“Redraft, please!”

Hennie Pauw
THABAZIMBI – The draft budget was met with so much disapproval from the Thabazimbi Chairperson Forum (TCF) that a basic message to redraft the whole budget was given in so many words when a written comment on the draft budget was handed over to the Municipal Manager this week.
It is deemed “to be irresponsible and reckless if approval is provided for the draft budget”, the written comments read and “it needs redrafting ensuring compliance to normal financial and business practices”.
One of the main objections to the budget, which has shown an increase of 23% exceeding the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA)  directive of 6%, was that the drafting of the budget was done mechanically, escalating the previous year’s budget with an average of 40%, which has no meaning and no bearing on actual cost.
It seems that nowhere in the budget the actual costs of projects are reflected, and how that would bear on costs for the coming financial year. For the last two years an increase of 40% has merely been added to standard expenditures.
A tariff of R0,00436/R is proposed in the budget, but the TCF declined to comment on the tariff as long as no actual income and expenditure figures are presented. The current rate is R0,0085/R, but the Thabazimbi Ratepayers’ Association has been insisting that a rate of R0,00175/R is more realistic.
Provision is made for an increase in the salary budget of altogether 44%, which will cover the appointment of an extra 81 people. The average councilor’s salary will increase with 37% and that of lower paid employees with 8,5%. On top of that traveling expenses for certain officials, such as the Municipality’s Manager: Planning and Development, constitutes an amount of R180 000 per year – and that is for one person only.
According to the document submitted by the TCF, residents will not see this increase in salaries reflected in terms of improved services and therefore these increases cannot be justified. Moreover the budget does not take into account that residents and businesses in Thabazimbi are also suffering under the current economical downswing and that higher salaries for councilors will have to come out of taxpayers’ pockets. If everybody else has to pull in the belt, the same must apply to the people who represent the town.
The introduction of the budget makes provision for a 15% hike in electricity costs, but also this is irresponsible, says the TCF, since national treasury has advised to make provision for an increase of 25%. The actual increase for the Electrical department are 32% on all items.
Objections to the budget also address the lack of public participation as required in the Municipal Systems Act in drafting the budget. According to Jan Viljoen, chairman of the TCF, no ward meetings were held and a midyear review budget for the current financial year was never made available, as required by law.
A hike of about 350% in the budget (from R10,6m last year to R46,13m) for road transport has also been questioned by the TCF, since the draft budget does not explain exactly where and what this money will be used for.
Two main issues which need to be addressed by the council are the lack of service delivery and competence within the municipality as well as the non-payment of taxes and services, says the TCF. A debt collecting firm will be appointed for R1 050 000 for the next financial year.
Questions were also raised as to the reason why the cost of purified drinking water supplied to trade and industry has not increased such as the water intended for the rest of the town. The TCF also suggested that the unit cost of electricity in houses with prepaid meters be lowered to serve as an incentive to install these meters.
The TCF now awaits the approval of the Budget before it can take any action. The Budget must be approved before the end of May 2009 at a council meeting. If the Budget is not approved before the end of May the Municipality must request permission for delay from the MEC.