‘Hoodwinked’

Misgivings expressed in council over the legitimacy of adjustment budget

CONFUSION, followed by a hasty turnaround by ANC councillors, prevented the Ndlambe municipal adjustment budget from being approved at the special council meeting, held at the council chambers on Monday.

“The council is being hoodwinked,” declared DA caucus leader Ray Schenk, who holds the finance portfolio – appointed to that post when he and the mayor, Phindile Faxi, swapped portfolios in December last year. Up until that point Schenk was responsible for the corporate services directorate.

“Is there something sinister here?” asked Schenk. “Is someone hiding something from us?”

Only the first part of the adjustment budget was issued before the meeting, and two other addenda were issued just before Monday’s meeting began, preventing councillors and the public from commenting on a considerable portion of the proposed document.

Each year the municipality compiles a budget to serve for the entire year, and this is monitored and adjusted throughout the year. Monies allocated to certain projects may run over budget and others under, so the budget is adjusted to cater for over- and under-runs.

Schenk asked why the budget report was so flawed, and why no explanations were given for certain adjustments, and in many of the items adjusted the figures simply did not add up.

Having asked speaker Vivian Maphaphu for the indulgence of the council, Schenk proceeded with a litany of errors appearing in the report.

Schenk questioned items such as vehicle registration and licensing which increased from R49 000 to R79 000 although the justification was that, “There was less expenditure on motor vehicles and registrations than was anticipated”. Schenk wanted to know how less could mean an upwards adjustment to the figures.

Although R131 000 was originally budgeted for casuals at the now defunct Essential Oils project, this figure was not withdrawn but reduced by R51 000. Schenk asked why any money was being spent on a failed project. The explanation for the adjustment also stated that the municipality had under-budgeted and therefore needed to be adjusted upward, entirely contrary to what was actually proposed.

As for the proposed chicory project, the budget was reduced by R50 000 from R70 000 to R20 000, but the explanation stated that no equipment had yet been purchased.

With respect to local economic development (LED), the chicory project budget for casuals, personnel and labour was increased by R191 250, from R125 000 to R316 250. Schenk wanted to know where was the profit from this project and why they were increasing personnel when the project was producing nothing.

Consumables for vehicles was adjusted from R240 000 to R340 000 (R100 000 increase), with the explanation that the fleet was being utilised for other services.

Schenk wanted to know why so many meetings had been catered for. “The war rooms seem to have lunch provided to them,” he said. “I have a war room in my ward (Schenk is also councillor for Ward 10) but we do not provide lunches.”

There were also many items where no reason was given as to the adjustment, but still tens of thousands of rand were being moved. There were also items that did not seem to be related to the projects and tasks they were assigned to. The telemetry budget of R407 270 was reduced by R87 242 to R320 028, but Schenk asked what telemetry had to do with the housing project against it was allocated.

In reply, ANC chief whip Andile Marasi initially said that the budget should be approved and then corrected later.

DA PR councillor and former ANC councillor Skura Venene pointed out that such a move would be against the procedures for municipalities, and that the report cannot be approved in its current form before all the mistakes were corrected.

As municipal manager Rolly Dumezweni was not present at the meeting, and Faxi was also in-and-out of the meeting (as he was attending another meeting at the same time), no one present was able to give a satisfactory explanation as to what had gone wrong during the report compilation process. Even finance director Michael Klaas, who stood in for the municipal manager, was not able to offer much of an explanation as to what had gone wrong.

“The municipal manager is overall responsible for the budget,” continued Venene. “He is responsible for the inaccuracies. We must jack-up these reports and abide by the law.”

After debate between the parties Marasi asked for a short recess in the proceedings so he could speak with the ANC caucus and establish what should be done. According to the Municipal Finance Management Act this adjustment budget needed to be submitted to the Auditor General’s office by the end of the month (February 28).

On returning, Marasi agreed to withdraw his proposal to approve the adjustment budget and asked that the council hold a special sitting on Wednesday to go through the budget item by item and fix it before sending it to the AG’s office.

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