AT Ndlambe council’s budget meeting on Wednesday it was hard to tell the ANC and DA apart, such was the back-slapping and mutual congratulations.
All well and good when people have done a good job, but it was hard to tell what exactly had been accomplished. Most of the back-slapping was about the Municipal Public Accounts Committee (MPAC) oversight report, which appears to have succeeded the former Oversight Committee.
Meetings were held (the public didn’t know) and hardy annual issues were discussed – like service delivery backlogs, ward committees not quorating, mounting municipal accounts arrears and large variances in year-on-year spending. Ultimately the committee made recommendations which were not discussed in Wednesday’s meeting. They were confusing to follow in the agenda.
The MPAC report was accepted “with reservations” as acting Speaker Khululwa Ncamiso put it. This sounds odd coming from the person who chaired the committee.
But most of the conversation was about how wonderful the exercise was, with everyone thanking everyone else.
DA whip Ray Schenk cheerfully said the spirit of the meetings was positive and “we didn’t shy away from things that were controversial”.
“ANC councillors agreed when we needed to be forceful,” he said.
DA councillor Terri Stander said: “Recommendations are only as good as if they are implemented.
“We reserve the right to make further recommendations to council. We don’t want to see this as a once-off, once-a-year thing.”
It was a stark contrast to last year’s oversight committee meetings chaired by former DA whip Kevin Mileham, who was stonewalled by ANC councillors who either did not show up for meetings, or questioned the process.
Mileham pointed out that many of the recommendations made by his committee the previous year had simply been ignored by municipal officials.
Hopefully the new spirit of cooperation this year will translate into the necessary changes on the ground, and not just lip-service.
Also different this year was how council addressed the draft budget, which proposes a 12% increase in rates, water, sewerage, refuse collection and the environmental levy, and an 11% hike in electricity.
In previous years, Mileham, who went through the budget with a fine tooth comb, would always question the inaccurate and the ridiculous in the draft budget, while acknowledging it was a “wish list”.
His logic was that the budget should be engaged from the start, lest officials think they can get away with questionable accounting and burdensome increases for ratepayers.
This year there was nary a murmur from the DA caucus, who just accepted Ncamiso’s assurances that it was a draft budget and therefore “a working document” which needed to be engaged.
Bizarrely, it was Ncamiso herself who expressed the gravest reservations about the budget, saying it was not aligned to the IDP and the two documents seemed to be moving further and further apart.