Durban - The eThekwini Municipality’s proposed
2020/21 budget is an insult to its citizens and displays a lack of empathy for
the poor, ratepayers’ associations said.
The budget, which is open for public comment until May 8, seeks to increase electricity by 6.9%, water by 9.9%, and sewerage and refuse by 9.9%.
Another proposal that had ratepayers hot under the collar is the proposed increase of councillors’ and municipal officials’ salaries.
Currently, the mayor earns R1504549, his deputy R1223588, the Speaker R1716581, and the chief whip R1155174.
The city manager and chief financial officer earn R3986736 and R3316272, respectively.
Mayoral spokesperson Mluleki Mntungwa said the proposed salary increases would be in line with a provision for a CPI increase, which is currently 4.5%.
However, Bluff Ratepayers’ Association chairperson Ivor Aylward said this was “very insensitive”.
“This month has been very difficult for all those in the private sector, and it’s not clear when things will go back to normal. For councillors to be plotting salary increases and tariff hikes is a no-no. What are they getting salary increases for? The entire country is in crisis, they should be focusing on how to minimise the pressure on ratepayers, and increasing rates and their salaries is not the way to go,” he said.
As a means of cushioning the impact of the national lockdown, President Cyrl Ramaposa on Thursday announced that the entire Cabinet would take a 33% salary cut and that these funds would be added to the Solidarity Fund.
Pravin Ram, the secretary of the Asherville Ratepayers' Association, said the increase in tariffs and city officials’ salaries went against the national spirit of austerity.
“EThekwini officials ought to align themselves with the national objectives aimed at easing the burden on citizens. Such increases will only increase non-payment (of rates). If those municipal officials can take a little cut (in salaries), the poor would see that they have a sense of empathy,” Ram said.
The Outer West Ratepayers' Association said it was insensitive of city officials to be talking tariff and salary increases given the economic situation.
The focus should be on ensuring that every citizen was safe and adhered to the lockdown regulations, the association’s Tony Clothier said.
“We all should be heeding the president’s call for pay cuts to contribute to the Solidarity Fund. They want more money from us to increase their own salaries - that’s not acceptable, it’s unethical. Employers can’t pay their employees, let alone increase their salaries. Where will the people get money for increased tariffs under the current circumstances? These officials should be coming up with ways to rescue taxpayers,” Clothier said.
The city’s consolidated draft budget for the 2020/21 financial year is R52.3billion.
In a statement, the city said the budget consisted of a capital budget, of about R6.9bn, and an operating budget of R45.4bn.
“Considering the current challenges, the drafting of the budget was severely restricted. Tariff increases have been substantially decreased from the MTREF projections. Major efforts have been put in place to ensure realistic and affordable tariff increases. No electricity disconnections will be undertaken during the period of the lockdown. No interest will be charged on arrears incurred during the period of the lockdown. The deadline for the submission of rates rebate applications will be extended to May 31, 2020. However, with only 60 days’ cash reserves on hand, the municipality is dependent on income from rates and services to ensure uninterrupted service delivery and thus appeals to those who can pay for services to continue to do so,” reads the statement.
The IFP’s Mdu Nkosi said the tariff increase in this period was “madness” on the part of the municipality.
“Many people in the private sector are jobless, as we speak, due to the lockdown. Only government employees will be able to pay increased tariffs, so the increase is a bad move. As for the salary increment, that is out of the municipality’s control; it is determined by the minister,” Nkosi said.