Mandela metro raises treasury's ire

A move by the ANC in the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan council to divert millions of municipal rands into the promotion of “election awareness” has prompted the stern intervention of the treasury.

In a letter dated March 3, sent to chief financial officers and municipal managers, the chief director for local government in the treasury, Jan Hattingh, warns municipalities of dire consequences if they are found using municipal funds for electoral purposes.

“Municipalities that use municipal funds for any functions or purposes related to the local government elections will be acting outside their legal mandate and consequently such expenditure will constitute irregular, as well as fruitless and wasteful, expenditure in terms of the [Municipal Finance Management Act], and therefore must not be incurred,” the letter says.

It adds that any official found to have instructed or allowed such expenditure to take place will be charged with financial misconduct. The move by the ANC in the Nelson Mandela metro, which includes Port Elizabeth, reflects the pressure on the local party to retain its grip on the municipality in the May 18 poll after a dismal performance in the last elections.

Although the party received 66% of the vote in the 2006 municipal elections, it won only 49% for that area in 2009. The Democratic Alliance has said that it is readying itself to take over its second metro, perhaps in coalition with smaller parties, following its victory in Cape Town in 2006.

Promoting awareness
The Mail & Guardian has learned that the ANC in the council set up a committee consisting exclusively of party members to promote “election awareness” in the Port Elizabeth region and drew up a budget of R17,8-million for this purpose. At the council meeting on February 24 the figure was brought down to R10-million, but after the local ratepayers’ association threatened a court interdict, the council changed its mind.

The Herald in Port Elizabeth reported that the committee’s original budget included R6-million for voter education, R3-million for communications, R800 000 for security at voting stations and R5-million for transport and catering at voting stations. An item called “service delivery challenges and the service delivery launch” was billed at R3-million.

Derek Luyt of the Public Service Accountability Monitor said the council had acted in a “morally and ethically corrupt” manner. “If you try to get municipal resources that can only be used by one party, you can’t really talk of free and fair elections,” Luyt said.

Treasury’s Hattingh reminded municipalities that national government, working in consultation with the Independent Electoral Commission, had budgeted to fund all aspects of the local government elections, including logistics, security and communications. “As part of its fiduciary responsibility which includes looking after taxpayers’ interests, the national treasury is obliged to caution key stakeholders about activities that are not in line with the legislative framework and constitutional imperatives,” said treasury spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane.

“In the lead-up to big events, such as the 2010 Fifa World Cup and the local government elections, national treasury communicates these messages to all levels of government.” The treasury sent out a similar directive shortly before last year’s Fifa World Cup to curb council spending on tickets.

Nelson Mandela Bay spokesperson Roland Williams did not return calls or text messages from the M&G.

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