Msunduzi: post-crisis care critical

2010-10-01 00:00

IT is an appropriate time to take stock of the city and its fortunes now that we have had six months of administration. It has been a harrowing time for both the administration team and the long-suffering citizens of the city.

I suppose the understanding of a turnaround process is that differences will be noticeable within a short time. Unfortunately, this is not the case, at least not if a short time is perceived to be just a few weeks. It is rather like turning an ocean liner at sea when the speed of travel has to be arrested before the turn can be effected. It is a slow process.

In the case of the government, to put a stop to unwanted trends and change direction is also a mission that takes time, especially if the financial wherewithal is seriously lacking and part of the mission is to restore liquidity first. This has been a most demanding task. Not only was the city’s treasury denuded by wrongful expenditure and wastefulness, but millions were owed by the city’s debtors, including the government itself.

The theft of electricity, one way or another, was quickly identified as a major problem and this resulted in the concerted campaign that has been waged under the name of Operation Pitbull. It has been rigorously and aggressively pursued and, unfortunately, some innocents appear to have been drawn into it.

I suspect, however, that not everyone who has claimed innocence is fully justified in doing so. It is interesting that people, having got away with wrongdoing for a long time, often display indignation when their misdemeanours are uncovered.

Operation Pitbull has assumed the role of team-builder in the Msunduzi Municipality. The astonishment of the officials who found far more incidences of theft than they ever imagined, and among supposedly respectable businesses, gave way to the strong motivation to root out all the corruption in this sphere.

A daily record of income recovered from the thieves was a strong motivator to be more rigorous in the campaign. It might, I suppose, have been a bit more tempered and circumspect, but it has been outstandingly successful and we would do well to consider that had previous administrations displayed even half the political will in its credit control, the city would not have been plunged into such a financial crisis.

Crisis, however, would not have been avoided had the sins of the past not been discovered. It is a blessing in disguise that the city was given the chance to undergo this catharsis, which would never have occurred but for the fact that real experts were brought in from elsewhere. They came with an objectivity which no one from within the municipality could have had. I doubt if Johann Mettler and the others were under any illusions when they began their rescue mission, but they never expected the situation to be so far out of control, and so far removed from legality and good governance.

They have found it very difficult to deal with everything that requires attention and when they leave, they will not have addressed all the issues that will inhibit the progress of the city. It will be the responsibility of the substantive officials to deal with these and the other challenges that will be critical to the city’s future growth.

In the chamber we have often expressed our concern about what happens after. The patient’s life has been saved, a spell in ICU has been negotiated and soon it will be back to the ward for recuperation and recovery. If this post-crisis care is not done effectively, the efforts of the life-saving experts will have been in vain.

From all accounts, the municipal staff are not united behind a new spirit of endeavour and mission. It is hard work that lie ahead, and some are not accustomed to that. The no-nonsense administration period has interfered with more than a few comfort zones. Very strong leadership will be required and the new person, whoever he or she is, will find that life at the top will be very exacting.

Aside from having to motivate municipal staff to seek common objectives, there is a groundswell of resistance among some citizens. Among others there is either the desire to play a part in the recovery process or indifference. The city, too, remains unhealthy in its divisions.

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

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