AMID technological chaos, banter and procedural missteps, the City of Johannesburg (COJ) succeeded in passing its budget and Integrated Development Plan by 228 votes to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) 29 objection votes.
The session, which was the 17th extraordinary session of the council held virtually, started on a poignant note with a moment of silence for fallen icon Mary Twala, whose funeral was underway as council convened.
It then degenerated into a farce when council attendance had to be verified by video individually to satisfy rules of quorum and a section of council, Region A, struggled to follow proceedings due to technical challenges.
The 2020/ 2021 budget stands at R68.1 billion.
Of this R60.6 billion is the Operational expenditure and R7.5 billion for capital expenditure with a total R22 billion for capital expenditure outlay over the next three years, the city has a tough balancing act in the face of the COVID-19 challenge.
The finance MMC Jolidee Matongo described the budget as coming at a time when the city, and indeed the country, “stand in the stream of time that is unusual” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He noted that the city’s budget has prioritised cushioning the worst effects of COVID-19, the creation of localised jobs through investment in township economies and spending on social infrastructure, including housing and healthcare
Democratic Alliance’s councillor Chris Santana said the budget “was representative of all the 135 wards of Joburg” and called on Council and its employees to forgo their salary increases for this year.
The budget proposes a 6.25% salary increase, but Matongo said the ANC is willing to consider a freeze on increases and challenged the other parties to do the same.
The DA claimed credit for a number of key concessions in the budget, with one councillor noting that in his 16 years in council, they had never been consulted this extensively on the budget.
The DA notes that in exchange for its support the ANC agreed to a reduction in property rates increases from 4.9% to 4% a significant reduction in electricity charges from 8.1% to 6.23%, water tariffs lowered from 8.6% to 6.6, sanitation lowered from 8.6% to 6.6%.
Refuse collection left unchanged at 5.2% as well as reduction in commercial property rates.
Matongo announced that the city is to reinstate a free 6kl of water a month to every household and will put back R 400 million back into resident’s pockets through rebates.
The EFF sought to derail the process with its trademark militancy by first questioning the speaker’s powers and legitimacy of convening the sitting, strident opposition of all elements of the budget, questioning public participation of its formulation and opposition at voting stage.
EFF Councillor Motshabi Ledwaba said that the projected revenue increase of 7.5 % from last year’s budget is “absurd” given that the city estimates that it has lost R3 billion in revenue since April due to COVID-19.
She reiterated the call to sacrifice salary increases for councillors and employees.
She also called for a freeze in all Section 56 manager posts and redirect the spending to Covid frontline workers.
Ledwaba noted that funding capex on loans is not sustainable, but this likely exaggerated given that the city funds less than 30% of its capex budget on loans and has already said it will reprioritise spending from non-essential infrastructure to frontline workers on COVID-19.
EFF councillor Anthony Sipho Sithole came in hilarious student activist mode, using Karl Marx as his template to critique the budget.
He called the City’s rates policy “Inhumane and draconian” for contemplating an increase in the midst of a pandemic.
He rubbished the budget’s theme of “government of local unity” as fake and unsustainable.”
“Let me paralyse the medulla oblongata of the fake government” he said at one point, and when later commenting on the IDP noted: “No jobs will be created by this fake skelmpies government of local unity.”
Sithole argued that the city has excluded the majority of Joburg residents by publishing the draft budget in English and not supplying drafts in public buildings.
“EFF will take legal action against the city,” he threatened, arguing that flyers, presumably in all officials, could be dropped in different parts of the City.
Matongo rejected this claim, arguing that in his filings he included analysis of 8000 comments from residents and other stakeholders from the city.
His ultimate response to the EFF was that the party must win election and thus the mandate to govern in order “to implement its wonderful ideas” which included the formation of a state bank as articulated by Ledwaba.
In its funding plans, the city has requested council to approve borrowing of up to R3 billion from the DBSA.
This was supported by all parties except the EFF and Matongo pointed out that the R 3 billion is merely an upper limit and may not necessarily be used up.
The limit now looks set to be exhausted due to COVID-19.
The City’s spending allocation are a mixture of hope and ambition: hope that revenue does not fall significantly due to COVID-19 and ambition to do things that were planned before COVID-19.
The upgrade of informal settlements for instance at a cost of R1.2 billion would be welcome if it were to materialise and not be bogged down by tender irregularities.
