Kouga Mayor delivers maiden State of the Municipality - water and debt major issues
The Kouga Local Municipality has one more month in, which to fight off further tariff increases from the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and is calling on every man, woman and child to help save water. This was the message from Kouga Local Municipality Executive Mayor, Elza van Lingen, during her State of the Municipality Address on Tuesday.
"Kouga is a water-scarce area and the Council recently had to make the difficult decision to impose water restrictions and punitive penalties," the Mayor told councillors and invited guests.
"One of the challenges is that Kouga receives the bulk of its water for domestic use from the Nelson Mandela Metro, which manages the dams. Dam levels have been dropping at an alarming rate and the Metro has introduced water restrictions in their area of jurisdiction."
The Executive Mayor said that last week, the Metro issued a warning that less than 500 days’ supply of water remained if usage trends continue as they are now. The Kouga Local Municipality has been mandated by the Metro to decrease its water usage by 15% by the end of March.
"If we don’t achieve this saving, the price of water is set to increase. If this happens, Council will have no choice but to increase the tariffs that residents pay as well. We would like to thank our residents and businesses for their efforts thus far in cutting back on water usage. Our latest water readings, for the period January/February, showed a decrease of more than 16% compared to the previous year’s consumption. We now need to sustain and even improve on this," she described.
Mayor van Lingen said that the Kouga Local Municipality also needs to address its dependency on the Metro for water.
"We will, therefore, be looking at developing alternative water sources such as desalination plants. We would like to assure residents of upper Wavecrest that we are addressing the occurrence of brown water," she said.
"A flocculation channel is being built at the Jeffreys Bay Water Treatment Works and while this won’t necessarily solve the problem completely, our engineers are confident it will improve matters."
Concerning waste water, the Mayor said that the municipality is very grateful that it has been able to keep sewer spillages to a minimum over the Festive Season.
"Monitoring, maintaining and expanding Kouga’s waste water infrastructure is of great importance, especially given the continued influx of people to the area.
"A Sewer Master Plan has been approved by Council for Humansdorp," she said.
"The draft Basic Environmental Assessment Report for the upgrading and expansion of the St Francis Bay Waste Water Treatment Works has also been completed and will be submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs as soon as the public participation process has been completed.
"We will also be upgrading the Cormorant Pump Station at Aston Bay as part of an ongoing programme to upgrade pump stations."
Forward-Planning and Inclusivity
“One of the guarantees I would like to give residents today, is that we will always include you in our planning and budgeting processes,” said Mayor van Lingen.
“We are currently compiling a new five-year Integrated Development Plan (IDP). Public consultation took place in all wards last year and a second round of community meetings will be held in April once the draft IDP and draft budget for the 2017/2018 financial year have been finalised and adopted by Council.
“We would like to encourage residents to attend these meetings to be informed on the details of the IDP and budget. We want residents to feel free to give their input because an inclusive IDP is one of the cornerstones of a well-run municipality.”
She said that Ward committees - the legislated platform for public participation - have been elected in all 15 wards and have received training.
“There have been some teething problems, but our Speaker has been working closely with ward councillors to identify and resolve problems so that the committees can function optimally in all wards.”
The Mayor also said that the municipality has also started drawing up a longer-term plan for the area; a plan that we are calling “Kouga Vision 2030”.
“We are very excited about this project which, we believe, has the potential to lift the spirit of our communities, renew investor confidence and facilitate economic growth and job creation in our region,” she said.
“All sectors and communities will be requested to contribute to the plan and to share their vision and dreams for the area. “Kouga Vision 2030” will map out where we, as a collective, want to see Kouga in 10 to 15 years’ time and what we need to do achieve this vision.
“The Council has already made institutional changes to herald in the arrival of a new era. A new logo has been adopted for the municipality, as well as a new vision, mission and value statement.”
She said that the Kouga Local Municipality has also spoken to staff about the municipality’s poor image and the need for all to work together to change people’s negative perceptions.
“Fruitful engagements have been held with organised labour - our unions - to resolve long-outstanding staff disputes which had resulted in demoralising the workforce and added to service delays,” she added..
