The Adjustments Budget is the responsibility of Knysna’s Mayor, Georlene Wolmarans. It is the “formal method whereby a municipality may revise it’s annual budget.” On this, the latest Council meeting became a disgrace that let Knysna down.
It is highly likely that the DA orchestrated a denial of information to the public and the opposition – to my DA readers, which is most of you, please understand that point! Because the ANC and other opposition politicians were denied does not make the DA correct. You lost out here too (so did Cape Town but i’ll come to that shortly).
Almost everything, unfortunately, boils down to money so what happens with our budget is as important as it gets. As critical as i am of the opposition in Knysna, they are all we’ve got in Council Chambers to ask burning questions. The reverse applies in other towns e.g. where the DA is opposition. It’s our democracy’s small effort towards check and balance. This isn’t an ANC versus DA issue or a black versus white (or an in between brown) issue – it’s unfortunately human nature. History has proven that leaders, unchecked, sometimes become the worst of our species, living that “power corrupts”. It pains me, after all this time, to reiterate such simplicity but the fact is that Knysna is as biased as it gets, too often forsaking logic and facts for political and skin colours.
Late afternoon, before the meeting, the DA dumped over 50 pages of documents onto the opposition as their supplementary agenda to the council meeting regarding the adjustment budget. I doubted the coincidence initially, thinking that it was a ploy by the DA as they did the same in Cape Town (which was reported in the Cape Times by John Scott as ‘The Day the City Council Turned Out Better Than the Movies’ – “How else do you object, as the ANC councillors did, to the tabling of the draft budget [500 pages] by the mayor for public participation before you think we’ve had enough time to study it”).
In Knysna, both the ANC and COPE, particularly councillors Wiseman Litoli, Mthobeli Dyantyi and Elrick van Aswegen, vehemently objected to receiving so many documents so late so that they were unable to come to grips with them or consult Municipal Staff for explanations. The DA admitted that they had received it before it had been finalised and had had the liberty of consulting staff.
Grant Easton, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) who will likely receive near R1.5million in salary this coming year, accepted the blame for it’s late arrival but, as van Aswegen pointed out, it was Mayor Georlene Wolmaran’s responsibility to ensure that it was dealt with appropriately and timely. Litoli said that, “You cannot make your problems our problems” and that these were big decisions that would affect the whole of Knysna so how could they vote responsibly, representing their constituents, on matters they don’t know. Despite this, the Mayor’s failure and Easton’s admitted failure, Michelle Wasserman (ex-DA Mayor and now Speaker) denied the opposition’s request for a postponement to the following day and instead asked the council to vote to proceed to which the DA voted, “Yes.”
The biggest part of this document was the proposed changes to Knysna Tourism and another grant-in-aid of R4 million for the organisation despite the failure to investigate why they fell bankrupt. I will discuss this separately in the next blog.
Speaker Michelle Wasserman handed the floor to Grant Easton to read out the budget. This became a repeated bone of contention as the opposition rightly pointed out that the law states that the budget is Mayor Georlene Wolmarans’ responsibility and she must deliver it and answer questions. It’s understandable that the Mayor would ask certain Directors to clarify certain points but it became immediately obvious that she was out of touch with the budget, had failed her oversight role (as required by law) and, thus, she repeatedly passed the majority of speaking time back to the CFO. It was another of those many moments affirming that she did not deserve to become Knysna’s Mayor.
Elrick van Aswegen summed up the ridiculousness of the situation. I paraphrase what he said with: “Pity the Municipal Manager isn’t here so i could ask you [the Speaker] to ask the Mayor to ask the Municipal Manager to ask the CFO to answer my questions.”
After an hour, the Council had completed only 1.1. It was tiresome but necessary considering the importance of the budget but the Speaker then stated she was limiting questions.
Here are the highlights and lowlights:
- R487 000 additional professional fees for the Extension of the Knysna Library. No one could answer what these fees entailed so Grant Easton instructed a staff member to return with a breakdown (but that never happened).
- A six million reduction is required in the budget due to the negative impact of property values, time delays etc. R2million of this is mainly the result of residents purchasing less electricity. COPE asked if this was not proof of electricity becoming unaffordable to which Grant East replied that it was small in light of the R120 million revenue.
- The R1.4million house purchase for the Knysna Municipality that was mention in the previous blog.
- The Knysna Municipality is to save R2.2 million by converting contract employees into permanent positions. The downside of this is that if this includes any of the people who are not adequately serving the public we will be stuck with them for the long term.
- R600 000 transferred to accommodate the Hornlee Sportsfield and the provision for the Rheenendal MPC (Multi-purpose Centre) is to be moved to the Smutsville MPC. The opposition objected as they were not informed of the process and should have been able to vote on the individual items rather than them being lumped into one budget last moment. Additionally, why were these areas considered more important than other areas such as White Location? Grant Easton responded that as the money came from province, it was “use it or lose it” and that the White Location MPC’s costs had ballooned by R4 million to R8 million so had not being improved pending further investigation.
- With only 4 months to go, Knysna Municipality has failed to spend 74% of it’s Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) so National Treasury and COGTA has put pressure on the Municipality to explain why or lose it.
At 10.45, the opposition recused themselves from item 1.2, the vote on the Adjustments Budget, and left the Council Chambers. The DA then voted it in.
It seemed appropriate, on my departure, that Knysna’s expensive new traffic cars were parked beneath the newly refurbished Council Chambers. Tough times, indeed, but only for some…