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Cape Town - The value of the City of Cape Town’s overseas trips has come under scrutiny after councillors objected to plans to spend more than a R1 million on sending delegates to the Chelsea Flower Show in London next year.
Mayor Patricia de Lille said in her speech to the council last week that spending on overseas trips had been cut by almost two thirds in the past financial year.
Mayoral spokesman Solly Malatsi said the city spent a “modest” R2 657 145 on travel last year and that this would have been close to R8 million had it not been for various cost-saving measures.
The mayor had also rejected, on average, half of the trips requested in an effort to save money.
But councillors have questioned sending a team of five from the city to spend 14 days in the UK, marketing Cape Town’s flora, when the money could be used for critical projects.
“That R1 million could be better utilised elsewhere,” said Yagyah Adams of the Cape Muslim Party. “They want to go to London to market flowers yet we are doing nothing for the flower sellers of Cape Town.” It would not be prudent for the city to attend at ratepayers’ expense, he added.
Rhoda-Ann Bazier of the ANC said the money would be better spent on improving service delivery in the city’s many informal settlements. A lot of money was being spent on other overseas trips too, she said.
The ANC and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) said the city could partner with Kirstenbosch to do a local flower show, without spending money on a trip to London.
ACDP councillor Demetrius Dudley said the city should rather allocate the money to creating safe playgrounds and parks. “How can this request by justified and how will it make a long-term difference in the lives of disadvantaged citizens who need change and assistance now?”
He also questioned the mayor’s refusal to send a delegation on a study tour of desalination schemes in Australia this month.
Belinda Walker, mayoral committee member for community services, defended the spend, saying it was a “drop in the ocean” compared with the public relations value. The visit would have many benefits, including raising Cape Town’s profile internationally and the opportunity to gain experience in how to host a world-class show.
“We have huge potential to host our own flower show.”
De Lille has just returned from a trip to the US, which included visits to Washington, New York and Miami. Senior councillors and officials accompanied De Lille on the trip, which cost the council R594 316.
De Lille explained that the trip, which was to attract new business, included the signing of a co-operation agreement with Miami Dade County. This had opened the door for further discussions about a direct flight from Cape Town to Miami.
“A direct flight could create an access point for 39 markets,” she explained.
“Even though we are one of the world’s greatest tourism destinations, we could have even greater tourism revenue if we are able to re-establish a direct link between the North American market and Cape Town.”
Earlier this year, she said that there would be “no more trips for the sake of trips”.
The city council has a travel management policy that states that international travel is only for portfolio-specific work and will mostly be limited to mayoral committee members. Officials only accompany councillors if additional support is needed.