At a time when hundreds of thousands of people are battling to cope with salary cuts and job losses because of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown measures, town and city councillors are getting a 4% salary increase, backdated until July 1 last year.
Both the eThekwini and Cape Town metropolitan councils have already approved the increase in their 2020-2021 budgets, accepting and applying the
upper limits for remuneration of elected municipal officials gazetted by the co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, on April 24.
Municipalities also face a 6.5% hike for staff, which is part of a three-year national agreement.
The 4% salary increase, which mean metro mayors will now be paid R1 404 260 a year, will go ahead despite huge revenue losses in municipalities because residents and businesses were unable to pay their rates and municipal services bills. Municipalities were battling with nonpayment and were in a precarious financial position before the Covid-19 outbreak.
More than 9 000 councillors in South Africa’s 278 municipalities will benefit from the increases. The hike applies to all councillors, full-time and part-time, and include increases to daily allowances for attending council meetings, which are now pegged at R1 103 for each council function. Other allowances, including for data, cellphones and transport, have also been increased.
The salary increases are going ahead despite the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that he and his Cabinet would take a 30% salary cut for three months and would not accept a salary increase in support of the Covid-19 relief fund.
In Cape Town, the Democratic Alliance-led council last month rejected a proposal by the African Christian Democratic Party councillor, Demetrius Dudley, that all councillors turn down the salary increase “whilst our city is being ravaged by Covid-19”, which was presented in a council Skype budget meeting.
Dudley’s proposal, contained in a proposed amendment to the council’s budget recommendations, also recommended that councillors take a 10% cut on their existing salaries and that the funds be channelled to service delivery. It was defeated by a margin of 180 to 42.
Dudley said he had made the proposal because he believed it was morally correct that councillors should follow the example of Ramaphosa and reject the increases at a time when residents, from whom the municipality derived its revenue, were battling to survive in the face of Covid-19 losses and increases in municipal tariffs.
The ANC-led eThekwini council passed its budget including the 4% increase, which was opposed by the DA, at the end of May.
The move came despite warnings by eThekwini chief financial officer Krish Kumar, at a webinar with business last month, that the city would have only six days cash in hand at the end of June and was unlikely to be able to meet its salary bill.
Kumar told the webinar that the city was considering increasing its overdraft by R1.5-billion to accommodate the loss in revenue. Apart from receiving only 56% of the revenue it usually got from ratepayers and residents, the city had also been forced to allocate R587-million for Covid-19 relief.
DA eThekwini caucus chairperson Nicole Graham said they had decided to oppose accepting the increase because of the effect of the Covid-19 lockdown on the city’s finances. The budget, she said, needed to prioritise dealing with the effect of the pandemic on eThekwini’s economy, but this had not been done.
She said the DA’s lawyers have served the city with notice of the party’s intention to challenge the legality of the council meeting, held virtually on Microsoft Teams, because she was repeatedly muted when she tried to address the budget meeting.
The social media links set up to facilitate public participation in the meeting had also failed and were abandoned.
Graham said it did not make sense to increase salaries when the city was running out of money. “We opposed the salary increase for councillors because, while it only amounts to around R1.5-million a year, it still has an impact. The people we represent are facing huge economic hardship. It is immoral for us to be rewarding ourselves while the people we claim to represent are suffering.”
City spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela referred the Mail & Guardian to Mluleki Mntungwa, the spokesperson for speaker Weziwe Thusi. None had responded to queries at the time of publication.