The DA’s political posturing

2013-06-06 00:00

AS the campaigns gain momentum for the 2014 national and provincial elections, the Democratic Alliance, as the official opposition, has upped its “objection” game. It seems quite obvious that it has chosen to object to the budgets presented by the mayors of all the municipalities led by the African National Congress.

In the week ending May 31 alone, the DA objected to the budgets presented by the mayors of the eThekwini Municipality, the uMgungundlovu District Municipality and the Msunduzi Municipality. By not supporting the budget in Msunduzi, the DA has also not supported all the policies, relating to the tariffs and the budget, that were adopted.

This includes the very important Indigent Policy, which affects the lives of almost 60% of our people. The pro-poor parties, including the ANC, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the National Freedom Party and the Minority Front, supported the budget and all its policies.

As the chairperson of the council, I applaud the mayor and his executive, and the municipal manager and his team, for having consulted broadly with the citizens of Msunduzi. This process started in September last year with the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) review, followed by the tariff hearings in February. Further consultation, with ward committees, businesses, government departments, traditional leaders and non-governmental organisations, was completed by mid-April. The deadline for written submissions was April 30. A range of submissions were received and considered. The DA did not submit any proposals, but chose instead to table an alternate budget at the full council meeting of May 31. This was not only irregular, but more importantly, it showed a blatant disregard for due processes. I think the DA missed the opportunity to make a difference, and, instead, very opportunistically used the council sitting for political grandstanding.

I agree that the increases in water and electricity tariffs are high, but under the circumstances, the council did not have many other choices. Assuming Eskom and Umgeni Water did not raise their tariffs for bulk supplies by eight percent, we would most likely have increased our tariffs for both water and electricity by an inflation-linked 5,5%. In reality, we have taken a three-percent knock on water and electricity as our own increase is only two percent, which is way below inflation.

The Indigent Policy (which the DA voted against as part of the budget), is by far the most pro-poor policy this municipality has had. Almost 20 000 households, whose homes are valued at below R100 000, are automatically registered as indigents. More than 8 000 consumers, who claim to have a total household income of less than R3 200, have also applied for registration. The indigent package will provide relief for the poorest of the poor, for whom it is meant. Regrettably, many who can afford to pay will attempt to steal the benefits that belong to the poor. We must be vigilant of this behaviour.

Within our R3,29 billion operating budget, our rates’ income contributes R644,6 million to revenue and the equitable share, which will subsidise the free basic services for the indigent, contributes R309 million. Ideally, the rates’ income should contribute to 25% of the total budget, but currently it is about 19% of the total budget. This means that our trading services contribute to 75% of our budget.

The municipality is not exempt from inflation-linked costs such as fuel, labour and other input costs, which, of course, impact on all our operational costs.

If one compares our increases as a package of the following, electricity 10%, water 10%, rates 5,5% sanitation 5,5% and refuse removal 5,5%, to eThekwini’s package of electricity 5,5%, water 9,5%, rates 6,9%, refuse removal 6,9% and sanitation 6,9%, our package is more friendly.

Consumers can control the consumption of water and electricity, and contain these costs, but the costs of rates, sanitation and refuse removal are fixed. Our increases are lower on the fixed charges.

In considering that it is not what we want but rather what we need, the 2013/ 2014 budget is a realistic budget, with a bonus. For the first time in many years, we will be contributing R60 million from internal funds for capital projects, together with a higher percentage of expenditure going towards maintenance, and, with the acquisition of new tools of trade, and the filling of almost 179 critical posts, by the end of June, there will be a marked improvement in service delivery. This next financial year should be a better one for Msunduzi. Together we can achieve more.

• Babu Baijoo is the speaker of the Msunduzi Municipality.

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