumed by the district municipality have been left to the Msunduzi Municipality, not only in terms of operational delivery, but, more importantly, in respect of the costs. The landfill site, the airport and the fire department, to name a few, have all fallen within this category and have contributed significantly to the strain on the city’s budget.

The economic dominance of the city itself has also been the reason that a healthy portion of the district municipality’s income came from the city, where employers contributed more than 70% of the income from the so-called regional services council (RSC) levies before­ they were scrapped. Yet, the resources allocated to Msunduzi by the district fell way short of this percentage. Levy payers, who were not represented on district­ councils after 2000, might well have wondered what was being­ done with the money they were paying.

At the same time, levy payers in metropolitan municipalities were contributing directly to the metro coffers. Since this was bonus income, these cities could use it for capital expenditure. “Aspirants” lacked this good fortune. What might have been achieved in Maritz­burg had the city itself had access to the levy income for the seven years from 2000 before it was scrapped? It is not clear whether being a metro in the future will yield a significant financial benefit for the city. The municipal manager has suggested that it will, and he has cited the fact that the government has already approved the payment of a portion of the fuel levy gathered there to the metros. This is one way in which the RSC levy income has been replaced, but, especially as the benefit is limited to just a few cities, there are other ways to come, surely. There is already talk of some development levy which, no doubt, business will be required­ to pay. I daresay we would be happier if we knew with certainty that the money would be used in the development of our own municipality.

It has to be said that the MDB’s decision to confine the metropolitan area to the boundaries of Msunduzi lacks common sense and contradicts its own criteria for what constitutes a metro. The inclusion of the whole district would be even further removed from these criteria. This decision represented the line of least resistance and it may yet haunt the board, not to mention the city itself. The sensible solution now, the blunders having occurred, is that we should live with the board’s decision in 2011 and thereafter seek to consolidate the metropolitan area in accordance with what reasonable people consider to be a metropolitan economic entity. This would give the city its best chance for real economic growth, even if it doesn’t satisfy political and personal agendas.

• Andrew Layman is a former headmaster and now the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

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