RIGHT OF REPLY

No, Luke Jordan, the City remains committed to advancing the needs of poor residents

By Luyanda Mfeka 15 May 2018

General view of buildings in the Central Business District of Johannesburg, March 3, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SOCIETY)

“Mashaba attacks the poor, so long as Julius Malema lets him.” An incendiary headline if there ever was one. One needs no gift of clairvoyance to know what is coming – misdirection and conjecture. In this, Luke Jordan doesn’t disappoint.

Luke Jordan’s carefully scripted piece is not only at pains to level an attack on the City’s administration, the entire journalism fraternity and the EFF but also attempts to position a potential future conflict amongst the three groups.

It’s a popular tool; one employed by journalists, politicians and members of civil society alike.

After all, what’s the point of an opinion piece without a good wedge issue to drive among your elected dramatis personae?

Jordan also deploys another all too common tool, which I will simply surmise as “never letting the facts get in the way of a salacious story”.

Let me be clear, the City welcomes the public’s and media’s scrutiny, in ways that were previously unprecedented by past administrations. Indeed, the mayor has consistently welcomed scrutiny, responding with nothing but the truth – warts and all.

This said, to debunk the misconception set out by Mr Jordan, the provision of water to the most vulnerable in the City of Joburg remains a top priority.

Sweeping statements suggesting that the City of Joburg is punishing the poor by depriving them of access to water are entirely without basis.

It is a trend across our country’s metros to no longer provide free basic water to all residents, but only to registered indigent residents, which is in line with the National Water Policy and as recommended by National Treasury. Something which Mr Jordan conveniently fails to mention.

The provision of free basic services must be of benefit to the most vulnerable and should never be hijacked for the benefit of those who have the means to support themselves.

As the City of Joburg realigns its services and prioritises basic service delivery, we cannot but focus our attention on the most vulnerable in society.

To suggest that the City makes use of Expanded Social Package (ESP) to deny the most vulnerable free basic services is also far from the truth.

The ESP programme targets the vulnerable, such as the unemployed, youth, people with disabilities and senior citizens.

People with different levels of need qualify for different levels of subsidy according to the City’s measure of affordability. The City has three categories that it uses as a benchmark when deciding on water subsidy.

The highest level of subsidy, aimed at those with no formal income and living in the most deprived circumstances, get free 15kl of water and 150kwh of electricity (pre-paid and conventional).

While the middle level of subsidy get 12kl of free water, monthly and lowest level of subsidy get 10kl of water free.

This is a far cry from depriving the City’s poorest residents of access to basic water.

While one may happily take that point of looking at ways of ensuring ESP registration is streamlined, to not have a registration process at all would condemn the City to fumbling in the dark, potentially redirecting social support services to individuals who do not require the assistance.

The article also makes a point of addressing the 16.9% tariff increase with respect to water services. However, it fails to note that 12.2% of the 16.9% increase is actually imposed by Rand Water and not the City of Johannesburg.

Charges imposed by the City in respect of water charges reflect the purchase cost of the resources. Indeed, the City currently sells water in the relevant band at R8.35 per kilolitre but buys it at almost R20 per kilolitre. As a result of tariffs that are not cost reflective, the City walks a fine balancing act of safeguarding financial stability while ensuring that, as far as is humanly possible, costs transferred to residents are limited.

In this context, the City of Johannesburg is one of the cheapest metros providing water for domestic use as compared with eThekwini where 0-6kl is charged at R16.20 per kl, R14.47 in Emfuleni or R11,92 in Buffalo City.

The beneficiaries of these efforts are our residents, particularly the poor.

These are facts which are left out by Mr Jordan in his narrative. The same can be said regarding his analysis of the City’s public consultation process with respect to the Integrated Development Plan (IDP).

Under the previous administration, the City only held one IDP summit attended by approximately 3,000 people.

In the 2016/17 participation process for the 2017/18 IDP, we amended this to have eight Regional IDP summits in April / May 2017 preceded by 31 ward-cluster conversations in March 2017 – a total of 39 meetings.

The 31 cluster conversations were attended by a total of 8,234 people. An additional 5,633 attended the regional cluster conversations. We also received approximately 1,000 social media submissions.

In 2017/18 we changed this approach to move the cluster conversations to the beginning of the process to allow for the community to input into the process at the start – not at the end.

As such we had 38 ward-cluster conversations in October / November 2017 to guide the formulation of the 2018/19 IDP. A total of 6,687 people attended these. These sessions were followed by the eight regional IDP summits in April / May 2018, which were attended by 3,386 people. We also receive approximately 3,000 social media submissions; a total of 46 meetings.

Overall, the public’s engagement with the consultation process remains high with enhanced opportunities for proper engagement.

It is thus entirely disingenuous to say public consultation has been given a back seat. On the contrary, we have given it more prominence by having the initial cluster conversations at the beginning of the planning phase to actually inform the budget.

It goes without saying that the City faces massive historic challenges, the burden of which is faced by our poorest residents.

The new administration is not blind to this and is progressively working towards reversing those challenges.

This requires time and resources. Indeed, the City faces a massive infrastructure backlog of almost R170-billion, built up over decades, due to corruption, mismanagement and under investment by the ANC.

That’s another thing. The effects of corruption on service delivery matter and play out all over the city where historic underservicing of communities is clear to see.

The latest statistics reflect that we have over 3,500 cases at various stages of investigation, involving a staggering R18-billion in fraud, corruption and maladministration.

The staggering historical loss of public money, against the massive backlog of services in our city, is unforgivable.

Incidentally, the City could have addressed its entire infrastructure backlog with the amount of money said to have been lost over years of ANC corruption.

To date, more than 709 people have been arrested since the establishment of our Group Forensics Unit, of which 38 cases are currently before the courts.

The City is also investing in an internal recoveries unit to ensure that we can begin the process of pursuing the perpetrators and culprits to recover these public funds.

Indeed, the effects of this corruption, felt by the poorest residents throughout the City, means the ANC’s concept of Johannesburg as a “World Class African City” is a fantasy. The previous administration was so committed to the fantasy, buying their own spin, that they were determined to drive the City into a state of financial ruin, the consequences of which must now be managed.

The R100-billion, 10-year capital budget plan, set by the previous administrations, was little more than a smoke screen meant to pull the wool over the eyes of residents and international investors.

The past administration compromised the City’s future financial health by spending money which the City did not have.

It is under the ANC administration that the City failed to rebase its budget when it became clear that the projected revenues were simply not being achieved to the tune of nearly R6-billion over three years.

This is the same budgeting process Mr Jordan would like to champion. Make of that what you will.

During our adjustment budget, we responded swiftly to secure the short- to medium-term financial sustainability of the City by adjusting our expenditure in line with our performance in revenue while ensuring that we spend our limited budget corruption free and getting value for every rand we invest.

I hope that this clarifies the matter for Mr Jordan. DM

Luyanda Mfeka is spokesperson to Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba

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