Grub galore at City Hall

Municipality departments dish out R240,000 for catered food in just 36 days

Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality
Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality

In just 36 days, the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality racked up a bill of a quarter of a million rands on catering.

Various departments spent a collective R244,059.45 on catering between August 29 and October 4.

That is more than half of what the city spent on catering for the entire previous financial year, which amounted to R401,968.

Details of the city’s ballooning catering bill were revealed in a written response to questions asked by DA councillor Retief Odendaal which are contained in the council agenda of December 4.

Odendaal asked how much had been spent on catering since the new coalition government took over on August 28.

He also asked for a list of the service providers used and the amounts paid to each firm.

There has been a marked increase in the frequency of food served at committee meetings, particularly mayoral meetings.

These largely comprise platters of finger snacks.

In the first week of September, the sports, recreation, arts and culture department spent R62,000 on catering, while the biggest bill for the period went to the city manager’s office at a cost of R18,810 over two days.

The response from the city shows that between August 29 and October 4, the department of sports and recreation was the biggest spender, with R97,309 spent on catering.

The other departments spent as follows:

● Human resources and corporate services – R52,152;

● The city manager’s office – R22,560;

● Infrastructure and engineering – R16,350; and

● The speaker’s office – R5,620. Before the new government took over, the municipality spent R34,010 on catering in July and R25,647 in August.

The municipality’s total budget for catering for the current 2018-2019 financial year is R12.4m while its budget for the last financial year was R20m.

The question of whether or not to provide catering at council and committee meetings was the subject of heated debate in the council in 2014.

There was a call, at the time, from the Treasury for all government departments to tighten their belts and cut down on their travel, accommodation and catering budgets.

Odendaal said he had decided to ask about the catering budget when he noticed food being served almost daily.

“We have seen food at City Hall and we were horrified.

“There was catering on a daily basis and we were concerned with how much is being spent on catering.

“If you look at what is being spent in just over a month, it’s a quarter of a million rands. That is just ridiculous.

“This is all on non-service delivery items, it’s catering for politicians and officials. It’s unacceptable and it shouldn’t be allowed.” He said that there was a catering budget but not for all departments.

Mayoral committee member in charge of sports and recreation Lehlohonolo Mfana referred all questions to the budget and treasury department.

Mayor Mongameli Bobani said the R22,560 spent on food by his office was “normal and within budget”.

“You must remember that my office hosts the premier’s office and rugby teams even, but even then we are still within budget.

“We also hosted a delegation from Gothenburg and Jacksonville. In fact, I can say that I have minimised this. If you look at my predecessors, they used a lot of money.

“The catering that I have provided is a light lunch and it is within the law and within the budget.”

“I didn’t buy liquor and we didn’t party with taxpayers’ money,” Bobani said.

Asked if he had any concerns about the rate of spending on catering, Bobani said: “It depends on the occasions. The DA served food at every council meeting.

“They dished out food even though there were no visitors.

“We are in fact in this mess because of the DA; we are rectifying their mess,” Bobani said. Bobani then denied that food was served at a mayoral committee meeting.

“I am telling you now, there is no catering in mayco. We have had more than eight mayoral committee meetings and there has been no catering.

“It is only when we have visitors, only then will I provide catering and that is within the cost-containment measures,” he said.

Municipal spokesperson Mthubanzi Mniki said there was a possibility that the costs had been inflated after the city hosted the Springboks when they were in the Bay.

“It must be noted that monthly spending varies, depending on the magnitude, number of people and the reason for such catering.

“In the total figure, there is an additional R85,000 that was spent to host the Springboks when they were in Nelson Mandela Bay for a Test match.

“That cost alone might have pushed the amount up.

“However, the municipality feels that the amount was worth spending,” Mniki said.

He added that any spending on catering was within the national Treasury’s cost-containment measures.

“It is understood that the business of the municipality is to render services that are paid for by ratepayers under difficult financial conditions.

“Every decision taken in relation to catering is based on the mentioned considerations,” Mniki said.