Comfort Khumalo, the mayor of Big Five Hlabisa Municipality, in the north of KwaZulu-Natal.
Comfort Khumalo, the mayor of Big Five Hlabisa Municipality, in the north of KwaZulu-Natal.

Merging rural municipalities puts strain on wage bills due to bloated staff complement

By Siboniso Mngadi Time of article published May 5, 2021

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THE merger of rural municipalities is putting a severe strain on municipal wage bills due to a bloated staff which hampers service delivery.

This was a challenge raised by Comfort Khumalo, the mayor of Big Five Hlabisa Municipality, in the north of KwaZulu-Natal.

Khumalo is on the verge of completing his first term.

The municipality was formed after the previous local elections by the merging of the then The Big 5 False Bay and Hlabisa local municipalities.

The council, which is predominantly rural with thriving tourism attractions such as Isimangaliso Wetland and Umfolozi Big Five Nature reserve among others, has an annual budget of R95 million.

However, Khumalo said the municipality was battling to provide adequate services to its residents due to financial constraints.

He said after the merger of two municipalities the wage bill ballooned and the chunk of the budgets was going towards paying salaries.

“We have a challenge with paying salaries, the merger led to bloated staff. About 52% of our budget goes to paying salaries, we have taken a decision that we will no longer hire new people unless it is a critical post. We are on 52% while the threshold is at least 45% according to the co-operative government department, which is very huge. On top of that, the municipality is owed R50m by the government, private business and residents,” he said.

Khumalo pleaded with customers and the government to pay their outstanding debts, saying the municipality relied solely on government grants for survival.

He said this has put them on the back foot of service delivery which could cripple the thriving tourism sector.

Senzelwa Mzila, spokesperson for the KZN Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs which monitors municipalities, said only the demarcation board can intervene on the budget issues. He said the board applied its formulas and feasibility studies before deciding on the merger.

The board was not available for comment at the time of publication.

Sunday Tribune

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