A shell of a city

2018-11-12 11:24
DA caucus leader in Msunduzi Sibongiseni Majola.

DA caucus leader in Msunduzi Sibongiseni Majola. (Nokuthula Ntuli)

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The “City of Choice” is a shell of what it could be. This is the sentiment of DA caucus leader Sibongiseni Majola, who says this is because Msunduzi has the financial muscle to compete with the metropolitan municipalities but a lack of political will to deal with poor revenue collection and non-compliance with key legislation.

Majola recently sat down with Weekend Witness to reflect on the status of the capital of KwaZulu-Natal.

Majola joined the Msunduzi council after the 2016 local government elections after having spent more than a decade at uMgungundlovu District.

He said one of the things the council had to deal with immediately, after being inducted, was the issue of the municipal manager as the term of the then suspended Mxolisi Nkosi expired in December 2016.

“We were divided on whether his contract should be renewed. I’d never dealt with him so the only thing I knew was that he was the accounting officer when Msunduzi got its clean audit for the 2014/2015 financial team and those who were against the renewal of his contract also didn’t put forward any proof to warrant their position on letting him go,” said Majola.

As someone who grew up in Pietermaritzburg, Majola said it saddens him to see his home town being brought to its knees as a result of deliberate ignorance of key legislation and misconduct.

He said no matter how hard the administration works, the situation will not change until politicians stop interfering with recruitment and tender processes.

“You must remember that we have —more or less — the same administration team that achieved the clean audit. The only thing that has changed is the make-up of the council.

“Political interference is rife and that, along with the lack of political stability at City Hall, is translating into poor service delivery and lack of accountability, and in a few weeks’ time we will be getting our second disclaimer.”

While the DA was pleased that action was finally taken against suspended City boss Sizwe Hadebe, Majola said the rot remains. He said there is a belief by “everyone” that Hadebe was used by corrupt politicians to perpetuate acts of misconduct because he was desperate for the job as he had resigned under a cloud from Ekurhuleni Municipality in 2014.

“The problem is not with Hadebe, so  in as much as we want his matter dealt with, we are not going to see any change if we still have councillors who refuse to abide by the law which clearly states that politicians should not influence recruitment and supply-chain processes.”

He said this hinders the administration’s ability to conduct its duties. As a result, service-delivery projects are halted and millions of rands in unspent grants are surrendered to the national Treasury at the end of every financial year.

“It’s really embarrassing that we get so much money to spend on projects that are meant to change people’s lives and we fail to do that so we end up giving back the money and then have to beg for rollovers, only to fail to spend the money again in the next financial year.”

Since 2016, the DA has refused to approve the City’s budget, citing that it is unrealistic and fails to contribute towards the development of the region.

“We have a council that prioritises things that are not our core function so we find ourselves spending millions on things like security because more than 30% of the councillors are walking around with an army of bodyguards, yet we’ve never seen a single report from the police intelligence recommending that they should get personal security because their lives are at risk.”

Majola said one of their gripes is the lack of will to deal with poor revenue collection across the municipality while the City sits on the shoulders of those who have paid for rates and services.

“Due to the incorrect billing system since July 2017, this municipality has gone ahead with illegal disconnections. The other injustices suffered by ratepayers include additional visitation charges, recycling charges as well as basic water and electricity availability charges just to fill their depleted coffers.”

He said except for the more than 24 000 Vulindlela consumers who were not billed, Msunduzi lost electricity worth approximately R360 million between 2015 and 2017. At least R236 million worth of water was lost through leaks during the same period, which Majola said was exacerbated by the lack of a plan to deal with ageing infrastructure.

As of last week, Msunduzi’s debtors’ book was sitting at close to R3 billion and the recently launched amnesty campaign is hoped to clear some of that. However, Majola said he is not too optimistic as some ward councillors have failed to play their part in the past when it came to programmes that were geared towards improving the financial status of the City.

“These are the same councillors who have failed to get the poorest of the poor in their wards to register for the indigent programme. I can assure you that most of the people who make up the R3 billion debtors’ book qualify as indigents and if they were registered, Msunduzi would be getting a sizeable chunk of the equitable share from the national Treasury,” said Majola.

Equitable share is an unconditional allocation from the national Treasury which enables municipalities to provide basic services as well as conduct administrative and governance functions.

Majola said he feels sorry for Mayor Themba Njilo as the irregular decisions made by the ANC-led council are blamed on him, yet it is obvious that he is leading a divided caucus.

Who is Sibongiseni Majola?

Sibongiseni Majola joined the Democratic Party in 1997 after feeling frustrated by what he described as the lack of vision and transformation within the ANC.

The father of four was a party official before being deployed to serve as a councillor in the uMgungundlovu District in 2002. In 2009, he was appointed as the DA’s caucus leader in the district and in 2011 he was deployed to serve in Msunduzi while still holding his seat in the district.

In 2016, the DA made him its caucus leader in Msunduzi where he sits on the finance and executive committees.

Majola is passionate about economics and has numerous tertiary qualifications in the field as well as in local government.

When he is not fulfilling his role as a “career-politician”, Majola enjoys watching his favourite soccer teams — AmaZulu and Kaizer Chiefs — play. He is also a fan of “fast and efficient cars” as he detests being stuck on the road for long periods.

DA’s ‘Rescue Plan’ for Msunduzi

The upgrade of the infrastructure department should be the number-one priority, focusing on appointing qualified engineers and artisans to departments like water and electricity to alleviate the service-delivery disruptions and provide better services.

The finance department needs to embark on a revenue enhancement campaign with an advanced meter audit. “Smart” and prepaid meters need to be installed in wards one to nine, plus 39, in Vulindlela, which are currently billed on a R104 flat rate against the actual consumption. This area makes up 40% of the municipality’s population.

Ensure financial grants  received from the provincial and national governments are spent and managed with financial oversight and legislated time frames.

Improvement and focus on the sustainable development and city enterprises will create a space for opportunities that will attract investors and will create an environment worth investing in.

Improve the community services department by focusing on the parks and waste departments.

Improve and capacitate the traffic enforcement, public safety and fire departments to develop a safe and secure environment for the people.

Under the corporate services department there is need to create a transparent and accurate system of recruiting  and to stop appointing unqualified cadres in non-mandated posts at the expense of critical and priority posts, which are running at 44% unfilled.

Reduce the excessive number of bodyguards.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  the big interview
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