A critical council meeting to pass Nelson Mandela Bay municipality‘s budget for the next financial year has once again highlighted how fragile the Democratic Alliance-led coalition on the City is.
The almost R12bn budget for the 2018/19 financial year has to be passed before the end of June and requires 61 votes out of the 120 in council. If the budget is not passed, the City‘s administration could effectively grind to a halt, as any funds spent would be unauthorised, and could be deemed fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
In terms of Section 139 of the Constitution, failure to pass the budget would result in the City being placed under administration and the council dissolved.
Balance of power
The DA-led coalition currently has 60 seats in council, with the Patriotic Alliance officially joining the coalition, but is a man down, with councillor Pieter Terblanche still in hospital following an operation.
The ANC and other opposition parties officially hold the other 60 seats, although they are currently on 59, as ANC ward councillor Bongo Nombiba is serving a five-year sentence for fraud.
ANC heavyweight was in council on Wednesday and was recognised as a council member, even though he was recently convicted of assaulting former member of the mayoral committee, Rano Kayser, and received an effective two-year prison sentence. He is currently out on R10 000 bail, pending his application in the Eastern Cape High Court for leave to appeal.
Council rules stipulate that, if you receive a sentence of more than 12-months jail time, you do not qualify as a councillor, but Speaker Jonathan Lawack said the rule would only take effect once Lungisa had exhausted all legal processes.
Ward committee disrupts meeting
Disruptions to the day‘s proceedings started before council even began, when members of ward committees gathered outside the council chamber. When the meeting began, ANC councillor Buyelwa Mafaya asked Lawack to address the group, saying that some councillors, including councillor Makhi Feni, were being held hostage.
The protesters were unhappy about the fact that some of them had not yet been paid, while others demanded higher salaries, saying they were getting a stipend of just R1 000, for doing all the work, while ward councillors received substantially more and did very little.
Lawack tasked members of the security detail to investigate and report back, saying he would not adjourn the meeting, as it would set a precedent.
PA councillor Marlon Daniels then proposed that a meeting be held with the ward committee members during the break between the budget meeting and the continuation of the general council meeting that collapsed last week.
DA councillor Nqaba Bhanga said the ward committee matter was not on agenda and asked that the meeting continue. ANC councillors took offence to his comments and left the council chamber.
The Economic Freedom Fighters and other opposition parties did not leave, so the ANC‘s walkout failed to collapse the meeting, but EFF councillor Zilindile Vena asked for an adjournment, which was granted.
Pro-poor, infrastructure-driven budget tabled
Trollip said there were concerns over high dependency on grant funding, which accounted for 78% of the municipality‘s revenue, which left little discretion in terms of where that funding could be used.
The budget factored in an increase of 8.5% for water and sanitation, a 5% increase in property rates and a 7.5% increase for refuse removal.
Trollip said they did not want to overburden ratepayers, as it was critical to lure investment to the City.
The debate on the budget descended into a farce, as opposition councillors deliberately drowned coalition speakers out by humming.
A shouting match between Vena and Lawack erupted over the allocation of time, after the EFF initially said they would not discuss the budget as it was incomplete, and then took exception to Trollip saying that nothing would change in the budget that had been tabled.
Daniels takes the middle ground
Notable throughout the day was Daniels stance of taking the middle ground, acknowledging both coalition and opposition councillors in his interactions.
At one point, Daniels said he was taking note of the coalition members conduct, and told Lawack not to turn a blind eye to their behaviour.
During a tense moment just before the lunch break, Daniels moved to the back of the chamber and whispered in Vena‘s ear, and received a round of applause from the opposition as he returned to his seat.
The ANC objected and the matter was put to the vote. The coalition secured 57 votes on the IDP – as Daniels was not in council at the time and councillor Lodewyk Gallant had left to receive medical treatment – while the opposition got 46 votes. The BEPP and draft rates policy both received 58 votes in favour, and 47 against.
Lawack then ruled that these aspects of the budget only needed a simply majority vote to pass, and that the matter had been carried. The ANC expressed its dissatisfaction and walked out, collapsing the meeting.
Threat of administration
According to section 139 (4) of the Constitution: “If a municipality cannot or does not fulfil an obligation in terms of the Constitution or legislation to approve a budget, or any revenue-raising measures necessary to give effect to the budget, the relevant provincial executive must intervene by taking any appropriate steps to ensure that the budget or those revenue raising measures are approved, including dissolving the municipal council.”
Further, the Constitution says the provincial executive would then have to appoint an administrator until a new council could be elected and approve a temporary budget to provide for the continued functionality of the municipality.
The council meeting is scheduled to reconvene on Wednesday, June 6.