Durban — The Durban Marine Theme Park or DMTP (uShaka Marine World) board is expected to be brought before the eThekwini executive committee to explain why it deserves a grant of R160 million.
On Thursday, an eThekwini full council could approve the payment of R79 520 000, in four equal quarterly disbursements, for the work undertaken by the SA Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR); also the payment of R22 736 900 of the operating grant at the end of September this year, and R22 736 900 at the end of March next year.
The council will decide on approving the disbursement of funds on a reimbursable basis for R25m for capital projects and R10 006 200 for repairs and maintenance.
On Tuesday, a report was put to the exco by the economic development and planning unit, seeking authority for grant funding amounting to R160m for the 2022/2023 financial year. The DMTP is a municipal entity controlled by eThekwini Municipality which has 100% ownership of the entity and provides grant funding annually for its operations. The DMTP is located along the city's main beachfront and was conceived as part of the redevelopment of the waterfront in 2003. The objectives were to serve as a catalyst for urban renewal around the Point precinct and a strategic tourism facility for the City of Durban and KwaZulu-Natal.
The DMTP consists of Sea World, Wet N Wild; uShaka Kids World; Sea Animal Encounter Island; Dangerous Creatures; Village Walk retail mall; and in-house food and beverages shops.
The report said despite difficult trading conditions brought on by Covid-19, the entity had performed better than budgeted trading revenues for the 2021/22 financial year, and footfall.
The report stated that the DMTP entered into an indefinite agreement with the SAAMBR. The grant to the SAAMBR is paid on a quarterly basis. In the case of the capital grant for repairs and maintenance, it is paid on a reimbursable basis. Fifty percent of the operating grant will be paid by the end of September this year, and the balance at the end of March next year.
The unit recommended that the city should take cognisance of the DMTP operating on or close to a breakeven level, confirming its commitment to ensuring the future financial viability of the DMTP and more specifically to meet any funding shortfalls that may compromise the DMTP to continue trading as a going concern.
The DA’s eThekwini exco leader, councillor Nicole Graham, said the feasibility of the entity needed to be interrogated more thoroughly. She said that in 2019 a decision was taken that there would be a feasibility study on the long-term viability of uShaka.
“My concern is that we are spending R160 million on a public entity that still has not been able to produce a feasibility study. The tender for the feasibility study went out in March. Is it fair for ratepayers to bankroll uShaka? Why has it taken the entity three years to produce a feasibility study?”
In response to the questions on the study, the head of economic development Shunnon Tulsiram told the exco that a service provider had been appointed and the work had progressed to a level where the study was now indicating that there were a number of options available for the municipality together with the board to consider.
eThekwini Municipality chief financial officer Sandile Mnguni said: “The next budget cycle will be informed by the feasibility study which is currently being concluded. The report should come to the council before the end of December.”
eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said the board must be given a chance to explain itself and would be brought to an exco meeting soon.