“We are also heartened by the spirit of cooperation that we have seen from the unions and would like to thank them for being so willing to work with the new leadership to raise Kouga to new heights.
“We know we won’t always see eye to eye, but we are confident that together Council and staff will make our new vision for the municipality - “Good Governance through Service Excellence” – a reality.”
The Mayor said that critical vacancies must be filled and staff need to be capacitated to do their work effectively.
Financial Viability and Sustainability
“From a financial perspective, we can report that the cash flow of the municipality remains constrained, but we are satisfied that Kouga is a going concern and is in no immediate danger of becoming bankrupt,” the Mayor said.
“The outstanding debtors (money owed to the municipality) as at the end of December 2016 amounted to R147-million. Of particular concern is that R114-million of this debt is older than 120 days and will probably prove difficult to recover.”
She said that revenue enhancement is a critical area for the municipality and as such is receiving attention. The new General Valuation Roll is to be compiled and procurement is underway for the service provider.
“The outstanding creditors’ balance as at the end of December was R83-million, with creditors of less than 30 days totalling R34-million.
“It is a requirement that a municipality pays all its creditors within 30 days, something that has obviously not been happening in Kouga. The majority of creditors are government institutions such as the Department of Transport (R10-million), Eskom (R16-million; current account), and the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro (R46-million),” she added.
“The municipality received a significant bulk water bill from the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro in May 2016. According to the Metro, Kouga had been incorrectly billed from December 2012 to April 2016. We are currently in negotiations with the Metro regarding the matter, but are still required to include the amount in our creditors until the issue has been resolved.”
Mayor van Lingen said that the Kouga Local Municipality’s Public Accounts Committee (MPAC) has been established under the leadership of Cllr Atri Carstens and is currently dealing with the municipality’s 2015/2016 Annual Report, including the Auditor-General’s Report for the same year.
“While we are proud of our staff for obtaining an unqualified audit, we are concerned about the matters of emphasis raised by the AG, most notably asset management and performance management,” she said.
“The municipality’s Assets Register, specifically on the matter of municipal land, is in a mess and needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency. This is one of the reasons the previous Council struggled to implement its plan to raise revenue by alienating municipal land not necessary for the delivery of basic services.”
She said that there is also a massive backlog of land applications waiting to be processed. In order to fast-track processing, a Land Advisory Committee has been established.
“Much has already been said and written about the state of the municipality’s fleet. One of the reasons service delivery has slowly but surely been grinding to a halt over the years, is that municipal staff have not had vehicles with which to do their work,” she explained.
“To address this enormous challenge a five-year Fleet Replacement Plan is currently being finalised. Council will also be auctioning off redundant vehicles, the proceeds of which will be ploughed back into acquiring a new fleet.
“In the 2016/2017 Adjustments Budget, which was approved earlier this morning, we have already made provision for the procurement of an additional waste compactor truck and an additional mesh truck.”
Waste Management, Cleansing and Parks
The Mayor said that the refuse section of the municipality is a good example of the impact the condition of the fleet has had on service delivery.
“The municipality has nine refuse trucks to service the region but in the recent past only four have been operational. Not only does this lead to delays in refuse collection, it also increases overtime expenditure.
“The 2016/17 adjustment budget was passed without a hitch by the Kouga Local Municipality Council yesterday morning.”
She said that a municipal budget has to be adjusted if revenue and expenditure estimates change and to correct any errors in the annual budget.
“The total adjustment budget amounts to R764 million, of which R 95 million is for the operating budget and R 8 million for the capital budget.”
The Mayor said the municipality also approved funding for new grass-cutting equipment in the Adjustment Budget so that our sidewalks and public open spaces, as well as cemeteries, can be better maintained.
“The condition of our cemeteries is shocking and cleaning them up will be a priority in the coming year. We are also in the process of identifying land for the establishment of new cemeteries.
“We are happy to report that the R25-million upgrade of the landfill sites at Humansdorp and Hankey has finally been completed. The project was officially handed over to the municipality by the Department of Environmental Affairs earlier this month,” she said.