The construction or completion of six clinics and a hospice is now more critical in the Wake of COVID-19 and cannot suffer further delays or funding cuts should revenue fall short.
The distributions of 500 000 food parcels and vouchers are a sign of compassion in difficult times, but only of they reach intended recipients.
The “seed funding of R50 million for youth development directed programmes in partnership with the provincial and national government, and the private sector to augment the City’s resources,” is a noble but vague goal.
Matongo closed off his presentation on a Biblical note, reminding all that the Budget will serve those constituencies whose representatives did not support it, such as the EFF because, he declared: “God’s rain falls on sinners and the righteous”.
It felt like the Heavens can just come down.
KEY ALLOCATIONS BY THE CITY|
- Over R 1 billion for job creation and SMMEs engagement through the roll-out of high-impact projects that include sewer upgrades, storm water upgrades, tarring of roads and housing developments in Orange Farm, Lakeside, Drieziek, Kapok, Ivory Park, Ebony Park, Mayibuye, Riverlea and Kliptown.
- 1 350 to be employed across the City’s 135 wards – an initiative that will see each ward have a minimum of 10 people working daily to augment the services provided by the City’s entities;
- 3 500 more housing units to be built in Region A, B, D and G in addition to the ongoing mega projects in Lufhereng, Fleurhof, South Hills and Lehae.
- A total of R1.2 billion has been allocated for the formalisation of informal settlements over the medium term.
- The upgrading of the Central Fire Station in the Inner City and the Protea Glen Fire Station in the new financial year.
- An allocation of R200 million has also been made for the procurement of fire engines.
- To advance the Joburg 10 Plus programme wherein a minimum of 10 law enforcement officers will be available per ward at any given time.
- A seed funding of R50 million for youth development directed programmes in partnership with the provincial and national government, and the private sector to augment the City’s resource.
- Up to 500 000 food parcels and vouchers to be distributed to vulnerable households amidst indications that more than a million households in Johannesburg are food insecure.
- The construction and completion of clinics in Florida, Naledi, Bophelong, Turffontein, Zandspruit, the Orchards Clinic and the Alexandra Hospice.
- Allocation to further ensure the availability of extended service hours in 14 additional clinics and the establishment of six Substance Abuse Centres and 10 mobile clinics across the City.
- Provision for the construction and operationalization of multi-purpose centres in Ivory Park, Lehae, Matholesville, Kaalfontein and Drieziek.
- About R800 million over the medium term has also been allocated for the procurement of new buses for the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system to ease the current demand pressure on the existing fleet, and continue to offer a cheap and reliable public transport system to the people of Johannesburg.
- Over the medium term, over R156 million has been set aside for hostel upgrades and R105 million for the upgrade of flats and old age homes.
- In addition to the R45 million that was allocated in June this year for the roll-out of the Free Joburg Wi-Fi, an additional R40 million has been availed to expand access to free Wi-Fi across the City, including in hostels, flats, student villages and old age homes.
- An allocation of R780 million over the medium term has been set aside for the tarring of gravel roads across Johannesburg.
- Up to R820 million has been allocated over the medium term for storm water upgrades across the City including in Protea Glen.
- A total of R440 million has been set aside over the medium term for the construction and upgrading of bridges.
- An operating budget of R12.8 billion in 2020/21 – with a three-year capital budget of R3.1 billion for the continuous supply of water and sanitation to the people of Johannesburg – both in formal and informal settlements where rudimentary services in a form of chemical toilets and water tanks will be added and serviced regularly.
- City Power has been allocated a three-year capital budget of R2.6 billion, which will fund the provision of public lighting at R205 million, the electrification of informal settlements at R498 million and the electrification of Mega Projects at R100 million.
- The maintenance and refurbishment of existing electricity infrastructure, supporting infrastructure such as ICT and integrated security and fire protection systems at R22.7 million.
- An operating budget of R3 billion for Pikitup will go towards the ward-by-ward approach to waste management. Co-operatives will be appointed across all regions and they in turn will appoint, on a short-term basis, at least 15 people per ward to keep the City clean.
- The improvement of refuse collection in informal settlements through the provision of more waste bags and more strategically placed skip bins. These interventions will be rolled out alongside the City’s ongoing Kleena Joburg Campaign.
(Compiled by Inside Politics staff)