PLETTENBERG BAY NEWS - Bitou Municipality has come under fire for its financial management after recent council meetings and reports revealed, among others, that the town’s debt is currently standing in the hundreds of millions and Covid-19 relief was seemingly spent on “staff bonuses”.
The Plettenberg Bay Ratepayers' Association (PBRA) has criticised the municipality for the way in which it has been handling debt, which the August financial reports revealed was R335,5-million, of which R248.7-million was older than 121 days.
“The contributors to this huge debt still remain household debt, which represents 96,9% of the total. Debt increased R7,3-million in August compared to July,” said PBRA chair Peter Gaylard.
The report indicates that 934 household accounts in Plettenberg Bay, excluding the suburbs, had their electricity disconnected in August due to non-payment. “Judging by what is being said on social media, that sounds plausible and it shouldn't be long before the entire central (sic) of Plettenberg Bay is in darkness.
"We believe this unprecedented number of people who normally always pay their bills and are now unable to do so, shows that the town's economy has been devastated. And if this is the case – in the areas that were better placed to cope with an economic downturn – the devastation of people's lives in the townships must be horrific,” Gaylard added.
Gaylard said on top of this, National Treasury allocated a grant of more than R17,3-million to Bitou to address Covid-related matters. “Council's choices on how to apply the money do not illustrate an understanding of the dire situation our town faces,” he said.
Gaylard explained that of the R17,3-million, R3,6-million was “creamed off the top” to pay 300 staff members an amount of R12 000 each.
“The municipal workers are the best paid and have the most secure jobs of anybody in Plett, and few of them have carried out tasks that have brought them into direct contact with Covid-infected individuals – not any more so than anybody in the community going about their daily business. They are the last people that the government should be giving extra money to. There are many people in our community who desperately need assistance to survive. This money is being taken from them.”
'Decanting of informal areas'
The report stated that just under R6-million was spent on “decanting of informal areas”. “This is not English and is meaningless," commented Gaylard. "The agenda does not say what is meant. We invite the councillors to tell us what it means. With the little information available to us it appears this is once again an overpriced service at a highly inflated price. We guess it means providing sanitising liquid.”
According to the adjustment budget a further R1,5-million was spent on protective wear and sanitising of employees and R1,5-million for the fogging exercise in Plett. The ratepayers are demanding details about who the contract was awarded to.
The association also criticised the municipality’s spending choices as per the supply chain management report between 1 July and 30 September. “Bitou's burghers are suffering the economic effects of Covid, revenue collection is down to 75%, and the municipality deems it essential to award the following tenders in the last quarter,” Gaylard said.
According to the supply chain management report, these include R325 000 on office furniture, R517 000 for municipal law enforcement uniforms for nine people – which would make it just under R60 000 per set of uniforms.
A further R525 000 was spent on traffic officer uniforms and R341 000 for electrical protective clothing. More than R1-million’s worth of uniforms were also ordered by the finance department. Just short of R340 000 was spent on firearms training for municipal law enforcement officials.
“At R50 000 per officer, it is out of all proportion,” Gaylard said.
The report further states other expenditure included R124 000 to map a cycle route.
The association also criticised tender awards as less than 1% of tenders were awarded to local businesses.
Gaylard said the overtime report for the first quarter revealed that this, too, was “out of control”. He added that R9,2-million was budgeted for overtime in the 2020/21 financial year. “During the first quarter, the office of the political office bearers (mayor, speaker, deputy) and municipal manager spent 30% of the overtime budget.” So far, more than R3,2-million has been spent on overtime in total.
“It is totally out of control, with no accountability. We do not know how many of the positions qualify for being paid overtime, so taking the full number of employees, that works out to an average of R4 600 per employee in one quarter. And now council is giving 300 employees R12 000 bonuses each from the Covid relief fund on top of that.”
Another concern, said Gaylard, was the unauthorised expenditure report for 2019/20 showing that this expenditure increased from R280-million last year to R350-million this year.
The municipality was approached for comment on these matters, but spokesperson Andile Namntu said the municipality would respond in due course.
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