At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, the eThekwini metro declared that its leaders would follow the example of President Cyril Rampahosa and his Cabinet and contribute 30% of their salaries to the government’s pandemic relief fund.
Instead, the municipality has left it up to its executive committee and councillors — who have since budgeted themselves a 4% salary increase for the 2020-21 financial year — to follow their conscience and contribute what they want to the city’s Covid-19 relief fund.
There is no mechanism to ascertain whether they have done so.
Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda made the announcement of the proposed salary sacrifice in March, at a time when leaders at various levels of government — including KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala and his Cabinet — were doing so in response to the economic effect of the pandemic and the lockdown declared by the president.
Despite the decision being discussed at the city’s executive committee, it was never formalised or implemented.
eThekwini Democratic Alliance councillor Nicole Graham, who sits on the executive committee, said: “There was a discussion at exco and there seemed to be consensus about it. It was never a formally tabled item. When we were paid our salaries in April there was no deduction.
“I raised it on the exco WhatsApp group. Krish Kumar [eThekwini’s chief financial officer] posted the banking details of the municipality solidarity fund.”
Graham said that when she asked what each councillor was expected to contribute, she was told to “pay what you want to pay”.
“My thinking had been that the money would be retained in the city coffers and utilised towards the Covid-19 relief efforts. Instead, we have a situation where people are left to pay what they want,” she said.
Graham said she and her fellow DA exco members had contributed a percentage of their salaries to a variety of charities and feeding schemes because of the city’s failure to implement an across-the-board approach for its senior leaders and management.
“I have made a decision not to give to the city fund if nobody else is. For me there should have been an across-the-board approach by the city in terms of a formal decision. There appears to have been reluctance towards doing this,” she said.
eThekwini spokesperson Mluleki Mntungwa said he would consult Kaunda and respond. He had not done so at the time of publication.
The legitimacy of the eThekwini council meeting that passed the 4% salary increase for councillors has been challenged in the high court by the DA because Graham’s address to the budget debate was muted by other councillors and the virtual feed for the public ceased to function.
The matter had been set for argument on Wednesday, but had to be postponed until the high court complex in Durban reopens. It was closed because people had contracted Covid-19.
A similar 4% salary increase tabled by the Umgungundlovu district municipality in its 2020-21 budget has been rejected by the KwaZulu-Natal co-operative governance and traditional affairs MEC, Sipho Hlomuka.
At a virtual council meeting last month the municipality,
which received about 70% of its revenue from national and provincial government grants, also passed a 6.5% increase for its senior management, despite having zero cash reserves.
But the MEC last week put the brakes on the increases on the grounds that the municipality could not afford them.
The increases were gazetted in April by Co-operative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and were backdated to June last year.
The DA-led Cape Town metro has also voted its councillors the increase, while a similar increase is in the Johannesburg metro’s budget. All three metros have been battling with revenue collection during the Covid-19 lockdown and have sustained huge losses in income.
Hlomuka’s spokesperson, Senzo Mzila, confirmed that the department had not passed the municipality’s budget because of the salary increase.
“They passed their council resolutions on salaries, to which the MEC is required to give concurrence based on a number of criteria, including liquidity. Based on this assessment, some municipalities failed to secure concurrence and are not supported.”
The tests to which the council’s financial resolutions were subjected included their affordability in terms of their financial position and their ability to raise revenue to pay for them, according to Mzila.
He said that the Covid-19 outbreak had exacerbated the financial position of municipalities around the province.
Hlomuka held a virtual conference with the mayors on Thursday to discuss finances.