KNYSNA NEWS - In his first week in office, newly elected Knysna mayor Elrick van Aswegen tabled his plans for bringing about political and administrative stability in the beleaguered municipality "and improving Knysna's current trajectory". As a start, he stressed the importance of approving a new budget before the start of the next financial year in July.
Van Aswegen was speaking in a participatory live stream address on Monday after being elected mayor on Thursday 11 June following the recent resignation of acting municipal manager Dr Michele Gratz, the CFO Mbulelo Memani and Ward 10 councillor Peter Myers.
Focus on budget
"Our immediate focus will be to bring a budget to the table for the 2020/2021 period that will reflect the needs and speak to all the people of Greater Knysna," Van Aswegen said. "In light of the municipality's financial situation and the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic … it is crucial that we approve a budget before the start of the financial year, as legislation demands."
He said a consensus must be reached by Thursday 18 June.
Van Aswegen pointed out his long-standing involvement in politics and assured residents of his commitment to their wellbeing. "As long-time resident, I have been involved in the political arena from 1993 when I served on the then Transitional Local Council. I have seen the town prosper, and I've seen harder times, the last three years especially."
He noted that a turnaround strategy for Knysna's financial woes is vital to ensure continued service delivery. "We are not a bankrupt municipality, but face serious fiscal challenges." He said three major causes are the 2017 fires, poor financial decisions and the effect of the lockdown.
Steps already implemented include freezing unfilled posts, curtailing travelling and catering and implementing strict budget control measures.
In terms of revenue enhancement they are implementing credit control procedures and curtailing all capital projects funded internally. "We will focus on consequence management with regards to the implementation of conditional grants to avoid internal funding being necessitated to complete projects.
"Where housing developments have been erected on municipal land, these must be subdivided and transferred to their new owners to allow the municipality to begin recovering rates on services to those properties."
He said rates must be collected on actual readings. "I would suggest to council that the rates and tariffs on vacant stands be revised to encourage development and to balance the payments made on built-up stands with those still empty."
He said the introduction of data profiling is vital to debt collection. "Being able to distinguish between, for example, our indigent residents, deceased estates and businesses, will allow us to focus on customers who are able to honour their commitments."
The mayor said a feasibility study must be done to assess the viability of selling key municipal properties and to identify properties that will offer the greatest return on investment. "The municipality requires external capacity assistance, specifically with regard to our revenue and budget sections. I will work with our new acting municipal manager Dr Louis Scheepers to address these issues."
Training of tender committees
Van Aswegen said the bid evaluation and adjudicating committees will have to be retrained to ensure all requests for bids and tenders "are worded properly, effectively and accurately to correctly reflect the needs and expected outcomes of each and every tender." The committees will be held accountable for their decisions.
Van Aswegen singled out tourism as the biggest driving force to the town's economy. "The lockdown is having a disastrous effect on this industry... we are in for a tough time and it will take time to recover." The mayor will engage with Provincial Treasury this week on ways to "reboot our fragile economy".
The mayor said the municipality and council are not at the epicentre of corruption. "There are appropriate legislation and legal procedures to deal with instances of alleged corruption. Council has instituted action against a number of officials on receipt of allegations. These procedures exist to not only punish the persons involved, but to allow officials who may be falsely accused to restore their names to dignity."
Van Aswegen reminded residents that they are living in a "hard-earned democracy" and encouraged them to get involved through the appropriate channels. "It is all very easy to give your opinion on social media, but if you are serious about making a difference, get involved in our established participatory systems."
The mayor ended his address on an optimistic note, saying Knysna can revive its economy "even if it will take time". He acknowledged the role played by deputy mayor Aubrey Tsengwa who had been acting mayor since former mayor Mark Willemse 's departure from office last year, thanking him for his leadership "under difficult circumstances".
He also welcomed new acting municipal manager Scheepers, adding, "I look forward to working with him on improving our fiscal position, and on an innovative plan for an accelerated restart of the Knysna economy."
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