Scream till you’re blue

2009-11-16 00:00

WHILE there’s been a collective sigh of relief that at last action has been taken at the troubled uMngeni Municipality, I’m privy to a backroom tussle over who made it all happen.

To recap, the ANC recently announced that the uMngeni mayor was moving out of his council-bought house, the speaker, guilty of housing fraud, was demoted and the municipal manager has been suspended.

In its press briefing outlining the action taken, the ANC, as it is wont in such cases, made political mileage by portraying its actions as responses to the calls of the town’s disgruntled residents. In turn, members of the residents’ associations took the opportunity to prove their effectiveness by saying it was their petitions and protests that drew the government’s attention to the matters.

This left the Democratic Alliance furious. It was DA councillors who unearthed and drew attention to the shenanigans in the first place. One of my bosses got an earful from the DA’s Greg Krumbock for not acknowledging his party’s role in the saga. Fortunately, I was deemed too low down in the food chain to warrant a call.

Let’s face it, the ANC holds the power in this country, whether we like it or not, and ultimately it is the party’s actions that count. The part that is difficult to fathom is when, where and in what instances will the ANC act. This is because there has been a history of inconsistency and dithering when it comes to dealing decisively with governance issues.

President Jacob Zuma himself can be cited as an example of such selectivity. The question will always remain why he, besides a few others in the cast of characters embroiled in the arms deal, was chosen for prosecution.

More recently we were on the edge of our seats over the fate of disgraced athletics boss Leonard Chuene. For a while it looked as if he was untouchable and was going to get away with his lies and remain in his powerful position. The party acted and he was dropped. Similarly, last week’s Eskom drama was equally nail-biting. Was CEO Jacob Maroga in or out? The latest is that he is out.

The reason for such indecisiveness, say commentators, is that the Zuma government is beholden to various sectional interest groups that it is loath to offend.

Perhaps this is the template we need to hold up as we look at where action is taken and where not. The reality is that if the ruling party fails to act, we can jump and scream until we are blue in the face, but there is little recourse for action besides the expensive option of going to court.

If this is the case, the DA’s nose need not be so out of joint. There is a valuable lesson we can learn from the party’s intrepid councillors in uMngeni, and that is never to give up, to have patience and to work with a dogged determination to uncover and point out wrongdoing.

We could use some of that determination to sort out the mess at the Msunduzi Municipality — determination not just from the opposition parties, but from our local residents’ associations and the ANC itself.

We’ve got to ask how the overtime bill got so out of hand and why, despite promises over a year ago, the municipal manager and his team have not bothered to put systems in place to rein in rampant claims. This is our hardearned money we are talking about.

More than two years down the line, there appears to be no action on the forensic investigation instituted by then local government MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu. Msunduzi is in a slightly more compromised position than uMngeni, because here the council adopted 22 resolutions instructing the municipal manager to charge or discipline individuals fingered in the report and recover misspent council money from them. It is illegal not to carry out council resolutions. At uMngeni the resolution adopted was to order a second in-house forensic probe.

There is also the rates fiasco that has got half the city riled up. If you think this is a minor matter, just attend one of the many packed public meetings being held to gauge the level of discontent.

If all of this is not enough, there are ongoing reports of infighting within the council that is tearing the institution apart. Councillors are in different factions and the relationship between the executive committee and senior officials seems to have completely broken down. We can bury our head in the sand or face reality before things at city hall fall completely apart. All that is required, like at uMngeni, is an alert opposition, an active citizenry and political will from the ANC.

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