/ 8 June 2018

DA budgets under fire

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba said the ANC’s actions would not matter much as the coalition had agreed on a rate increase
Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba said the ANC’s actions would not matter much as the coalition had agreed on a rate increase

The ANC in the Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay municipalities has vowed to oppose the Democratic Alliance’s proposed budgets in both metros.

The party is accusing the DA-led governments of being anti-poor for proposing tariff hikes in Jo’burg, and of unfair allocation of funds to communities in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Neither metro has managed to pass its budget, facing walkouts and boycotts by opposition parties. The local governments have until the end of June to pass the budgets, failing which they will have to be placed under administration by ANC-led provincial governments.

Tension appears highest in Nelson Mandela Bay, where the DA has had a notoriously difficult relationship with its coalition partners. ANC councillor Andile Lungisa told the Mail & Guardian the party would rally smaller opposition parties to boycott the proposed budget.

“We share perspectives because they stay in those areas. There is no improvement there. EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] councillors are in the wards the budget isn’t going to.”

READ MORE: DA shifts its focus to the poor

The ANC has taken issue with how the bulk of the R12-billion budget for the 2018/19 financial year is allegedly being channelled to already affluent communities and ignoring development needs in poor areas.

Lungisa said the municipality had historically used an 80/20 model that gave 80% of the budget to poor communities and 20% to more affluent areas. The ANC has accused the DA of deviating from this model, allocating 45% to poor communities and the remaining 55% to projects and maintenance in suburban areas.

“Even if you talk about simple infrastructure, no swimming pools are planned in disadvantaged communities, no sporting fields. The budget is saying nothing about those communities,” Lungisa said.

The ANC and EFF walked out of the Nelson Mandela Bay council sitting on Wednesday. Smaller opposition parties remained in chambers, but also raised concerns about the budget, and the sitting was adjourned until next week.

The ANC intends to attend the next meeting with a draft of its pro-poor budget to “show the DA how it’s done”. Should the DA refuse to adjust its budget, the opposition says it will reject it even if it means plunging the municipality into administration.

Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Athol Trollip did not appear fazed by the ANC’s threats, saying it was unlikely that “any other opposition party would support the municipality being placed under a provincially led ANC administration”.

He said the ANC itself appeared divided and was being led to revolt by a faction inside its ranks. “The one faction of the ANC has some praise for the budget but the other led by the convicted Andile Lungisa opposed it from the outset,” Trollip said, referring to Lungisa’s conviction for hitting a councillor two years ago. He is appealing the conviction.

Should the stand-off between the parties continue beyond June, the co-operative governance department would place it under administration, which in exceptional cases could result in the dissolution of the council until a new one is elected.

Johannesburg faces the same risk after the DA’s proposed R59-billion budget was rejected by the ANC and the DA’s coalition partners, including the EFF, because of tariff increases.

The initial budget proposed increases of 7.37% for electricity and 14.2% for water, which the opposition rejected as anti-poor. After the EFF vowed not to vote with the DA unless it adjusted the figures, the party reduced the increases to 7.17% for electricity and 13.2% for water.

READ MORE: Mashaba highlights successes in state of the city address

ANC regional chair Parks Tau said there was no predetermined decision to oppose the revised budget. But the party was not convinced the lower figures proposed by the EFF were a solution. He argued Johannesburg’s “financial crisis” would require the city to curb spending rather than increase costs for residents.

“The budget requires more belt-tightening to mitigate what we think is a serious financial crisis,” Tau said. “We wanted a more comprehensive discussion, as opposed to saying:‘Let’s increase tariffs and then let’s reduce them by a percentage or two and then the problem is resolved.’”

Tau called on the DA to stop blaming the ANC for leaving a financial rut when it left office in 2016.

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba said the ANC’s actions would not matter much as the coalition had agreed on a rate increase, which he expected would be adopted on Monday. “The ANC needs to accept whatever decision will be taken,” Mashaba said. “Since we came into office this is the fourth budget I’ve tabled and they have always rejected our budgets.”