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By Martin Williams

Councillor at City

Fixing Joburg’s financial mess an essential step towards healing SA

Let’s dispel the notion that the DA-led administration inherited a world-class, properly functioning city.

Life as a Joburg DA ward councillor right now is tough.

Expectations are understandably high. For years, our party has traded on a reputation for excellent performance at local government level. There is disjuncture between that image and potholes, long grass, malfunctioning traffic lights, lawless taxi drivers and billing problems.

No doubt you can add to the gripes. Please admit that some progress has been made; obviously not enough.

How did we get here? Let’s dispel the notion that the DA-led administration inherited a world-class, properly functioning city. The latest municipal financial sustainability index, published by Moneyweb on Monday, shows Joburg’s finances were in a bad way in 2016.

The report notes “the financial stability of Johannesburg has been declining rapidly and this will make it very difficult for the new administration to make any progress”. In 2016, Joburg received a financial stability score of just 30 out of 100. And the city “will have to continue to heavily rely on borrowed money to finance infrastructure development”.

“Johannesburg’s borrowings increased from R15.3 billion in 2014 to R18.4 billion in 2016, causing its debt burden to become the highest of all the metros, at almost 74% of operating revenue. This, in turn, is adversely affecting its operating performance since interest costs are almost R2 billion per annum. To maintain the current level of infrastructure spending, Johannesburg will have to become more efficient in its service delivery.”

As the country’s economic hub, Joburg attracts thousands of new arrivals every month, adding to burdens on service delivery and infrastructure. Yet spending on maintenance by the previous administration was less than 5% of operating expenditure. That is too low to maintain the quality of assets and “could result in more service disruption in future”.

In addition to pressures around finances, infrastructure and service delivery, there are other dynamics. We are under siege. As the dominant party in a minority government we face people who strive daily to ensure we fail. ANC tactics include violence, destruction and subtle subversion. A network of cronies has been accustomed to using public office for self-enrichment. Now, the ANC is desperate to get the derailed gravy train back on track.

There are crooks in many crannies. Mayor Herman Mashaba’s war against corruption regularly uncovers scams. Many more will emerge.

Some say we face a hostile administration. Although I have found many officials enthusiastic and supportive, there is undeniably resistance, passive and otherwise. For example, a service issue may be acknowledged and logged, but no action taken. Such circumstances make it difficult to dismiss an offender on grounds of performance or conduct.

A ward councillor, without executive authority, must manage these relationships in positive, constructive ways, trying to get the best out of officials, while serving residents who demand their pound of flesh, at all hours, in return for paying their bills and casting their votes.

This part-time job is not easy but I wouldn’t swap it for anything. Fixing Joburg is an essential step towards healing SA.

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