Durban - Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s and President Jacob Zuma’s recent calls for tighter austerity measures from government departments and municipalities, because of a tough economic climate, appear to have fallen on deaf ears in the eThekwini Municipality.
The municipality is about to splurge about R160 000 sending a large delegation on a three-day cruise to Portuguese Island, Mozambique. The delegation will sail on the luxurious MSC Sinfonia at the weekend.
Forty councillors in the city’s economic development and planning committee – and an unconfirmed number of officials – have been invited on the “cruise conference”.
The municipality has defended the excursion, saying the conference at sea is critical for the city’s cruise industry.
However the DA, which has nine councillors in the economic committee, has said it will boycott the trip as it is a “free holiday”.
The trip also coincides with the Independent Electoral Commission’s voter registration weekend for this year’s local government elections.
Speaker Logie Naidoo’s office was yet to finalise the number of councillors attending, but The Mercury understands that all councillors in the economic development and planning committee have been invited.
City spokeswoman Tozi Mthethwa said: “Due consideration had been taken of the cost and a cost comparison was done.
“It should be noted that the cost per person is in comparison to the total cost of municipal representatives travelling to Johannesburg to attend a conference for the day,” she said.
The trip was geared towards boosting “the city’s flailing cruise industry visitor numbers and to facilitating enterprise development and job creation”, she explained.
The venture is a collaboration between the eThekwini Maritime Cluster, the municipality and Tourism KwaZulu-Natal, all of them government entities.
Last month Zuma indicated that the government would curtail overseas trips, spending on catering and conferences, and lavish dinners.
A DA councillor in the committee, Nicole Graham, described the conference as a thinly veiled junket.
“Whilst we understand the need to focus on the maritime industry in Durban, this can easily be done without a free holiday and in a way that actually addresses the issues.”
She cited the municipality's “state of absolute dysfunction” as her party’s main reason for snubbing the getaway.
“This money could and should be used to address that. If any councillor wants to go on a cruise, they should use the salary that they earn and pay for it themselves,” she said.
The IFP's Mdu Nkosi said he would not comment on the matter as it not been tabled before any committee.
MF councillor Patrick Pillay said he was “appalled at the suggestion of the lavish outing”.
He said the move was a “slap in the face of the austerity measures” proposed by Gordhan in the midst of the economic slump.
“It’s about time the municipality wakes up to Treasury’s alarm bells,” he said.
At time of publication the city had not indicated whether the conference had been tabled before a municipal committee.
The conference is a culmination of the inaugural Durban Maritime Summit in Durban last week.
It will look at the background to the cruise industry and how it forms part of initiatives to transform the city into a smart port city as explored during the summit.
The team of delegates is expected to be led by deputy mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala, who is also chairwoman of the economic development and planning committee.
Shabalala said the conference would discuss the proposed new cruise terminal and how it would “interface” with Durban’s Point Waterfront, “how the cruise industry is changing and what Durban needs to do to grow its cruise market share”.