Group pens letter to council

Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA

The activist group Stop City of Cape Town (COCT) has written an open letter to councillors who they say have not acted in the public’s interest with the proposed budget for 2018/19.

The public participation process for the budget closes this Friday May 4, at 4.30pm.

Residentshave been attending meetings across the metro to scrutinise the figures and some took to the streets of the city centre last month to voice their anger at some of the proposed increases (“Residents ‘revise’ budget,” Tabletalk, April 18).

In the letter Sandra Dickson, one of the founders of Stop COCT, says only one councillor has publicly criticised the budget and she wants to know “where are the voices of the other 230 councillors?”

In a statement earlier last month, Grant Twigg, DA Metro chairperson, said the budget in its “current form” was “unacceptable” and could not be approved by a caring DA government.

“Even though the budgeting process implemented by the mayor allowed for nearly no input from councillors in the formulation of the budget, I urge all councillors to amend this proposal,” said Mr Twigg in his statement.

In Ms Dickson’s letter she says the comment period is too short and asks for an extension.

“If you yourself do not understand the budget, the unworkable side of it and the implication of implementing it, please pass a motion to extend the deadline for the public participation. The 2018/19 budget reaches right in to every single person’s home to whom municipal services are provided to. Why are none of the councillors questioning the failure of the City to deliver significant augmented water? Over R1 billion was spent on augmentation schemes to date?” said Ms Dickson in the letter.

Johan van der Merwe, the City’s mayoral committee member for finance, responded to the letter, saying: “Tens of thousands of formal comments have already been received as part of the public participation process, which is an indication that most interested parties have been able to comment on the budget with sufficient time.

“The City has made a considerable effort through focused group discussions, public meetings and communication on the most important aspects of the budget to members of the public in an effort to empower our residents with knowledge about the budget and how it pertains to their daily lives.”

He said judging from the response to date, the City believed the length of the comment period is sufficient.

“The period cannot be extended, as the budget needs to be finalised before the start of the new financial year,” he said.

Ms Dickson said the City had not spent the R2.7 billion allowed by the former Minister of Public Enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, in the reprioritisation of the 2017/18 budget in December.

“Yet you see it fit to pass a budget asking for even more money from the already cash -stricken working class,” she said.

But Mr Van der Merwe said this statement is “misinformed”. He said the reprioritisation had enabled the City’s water and sanitation department to provide reliable water services in the face of a substantial drop in income resulting from reduced water sales, “which has happened because of water usage needing to be reduced in an effort to get through the drought”.

He added that the reprioritised amount was not used for augmentation projects alone. “The City’s augmentation programme is being funded with tariff funding, internal reprioritisation of funds as well as some financing for the entire augmentation programme,” he said.

Deputy mayor Ian Neilson also weighed in with comment, saying as it pertains to the water and sanitation tariffs increase, the first two steps of the tariff have always been heavily subsidised and the price of water has been too low.

“The new tariff is a reflection that the cost to provide the service remains the same whether one uses more or less water. So, the cost of water per litre therefore actually increases as usage goes down. The City’s budget must balance and there can be no over- or under-recovery. The City makes no profit from the sale of water. All money is used to invest in water services,” said Mr Neilson.

He said while Level 6 tariffs remain in place, the City would like to move to a lower tariff as soon as possible or once dam levels recover adequately.

The letter from Stop City of Cape Town (COCT) said the budget in its current form adds up to 35% to the working class citizen’s municipal bill at a time when the country’s GDP is under 1% and the inflation rate is under 5%.

“It is just insane to expect the public to foot a multi-billion capital expenditure to augment our water supply in a period of three years”.

Mr Neilson said this statement was incorrect as some tariff funding is earmarked for augmentation projects but it also goes toward funding reliable water services – such as infrastructure investment and maintenance. “As has been the case for a number of years, the tariffs are too low; they do not cover the cost of water provision,” he said.