COALITION POLITICS: City of Joburg budget finally gets approval
EFF draws a lot of water in council but not all parties are pleased by its strong influence on the DA-led coalition.
If you were ever to attend a council meeting at the City of Johannesburg it is clear to see that the metro’s election kingmaker, the EFF, holds a lot of sway in the continued governance of the DA-led coalition. And after weeks of debate and multiple drafts, the EFF finally gives a thumbs up to the City’s Budget with its own tariffs amended.
It is customary in the newly renamed Winifred “Winnie” Madikizela-Mandela Council chambers for the DA councillors to include in any of their remarks a ceremonial ‘thank you’ to the EFF for its continued support of the coalition government and for a host of motions it has tabled in council and subsequently been adopted by the DA as programmes for the metro.
Although the EFF is not in coalition with the DA, it has proved to be a helpful ally in fighting off fierce criticism from the previous administration on the state of city finances. So when the EFF disagreed with the initially proposed Water and Electricity tariff rates proposed by the DA for the 2018/2019 financial year budget, it had no choice but to bend to the will of its supportive ally.
“We know there are already decisions made by the coalition government because they hold majority”, said Councillor Thapelo Amad, for Aljamar, “whatever we are going to do in this meeting this morning will only be ceremonial”.
It was set to be brief council meeting with the main purpose of passing the rectified tariff rates decrease. The Speaker opened the meeting, and at the back, Councillor Rabeleni Dagada was seen walking into the chambers with a batch of newspapers in his hands, shuffling through the chairs to assume his normal position as silent observer.
Since his suspension in April 2018, the councillor attends the meetings and sits quietly, biding his time while waiting for the investigation by City’s Group Forensic Investigation Unit into allegations of corruption and nepotism when he was the MMC of finance to end and clear his name.
However, there was brief intermission where Mayor Herman Mashaba had to announce the suspension of MMC of Health Mpho Phalatse for comments she made regarding the city’s support for Israel at a city event.
This was the fourth suspension the mayor has had to impose on a member of his cabinet.
“I was disappointed by the extracts of MMC Phalatse’s remarks. I have made this decision to suspend the MMC pending an investigation on the remarks,” said Mashaba.
According to the mayor, such rhetoric will not be allowed as it endangers social cohesion.
“We are here today to pass a budget for five million residents of our city. I hope this will be the focus of our meeting this morning,” said Mashaba.
And following the continued rejection of the budget, the city sought to be granted a one-day extension of the seven-day deadline to write up the amendments to tariff rates.
According to Funzani Ngobeni, the MMC of finance, the administration has made every effort to comply with Municipal Financial Management Act (MFMA). The city had been engaging with the national Treasury to comply with Section 24 and 25 following the non-adoption of the budget.
And based on the EFF recommendation, the electricity tariff was reduced from 7.37% to 7.17%, and water tariff came down from 14.2% to 13.2%.
Furthermore, according to Ngobeni, the changes will only affect the projected surplus by decreasing it from R1.6-billion to R1.4-billion.
“Despite the decrease in the surplus the budget remains funded for the medium term,” said Ngobeni.
“As the EFF we accept the tariff changes. I thank you,” said Councillor Sipho Sithole.
With the approval from the EFF, the coalition government's budget was effectively passed. The budget tariffs were carried by 132 votes to 118.
However, the other political parties were critical of the budget.
The African Independent Congress (AIC) lambasted the DA for paying special attention to queries and recommendations put forwards by the EFF only.
Councillor Aubrey Mhlongo of the AIC criticised the DA's refusal to give the 6Kl of free water to residents of Johannesburg, especially since it claimed to be a pro-poor administration.
The Patriotic Alliance's Lloyd Phillips said that although the city offers an Extended Social Package (ESP) to the city’s most indigent residents, the onus was still on the poor to prove that they were poor in order to qualify for free water.
“People don't even know about this,” said Phillips.
“In this council, inputs are made but it is the EFF that is recognised. This is a council of the DA and the EFF, and no place for people like us,” said Phillips.
And according to ANC councillor and former MMC of finance, Geoffrey Makhubo, reducing the water tariff by 1% is “counterintuitive” as it does not solve the main issues of revenue collection and running a pro-poor municipality. The City had to consider the missing middle and those who did not fall below the poverty line but could barely make do.
“If there is a flat exemption, the poor will benefit more than the rich,” said Makhubo.
With the unchanged business rate and property increases at 2.4% and 6% respectively, Makhubo believes that if the city was honest about being self-funding and caring for the poor, these are the tariffs that should be increased.
“These cosmetic changes of 1% do not come close to fixing the plight of the indigent and poor,” said Makhubo. DM