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After splashing out on laptops for eThekwini’s 206 councillors so that agendas could be e-mailed and printing costs cut, the municipality is still paying more than R1.4 million a year to contractors to hand deliver the documents.
Eight contractors were awarded tenders last October, all for the delivery of municipal agendas and minutes before weekly and monthly meetings. Each contract is worth R176 000 a year.
However, these important documents are often delivered late, after meetings or sometimes not at all, councillors say.
Minority Front councillor Patrick Pillay said that some of his fellow councillors complained on many occasions that their agendas were delivered late or sometimes after the meeting.
“I have been affected by this myself and it is very frustrating, because we need the agendas to prepare,” he said.
About five years ago, each councillor was given a laptop for the e-mailing of electronic copies of the agendas, but this had never happened, Pillay said.
“Having it sent electronically would not only save costs, but it would also ensure that we got our agendas on time. They should reduce the number of contractors so we can save money,” he said.
National Freedom Party councillor Shaik Emam said the system would work better if each councillor picked up their own agendas, because they all spent a lot of time at city hall.
If a councillor claimed they couldn’t make it, it meant that they were not doing their job, he said.
“We always pick up our other documents, it’s just the agendas that are delivered and they are not always on time. If we picked them up ourselves, it would make life easier, because councillors complain all the time about the late arrival of the agendas,” he said.
Emam said they had filled in forms to start computer training, as some councillors were not proficient at using their laptops, but that the training process never got off the ground.
“There is no need for contractors because, how they operate is a complete mess. How are you supposed to prepare for a meeting when the agenda comes after your meeting has taken place?” he asked.
Councillor Mdu Nkosi of the IFP said he also felt there was no need for agendas to be delivered.
“We are still waiting for our computer training because some councillors don’t even know how to check e-mails,” he said.
DA councillor Heinz de Boer said the issue of agendas was a “disaster”.
“We have raised this issue many times before and unfortunately it has not been sorted out… We only get the electronic version if we request it,” he said.
De Boer said it was time the city moved towards being paperless.
“This would save money and councillors would get their agendas on time, also giving them time to do research on items they might want to debate,” he said.
In October, during his medium-term budget policy statement, Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan highlighted the need for financial discipline and announced that the government planned to slash perks for all officials, from ministers to mayors. It hoped to save more than R2 billion in the process, he said.
The city’s head of communications, Tozi Mthethwa, said, as far as she knew, all councillors had been trained on the basic use of laptops.
Mthethwa said the municipality would start a consultation process with councillors to implement the proposal for agendas to be delivered electronically.