“The drop-off zone at Jeffreys Bay has been completed and a temporary site has been set up for garden refuse at St Francis Bay. The upgrade of the Oyster Bay mini transfer station is underway, with Patensie next on the list for a drop-off zone.”
Mayor van Lingen said that a well maintained road infrastructure is a sign of a well-run municipality.
“Unfortunately poor road conditions have been the order of the day across Kouga for many years,” she said.
“Temporary teams were employed to help fix the worse of the potholes along busy roads ahead of the recent Festive Season, but there is no quick fix to the problem as a whole. Many roads were badly constructed and to add to the problem were also badly maintained.
“We are currently finalising a new maintenance plan for both our gravel and tar roads and will be monitoring progress closely,” she said.
“Ideally, we would like to build up a big enough revenue base to ensure enough money is available to surface at least one kilometre of road per ward per year.
“Given current financial constraints, however, our immediate aim for the 2017/2018 financial year is 1km of road.”
The Mayor said that as part of the municipality’s roads programme, they were also exploring labour-intensive methods of surfacing and repairing roads.
“This will assist us in determining to what extent the programme can be used to facilitate skills development and job creation.”
The Mayor said the electrification of 190 erven at Donkerhoek and the upgrade of the main 22kv electrical line to the area will commence shortly.
“The contract, worth R6-million, was recently awarded and the appointment of the contractor is being finalised.
“We can also report that the registration of servitudes for the construction of an additional 66kv main power line to Jeffreys Bay is underway. The valuations have been completed and contracts signed with the landowners,” she said.
The Mayor said that over the past few years, there has been little to no movement on housing projects in the Kouga region.
“In my inaugural speech I promised residents that the new Council would hold the East Cape Department of Human Settlements to the commitments they made to Kouga before the election,” she described.
“In July 2016 Human Settlements MEC Helen Sauls-August held a public meeting at Jeffreys Bay to introduce the company that had been awarded the two-year contract to install internal services and build 220 houses at Pellsrus.
“It is now eight months later and the appointment of the contractor has yet to be finalised.”
Meanwhile, she said, the company that was awarded the contract by the Department for the Ocean View 1500 project has withdrawn, setting back the timeframe for the building of these houses yet again.
“The only housing project where dust can be seen, is Kruisfontein 391, where the internal services are being installed. Once this is complete and the list of beneficiaries has been finalised, the building of the top structures – the actual houses – will begin.
“There is however no clear timeframe as to when this will be, mainly because of delays in finalising the beneficiary list,” the Mayor said.
“The waiting list Kouga has been working from is so old that some of the people on it have already passed away, some have moved elsewhere and cannot be reached and some have managed to build their own houses and therefore no longer qualify for a housing subsidy in terms of legislation.
“There have also been delays in completing some of the bulk water and sewer projects that the Department undertook to fund to cater for other planned housing projects. The challenge here has been late payments by the Department of the claims submitted by the municipality. This has the knock on effect of late payments to contractors, causing undue stoppages, most notably at the Waste Water Treatment Works at Patensie where the contractor has abandoned the site and declared a dispute.”
She said that environmental authorisation has been obtained for housing projects at Hankey, Weston and Arcadia, but there are still many internal processes to be completed, mainly on the side of the Department.
“The formalisation of Stofwolk at Hankey is one of the projects we will be prioritising as part of the housing developments there. We will also be intensifying engagements with the national and provincial Department of Public Works regarding the informal settlements at Sea Vista which are situated on their land. This land needs to be transferred to the municipality so that the settlements can be formalised and services installed.
“We will continue monitoring progress on all housing projects and endeavour to build a close working relationship with the Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements.”
The Mayor said that she would like to go so far as to invite MEC Sauls-August to visit Kouga so that they can sign a joint pledge to fight against all forms of favouritism, fraud, corruption or incompetence, all of which delay the delivery of houses.
“There have been far too many false starts when it comes to housing projects in Kouga, especially in the run-up to elections. It is time politicians stopped using housing merely as an election ploy.”
Image: KOUGA SOMA: Municipal Manager Sidney Fadi, Speaker Horatio Hendricks, Mayor Elza van Lingen and Social Services portfolio councillor Danny Benson.
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