Durban - ADMINISTRATOR Sibusiso Sithole has put together a comprehensive rescue plan to turn around the fortunes of the beleaguered Msunduzi Municipality.
The plan, which came about after widespread consultation, places special focus on stabilising the leadership, and improving service delivery and revenue collection.
In an exclusive interview with The Mercury last week, Sithole said he had completed his 100-page diagnostic report on why the municipality was in such a predicament. He has also drafted a 10-page turnaround strategy, focusing on what has to be done to stabilise the troubled municipality.
Both documents, compiled after extensive interviews with political parties and business and community organisations, are expected to be tabled before council in the coming days.
Sithole refused to reveal the full details of the rescue plan, saying it would only be made public after it was tabled before council.
However, he was prepared to share snippets of the plan with The Mercury.
Chief among the areas of focus are finance, governance and strengthening of oversight. The municipality was placed under administration a few months ago, after it had collapsed to the extent that it was failing to collect refuse in the city centre.
“Before we can attempt to do complex projects, the first step is to get the basics right. At the moment we’re not getting the basics rights. Simple things like the general cleanliness of the city.
“There was a time when we didn’t even cut the grass. I’m happy that we have started doing that again,” he said.
Sithole said a top priority was bringing about institutional stability.
“If you identify priorities, one is to stabilise the governance part of the municipality - in other words, ensuring that meetings take place on time, that there are no outstanding matters that haven’t been attended to for too long without a cogent explanation.
“Also, ensuring that councillors understand their role as oversight people. When they’re presented with reports, they must robustly engage with reports, instead of just noting them. Sometimes they note reports that are very serious, and require robust discussions in order to take decisions that are proper.
“We need to look at institutional instability - we have too many vacancies in the organisation. If you have a general infrastructure manager position vacant, that has to be filled,” said Sithole.
He said not filling positions had a ripple effect, in that people were pulled from their positions to act, creating a situation where many people were acting.
Sithole, the former Durban municipal boss, said that when he left Msunduzi after his first stint as administrator, he facilitated a smooth handover by ensuring that a municipal manager was appointed before he left.
He said at the moment, Msunduzi was facing a serious challenge with revenue, adding that it was not collecting the amount of money a municipality of its size should be collecting.
The Mercury understands that while the municipality has fewer creditors, it has a deficit of around R200million. Its reserves are almost exhausted, as they cover only a month and a half.
It is also owed around R3billion in rates, by businesses and households.
Sithole said that as part of the recovery plan, he would propose that the council reduce the time period ratepayers have to settle their municipal accounts.
“Let me make a simple example. If you (a ratepayer) use electricity in December, we send you an account in January to say you must pay by January31.
“That’s where our problem is, because, by that time the municipality has already paid Eskom - it must pay within 14 days.”
He said by the time ratepayers settled their December bills, they already owed money for January usage.
“We have to shorten this period,” said Sithole.
He said the municipality was also working to address water challenges that had affected thousands of people in the Vulindlela area and led to violent protests. He said a cash injection of about R500m, over the next few years, would be needed to address this.
Sithole also bemoaned the current electricity supply challenges, saying supply was unstable and erratic.
Sithole said his plans talked to the future of what Pietermaritzburg should strive for, including the implementation of its “bad building project”.
The initiative is about taking over the many derelict buildings with absent landlords. He said as part of its future, Msunduzi needed to start developing priority areas that would be the centrepiece of the city.
“What I see is that this area around the Pietermaritburg City Hall, going up to West street, Burger street, Pietermaritz and Boshoff streets, should be developed as a priority precinct, where there is law enforcement, a clean environment and services that are paid for.
“Pietermaritzburg is too big to develop all of it at the same time, so we have to approach this in stages,” Sithole said.