The Nelson Mandela Bay council has still not been able to pass the next financial year's budget, as the threat of being under administration looms large. This is despite the African Independent Congress declaring it would support it.
On Tuesday, the third sitting of the special council meeting to finalise the 2018/19 budget took place, but the council was unable to vote on the matter.
Last week, the African National Congress, together with the Economic Freedom Fighters and United Democratic Movement tried to collapse the meeting, by not returning to council after a break to caucus. The meeting didn't collapse, however, as the AIC and United Front returned, giving the coalition a quorum to continue. They then requested that the meeting adjourn so that they could discuss the ward-based budgets with their constituencies.
AIC supports budget, then disappear
In Tuesday's meeting, AIC councillor Tshonono Buyeye appeared to take many opposition councillors by surprise, saying that he would offer to support the budget, as murmurs spread through the chamber.
"We want to make it clear that we won't allow a situation to arise where this municipality is placed under administration. The AIC have instructed me to go and defend the institution from going under administration. There must be no budget uncertainty."
Shortly after Buyeye made the statement, ANC councillor Andile Lungisa was seen in the public gallery, behind Buyeye, making phone calls.
At one point, the DA's Rano Kayser even objected and pointed out that Lungisa was at the back and not in his seat, leading to Speaker Jonathan Lawack telling him to return to his place.
Lungisa and UDM councillor Mongameli Bobani then left the council chamber with Buyeye, which led to the DA coalition asking for a 10-minute adjournment before voting, in an attempt to get Buyeye back into council.
When Buyeye had not returned after the 10-minute break, it was extended by a further 30 minutes. But he never returned.
When council did resume, councillors from the ANC, EFF, UDM and UF entered council, packed up their belongings and left. This left the DA-led coalition with just 60 members. As the meeting was no longer quorate, it was adjourned.
Matatiele the bargaining chip
News24 has reliably learned that key deliberations between opposition parties to convince the AIC not to vote on the budget had taken place since Monday.
At the centre of the negotiation is the town of Matatiele, which the AIC wants moved back to KwaZulu-Natal, after a change by the demarcation board placed it under the Eastern Cape in 2005.
By Tuesday morning, there had been nothing concrete placed on the table, which led to Buyeye being instructed by the party to announce his support for the budget. A last-minute offer was then apparently made, which led to Buyeye not returning, to buy time for further negotiations.
Budget is not the issue
In a media conference following the meeting, Mayor Athol Trollip said it was clear that the opposition's dismissal of the budget had nothing to do with the actual budget but was rather an attempt to place the City under administration.
"You saw councillor Lungisa and Bobani, bullying Buyeye and taking him outside and not returning," he said.
Trollip said the Section 139 provisions were very difficult to implement, saying that anyone who thought the coalition would capitulate and hand the city over to the ANC-led provincial administration, so that they could loot it further, were misguided.
"We are not going to give up and hand this city back to the people who want the status quo, so that they can fund their elections. We are going to fight till the last day of this month. "
"We are not an administration in chaos, but it is also clear that there is a political agenda to try and steal this city once again," he said.
The council has just 13 working days to pass the almost R12bn budget for the 2018/19 financial year. If the budget is not passed, the City's administration could effectively grind to a halt, as any funds spent would be unauthorised, and could be deemed fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
In terms of Section 139 of the Constitution, failure to pass the budget would result in the City being placed under administration and the council dissolved.