/ 16 April 2024

Judgment in favour of MBDA a victory for service delivery

Bugs 6

The court victory awarded by the Gqeberha High Court in favour of the MBDA for the urgent release of unlawfully withheld funds to the entity is a victory for service delivery. Unfortunately, once again, the citizens of the Metro must bear the financial cost, but even more severe are the development opportunities lost over the nine-month stand-off.

When I was appointed on 22 June 2023, this entity had already been hard at work reinventing itself into a dynamic, sustainable and agile development agency to spearhead some of the long stalled catalytic projects, to turn around the degradation of Central and turn the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium into a commercially attractive operation, but all of that was scuppered by political interference and unlawful actions, which have now been confirmed by the High Court.

The five-year plan, adopted by the board in May 2023 and subsequently adopted in the NMBM IDP, provided a solution to the CBDs of the Metro, especially Central Gqeberha. As a sustainability measure, the institution was positioning itself to deliver project management services to other spheres of government to fast-track service delivery to where it is needed the most. High on the strategy agenda was the reinvigoration of stalled catalytic programmes such as the International Convention Centre, Bayworld, Waterfront and North End Lake. All this good work was sabotaged by political interference and mischief, leading to higher structures of government being ill-advised, and that set the chain for the withholding of funds, all because of a recruitment dispute. As the court has found, there was no legal basis for such unilateral action that put livelihoods – not just of the MBDA staff, but those of SMMEs, service providers and key projects – at risk. The order was clear, that the MBDA grants be paid immediately, and this has since been actioned.

The judgment came at huge cost to the entity, with nine months of anxiety and low staff morale, stalling progress at key project sites due to cashflow, the cost escalations as a result, and the reputational damage caused to the MBDA that will take years to repair. With all the above, we stand, and we are not just standing, we are moving ahead with speed. This organisation, its people and leadership have demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity.

The events of the past nine months must teach all a lesson, and that is to respect the rule of law. Second, the costs order must be a warning to anyone else who thinks they can manipulate the system to settle personal scores and must be made to pay personally. With the dust settling, we are more determined to see through the implementation of our strategic plan and we have been out engaging critical role players.

In the past week, we have reached out to our MOU partner, the Central SRA, to discuss immediate actions to deal with the rot in Central. Our specialised security provider is busy putting together an integrated people-technology-armed response plan to tackle hotspots in Central and the CBD. We have already reinstated security personnel in key hotspots and specific assets within the CBD to boost security visibility.

Over and above dealing with the regrettable decisions of 2016 that did away with what was an effective K-9 security programme in Central, we must also now deal with the gap created by the withholding of funds that saw the criminal element step back in, stripping our heritage and rampant vandalism. With the commitment of our partners, Central will be clean and safe again by year-end.

In re-igniting stalled catalytic programmes, in March, we engaged with a team from Transnet Properties to unlock the long-awaited Waterfront project. All we are prepared to say for now is that our teams have gone back to the drawing board, and there will be wider stakeholder conversations to determine the way forward that responds to current maritime and economic imperatives.

The Bayworld programme is moving; in December 2023, we started the demolition of structures, a R20 million project to make way for a future revamp of the Oceanarium. Also, in the same month, we hosted a successful Investment Roadshow to unpack this opportunity. Work is currently under way to package an expression of interest for the market, with the key focus being the delivery of a world-class International Convention Centre in return for the prized land opportunity. We will not prescribe; the market will decide on what kind of offers to make, but the shareholder will decide what is a social and economic trade-off for the citizens of the Bay. We are excited about this initiative, which we intend on completing before the end of this financial year.

With the challenges we faced, having received a full year’s worth of funding with just three months left, we are still determined to deliver. Some of the ongoing projects include the Baakens Zipline, revamp of the Sheds in Kariega, extension of the Baakens Parkway, and the completion of the R50 million Moore Dyke sports complex. For the MBDA to thrive, it requires a stable operating environment and a long-term focused visionary city leadership. We trust that post 29 May, all hands will be on deck, because the Bay cannot afford to lose another year.