Do you identify your life with any of these issues? This may be about Knysna Budget 2017-2018 but i’m betting that many of you readers, no matter where you live, will relate to some of the points i’m making. This is about municipal loans, wasted monies, rental crisis, education to attract investment, the environment, tourism, potholes, public participation, transparency and the contribution of ratepayers who are seemingly disrespected by being kept in the dark.
Attention: Acting Municipal Manager Johnny Douglas, Chief Financial Officer Mbulelo Memani, Mayor Eleanore Spies, Speaker Georlene Wolmarans, Audit Committee Chairperson Ray Barrell & MPAC Chairperson Titi Gombo
We need a budget we can more easily understand so that Public Participation becomes a more sincere process. Most of the Public will be like me, a layman, not an accountant. Consequently, my comments and contribution must arrive with questions.
Our debt is my biggest concern. If Knysna Municipality were a business, we’d be forced to strip our assets or declare bankruptcy. Instead, you keep us limping ahead by taking loans. As of February this year, we owed R174-million. Every loan, especially long-term, means that we have to pay back interest we cannot afford. It’s possible that the interest alone could have built the majority of a new dam or waste water plant. The Auditor General/Treasury has expressed concern at our debt yet you’re not taking it seriously. That’s obvious because you don’t support a culture of handling it correctly. Why, when R19-million was illegally borrowed from ABSA in 2016, was the employee in question not criminally charged? Instead, he was paid an outstanding bonus.
Wasteful and unnecessary deviant expenditure is repeated every year. I realise the amount has been reduced but that isn’t a point in favour because it remains enormous. You cannot state that you take the problem seriously when you don’t take complaints seriously e.g. how much money have you paid Fran Kirsten as Manager Communications Department? Your response to her illegal contracting was to give her another two contracts. Instead of saying thanks for pointing out a problem, you ran a propaganda campaign against me, further waste of resources. Instead of acting on my complaint against a member in our Fire & Rescue Services, you hired the witnesses supporting him a lawyer at our expense. You paid Municipal Manager Johnny Douglas approximately R1-million to leave yet now you’re trying to bring him back. That the Budget Manager has been paid almost R900,000 to sit at home is shocking. How can we trust you with our money when you’re so casual with it, seeminging favouring political and personal interests over ours?
There’s rental shortage in Knysna. I used to be able to help people locate accommodation but for approximately a year and a half I’ve helped none. Desperate people tend to take the form of mothers with kids and pets. Why’s there no encouragement for builders to focus on smaller, long-term accommodation (e.g. flats) e.g. Incentivisation? Hand in hand is the problem of the severe increase in rental prices the past 2 years, disproportionate to the low salaries most earn here – the quality of residents’ lives are being diminished which will increase the emigration of the brightest and most skilled. How else can this problem be addressed via the budget?
WHERE’S OUR UNIVERSITY?
We need our budget to be ambitious e.g. why are we not advertising and incentivising the erection of Higher Education facilities. That would keep young adults in our town for 3-4 years whilst attracting others from outside. The consequent inflow of cash would be considerable.
KNYSNA ESTUARY IMPORTANCE
Our town is built around the Knysna Estuary, a beautiful location which attracts retirees and tourists. Why doesn’t the budget give greater consideration to the protection of the Estuary which is our present and future. Why isn’t it a highlight? What projects are we budgeting for so as to support our claim that we’re a green-aiming town?
The baggage of Knysna Tourism, even if you change its name to Knysna & Partners or Brand Knysna, drags us down. You need to sort disturbing questions and punish where necessary as practical example of your new belief in the protection of public funds. This has to happen so that you fulfill my budget request to spend a lot more on marketing our town. It’s absolutely ludicrous that a tourist based economy with a budget of almost a billion only spends R4-million on tourism. We, especially, need to improve our online presence and ensure that our town’s people are ambassadors.
Potholes are an ongoing problem which isn’t solved by simply increasing the budget. Without training and better supervision, increasing the budget becomes wasteful expenditure. The job needs to be done properly, not repeated and repeated and repeated…
Infrastructure has been of great concern to us citizenry. Almost as important as the lack of new infrastructure is the understaffing of Technical Services. How does this budget address the addition of new staff?
False public participation needs to be replaced with real public engagement. This can only be achieved through education wherein citizens are reminded that you work for us. It’s a 2-way street because we’ll be learning about the challenges you face, the limitations you have. Get rid of the happy pamphlets we find in local media that do little to inform us but more to advertise politicians at our expense. Allocate the budget to a more meaningful relationship with us.
Budget for transparency. Put the Public back into Public budgeting. That would begin with a description of each section of the budget, explaining what its about and the challenges faced. That info must arrive in between perplexing numbers and public meetings. Commit yourself on record. There needs to be infographics and an online toolkit (which would also assist some councillors who seem perplexed into apathy). If you don’t get the youth involved in budget participation, our future will be limited.
What’s the status of revenue received from ratepayers? How many people are contributing and what percentage of the population is that. How does that break down per area? Help us understand if the situation is improving or worsening. If it’s true that the income base is receding then surely the only option cannot be to make the few pay more without them understanding the situation they’re in and, more importantly, the future they’re entering. Compare the coming budget to the past 6 budgets, the period the latest political party has been in power.
At a recent Council Meeting, Chief Financial Officer Mbulelo Memani spoke about cash reserves but argued that if we kept back too much money, the Public would complain that we weren’t spending it. I considered that disingenous since we’re almost as good at spending as we are at running out of money (and then needing to take loans). Do we have a proper stabilisation fund, money set aside that can be used in case of emergencies? What’s the recommended amount? What has that amount being the past 6 years and how much of it remained at each quarter. What does this budget learn from that past?
CONSULTANTS & ACTUAL EXPENDITURE
The 2015/2016 budget cuts, instigated by Budget Manager Avitha Sunkar, mostly found savings on consultants. Since she’s being kept away from the past budget and this one, who has fulfilled her role. Supply the amount budgeted on consultants for 2015/2016, 2016/2017 & 2017/2018 so that we can better understand the efficiency of the latter. So that goals can be assessed into the coming budget year, compare the budgeting amount versus the actual expenditure for 2015/2016 & 2016/2017.
How are we benchmarking our performance and consequent budgeting? Are we alone or making a sincere effort to learn from towns better than us?
What’s the realistic long-term vision for Knysna and how does this budget fit into that?
Why is it that our town’s budget nearly doubled over 5 years yet each year our problems seem to remain the same, us not moving forward?
Please ask yourself if your attitude towards the budget and the Public is fulfillment of this quote:
“There’s no higher calling in terms of a career than public service which is a chance to make a difference in people’s lives and improve the world.”
I want us to become the best budgeting town in South Africa. Will you embrace that challenge?
Love Knysna, Save Knysna!
PS: Having been bogged down by a court case, i literally rushed this letter out in an early hour of the morning on the last day allowing comment on the Knysna 2017/2018 budget. I regretted not digging into the numbers but now i’m thinking that it’s better that i kept it simple. After all, we need simple answers that better explain the lives we’re living.