Finance portfolio albatross

The politics of majoritarian triumphalism were evident at the inauguration of the new Ndlambe council on Tuesday November 23.

Despite the platitudes of service delivery over politics by new council speaker Andile Marasi – one of the old guard from the previous council – the ANC immediately set about using its majority to take its preferred executive committee portfolios and force the DA to take the unwanted finance portfolio.

The finance portfolio is probably the most difficult portfolio to handle, because it requires some maths and accounting skill, as well as knowledge of municipal financial management legislation and things the auditor general will look out for.

It has become a hot potato because however unfair it might be, the decisions of the municipality in terms of unpopular rates hikes and service charges, as well as irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, are projected onto the holder of the council portfolio and the party he or she represents.

This was discovered the hard way by former Ward 10 and DA councillor Ray Schenk and his predecessor Ross Purdon.

One year when the final budget was being tabled, Purdon stood up to express the DA’s opposition to the rates increase as unaffordable to most residents, many of whom are pensioners.

The ANC caucus shouted and laughed at Purdon, and former mayor Sipho Tandani accused him of “grandstanding” at the 11th hour, reminding Purdon that as finance portfolio holder, he was party to the decisions made by the finance committee.

More recently, when the DA presented a motion to council to scrap the water availability charge until there was a regular supply of quality water to residents, Schenk was accused of actually being party to the introduction of the water availability charge, which is patently absurd, as it had existed long before he became a councillor.

The motion itself was called illegal and unconstitutional, which is also ridiculous.

However, the DA was reminded once again that the finance portfolio can be an albatross around their neck.

However valiantly Schenk may have fought to keep rates and service charge increases down, and his achievements in this area, being holder of the portfolio can easily be used as a cudgel against you.

Five years ago, when Schenk started his second term, this writer learned that his caucus had appealed to him not to take the finance portfolio, but he did anyway, at the request of then mayor Phindile Faxi.

Now that the DA was resolved not to take the portfolio, they couldn’t escape it. Readers should bear in mind what has taken place and who has ultimate responsibility.

– Jon Houzet