Accusations of Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba standing naked in the eyes of residents, potholes and the Titanic ship were the order of the day at Tuesday's 2018/19 budget debate.
ANC councillor Geoff Makhubo pitted his wits against MMC for finance Funzela Ngobeni in an eloquent and humorous exchange over the city's multibillion-rand budget.
Although the budget was eventually approved, Makhubo likened Mashaba to the emperor in Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes, where two weavers promise to provide a set of new clothes for the emperor, which they convince everyone around are there, but invisible, while he stands naked.
Makhubo said the mayor was being deceived by officials scared of being fired about the city's true financial situation.
“The emperor is naked before us. He has been exposed and is standing naked before us as he is taking the city backwards financially,” he said.
He also likened the city’s budget as a “journey of the Titanic ship”.
“Despite numerous warnings, like the ship which sank when it crashed into an iceberg, the city is continuing with its backward slide and there will be more deaths than casualties.”
He accused the city of borrowing money “too fast” against future income which was not guaranteed, adding that it was heading into “one of the huge potholes the city is famous for”.
Makhubo also challenged the DA on the billing system, which had resulted in many residents receiving incorrect invoices.
In retaliation, Ngobeni said it was Makhubo who was naked. “He was at the helm of the city's finances for two years,” he said.
“It has been confirmed by National Treasury, which approved our budget, which was drawn up in consultation with all our coalition partners. We have enough assets and cash to cover our liabilities,” Ngobeni said.
The huge backlog in housing and the upgrading of informal settlements had arisen because the ANC had failed to deliver services and maintenance to existing infrastructure and that was why they were sitting in opposition, he said.
“Yes, we have a huge infrastructure backlog. The former ANC leadership only spent 2% on maintenance of existing infrastructure, whereas the National Treasury requires 10% to be spent. We are currently standing at 6%,” he said.
Ngobeni added that the increases in water (which rises by 14.2%) and electricity (to 7.3%) were necessary because of tariff increases imposed by Rand Water and the National Electricity Regulator of SA.
“We unfortunately cannot cover these expenses as a city. We have a large database of indigent people who receive free quotas but those who can pay will have to pay. Water shortages are going to be a problem going forward and the cost of getting water here from Lesotho is very expensive.”
The EFF opposed the tariff increases, but supported the budget, saying it could not approve the tariff increases which would affect the poor.
EFF councillor Shaun Dlanjwa said: “We categorically, unashamedly and unreservedly reject the tariffs.”
He called for a revised budget, saying the party was demanding the expropriation of land without compensation.
The 2018/19 financial year, starting on July 1, will see tariff increases ranging from zero to 14.2%. The refuse tariff goes up by 6.8%.
All increases are dependent on the size of the property and usage, meaning the more people use, the more they will pay.
There will be no property rates increases because, on average, prices increased by 18% earlier this year with the announcement of the new property valuation roll.
The capital budget is R7.8bn, of which R4.7bn will be self-funded, while R3.1bn will come from grants and public contributions.