Cutting costs will not mean job losses, unions told

Cutting operational costs in Nelson Mandela Bay did not mean the metro’s new leadership would make employees’ lives miserable. This was the message budget and treasury head Retief Odendaal relayed to union bosses last week during a meeting at the Wool Board Exchange in Port Elizabeth, where the city’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP) was discussed. The meeting was one in a series of IDP meetings held over the past few weeks under the Bay’s new administration. The meetings are directed at engaging with residents to discuss the metro’s budget and what they would like to see it spent on. During last Monday’s meeting, metro officials engaged with union representatives over a number of issues which ranged from administrative concerns, job opportunities, service delivery and cost-cutting mechanisms to general operations. Talks about the reduction of operational costs produced some anxiety among some unions, who feared there would be job losses. Municipal officials, however, managed to ease concerns. Terri Cox, of the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union, told the gathering she had been looking forward to the meeting with her bosses, but became worried when the issue of cost-cutting arose. “We have no toilet paper and the hand dryers in the toilets are not working. Now you still say you are going to cut costs on general expenses. We as females in the institution are suffering,” she said. In response, Odendaal explained that reducing costs did not necessarily mean job losses. He cited the 200 unused Telkom telephones lines the municipality pays for every month as an example. “To decrease operational costs is not to make the lives of municipal employees miserable. We have come up with innovative ideas of how to keep the general expenses down,” he said. Also on Monday night, an IDP meeting in the Kuyga Community Hall got off to a rocky start as angry ANC members blocked the entrance to the building and locked the doors. The meeting, however, began after the locks were broken and the police dispersed a group of ANC protesters with teargas. Community members complained about the lack of access to electricity and old-age facilities in their area. They also raised the issue of a bulk sewer water project which had been left incomplete for nine years. Political head of human settlements councillor Nqaba Bhanga described the Bay’s RDP housing list as corrupt and said the way in which houses were currently allocated was going to be revised. “We are going to have one housing waiting list which will be transparent and open to everyone,” Bhanga said. “We will prioritise the elderly and disabled. Those who are between 18 and 40 must look for work to build their own houses.” At the same meeting, Bay mayor Athol Trollip revealed that Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson had recently promised the municipality R150-million as an incentive towards electrification, if illegal electrical connections were eradicated. “However, if we connect electricity and you illegally connect again, we will arrest you. Also, the days of selling plots are over. If anybody sells a house with no authority you are breaking the law.” In Gelvandale, West End and KwaNoxolo, hundreds of people attended their respective IDP meetings, raising similar concerns, including the lack of services, shor tage of houses and increasing crime. Ward 10 resident Irene Gallant raised the issue of retirement homes. “Where is the R8-million which was allocated to the old-age homes?” she asked. Gallant also wanted to know how some people had managed to own homes in addition to occupying old-age homes. In response, Bhanga confirmed that R8-million had been allocated for old-age homes. A task team had been set up to conduct oversight visits to retirement homes, he said. Residents of West End said crime was their most pressing concern. Addressing this, the head of safety and security, John Best, said the metro police force had been established to tackle crime. He encouraged residents to get involved with the community policing forums in their areas, and pointed to regular requests for bibs, torches and other equipment that would assist in crime prevention programmes. Ward 37 resident Praylene Jacobs highlighted the benefits of large, bright streetlights in her area, which she said played a big role in preventing crime at night. Wheelchair-bound Elsie Zumimini, of Ward 38, said more clinics and at least one more police station were needed in their region, which included KwaNoxolo and its surrounding areas. Responding to the comments, Trollip said it was clear residents from a number of areas had the same concerns and that metro officials would give urgent attention to the most crucial issues raised at the IDP meetings. “As we have said before, we cannot keep building townships, we need to build suburbs for our people,” he said. The community engagement sessions will be concluded after the final meeting to be held on Thursday.