Media told not to scare investors off eThekwini

2012-09-07 00:00

KZN’S Legislature put up a game defence of eThekwini Municipality yesterday, doing its utmost to portray the metro as the finest example of local government in South Africa.

In the process, the joint committees on finance and co-operative governance ripped into the media and opposition parties for critical reports considered detrimental to the city’s image. Finance portfolio chairperson Belinda Scott, who led the show at a beachfront hotel yesterday, billed it in the media invitation as a “major announcement”.

It followed a July 31 meeting at which Mayor James Nxumalo and city boss Sbu Sithole were asked by the joint committees to explain the municipality’s finances in the light of “negative media coverage concerning its financial management controls and viability”.

What the assembled media contingent got instead was an earful from Scott and fellow committee member Sboniso Duma, who labelled negative media coverage as “highly irresponsible”, while censuring opposition parties for their alleged “lack of patriotism”.

Reminded by The Witness of the media’s role to question public entities and officials, Scott acknowledged the point and then implored the press to help promote the image of the municipality.

Her line of reasoning suggested the media — rather than maladministration — would be responsible for the consequences if negative reports chased away investors. “You can’t mess with this municipality,” said Scott, arguing it was a crucial economic hub that would be harmed by bad publicity. In such a case, “you would have to be responsible for the damage”, she added.

Scott and Duma based much of their attack on a single report published by a Durban newspaper two weeks ago in which opposition parties did most of the bashing.

The report criticised bosses for seeking a loan of R1 billion when the city had underspent its budget for the previous financial year by R2 billion. It further questioned eThekwini’s financial controls given its enormous irregular expenditure of R2 billion at one point.

Scott hit back, saying the irregular expenditure had been explained and condoned by council, and that efforts to reduce the figure further this year were working.

She also provided a list of capital projects to show the administration was spending its budget.

A host of figures and source documents were cited to further show that officials were achieving progress, and in some areas setting benchmarks, in the provision of services.

So much so, said Scott, that Treasury routinely used eThekwini for pilot programmes and put the city “top of the list” in terms of its compliance with regulations.

Completely off limits, though, was the controversial Manase & Associates forensic report, which has yet to be made public and which paints a less wholesome picture of the municipality’s financial dealings. All questions were politely dismissed.

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