Council gives R47.7bn budget the nod

By adopting its R47.7 billion budget, the City has shown it has lost touch both with reality and the public, says activist group Stop City of Cape Town (COCT).

The budget, effective from July 1, was adopted at a special council meeting on Wednesday May 30.

The City drew a record number of comments -more than 50 400 – during the public participation process from March to May, but it didn’t stop above-inflation tariff increases in a tough economy.

While the overall water tariff hike of 26.9% proposed in the draft budget dropped to 19.9%, the monthly electricity surcharge of R150 for properties valued over R1 million and the monthly R64-plus water-pipe levy stay.

Mayor Patricia de Lille said the City could not respond to all comments received during the public participation process because there had simply been too many: in one month, the City had already received more than 24 900 comments “of which approximately 80% were tariff-related objections”.

Sandra Dickson of Stop COCT believes the City anticipated the public outcry over the steep tariff increases and “gave the public a pacifier with this reduction”.

“It does not nearly make up for the slap in the face the public received with the Level 6B tariff increases,” she said.

“In December, 62 001 comments on the drought charge told the City that levies are rejected and surely cannot be based on property value. They now came back with two levies instead of just a water charge, and one of them is still based on property value.”

Ms Dickson said Ms De Lille’s admission about the City not responding to all 50 400 comments during the public participation process was a “clear violation of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA )” and that the City should be taken to task about that.

“I saw that the 32-page report the City’s Participative Unit produced has only two pages outlining their findings on the 50 000 comments. The report makes no mention of the fact that the public overwhelmingly asked for the increases to be linked to the inflation rate.

“The report only refers to the public rejecting the electricity levy. Nothing is said about the public also rejecting the water levy, and the report misconstrues the public comment on sanitation with a very jumbled incoherent paragraph. These are only a few of the glaring omissions in the City’s report,” she said.

Furthermore, the draft budget had been riddled with general errors, including a “typo” showing a 17% salary increase for top management.

“This explanation was later changed and attributed to an ‘incorrectly populated’ table. This was corrected in the final budget. Of concern now is that the general salary bill for the City increased by R100 million from the draft to the final budget. The public certainly did not request this – in fact – the public comments vehemently asked for a decrease in salaries,” she said.

Chairman for the Greater Table View Action Forum (GTAF) Karen Davis echoed disappointment in the City’s admission that not all the comments would be responded to.

“Whilst I realise the City did not expect such a huge reaction, the very least they could have done is respect the people that took the time to send in their objections,” she said.

“I think the time has come for officials to recognise that the people who put them in power have the right to be heard. Never again will they have carte blanche to do as they please,” said Ms Davis.

She said the water crisis had “mobilised ordinary citizens” to speak out and she believed they deserved to be heard.

“The surcharges are totally unwarranted as why now, all of a sudden, is it necessary to impose these levies? We are relieved, of course, that there is a decrease in the initial proposed increase, but it is still way above the inflation rate, and for most people, this is going to place strain on their already stretched budgets,” she said.

Vice-chairman for the Table View Ratepayers’ Association (TVRA) Mandy da Matta said the budget was “criminalising the ordinary resident”.

“The City has not looked at the unintentional consequences of the higher-than-inflation budget on the average ratepayer who does not have the salary increase to match the budget that’s been approved by council,” said Ms Da Matta.

She said if councillors had the ratepayers’ best interests at heart, they would not have accepted a payment increase of above 4%.

“The councillors are serving their own needs here and not the people of Cape Town. The City has turned itself into a ‘dictatorship’ when the councillors refuse to listen to the voice of the residents. Are they trying to cover up where they have misspent? Where is the transparency? Where is the fairness?”

For Ms Dickson, the “flawed budget”, as she called it, aimed to please only one party – the City itself. “The City simply does not listen to the public. It has become a self- serving beast controlled by a bunch of insensitive tyrants,” she said.

Tabletalk asked the City to comment, but by the time this edition went to print, they had not yet responded to our request.