The city of Pietermaritzburg’s finances remain critical, with debt now nearing the R4 billion mark, reports Maritzburg Sun.
A report tabled during a joint meeting of the Finance and Executive Committee on Tuesday indicated that municipal debt was R3,969 billion in December. There are fears that since the report was prepared last month, the debt, which has risen from R3 billion in June last year, may have now reached the R4 billion mark.
DA Finance Committee member, Ross Strachan, said the spiralling debt was the end result of selective billing of city customers, a move which he insisted was based on political considerations.
“Because we have an election coming next year, there are areas that are not billed because of fear of the political impact. Instead, what we are seeing is the billing on soft targets. There must be an equitable billing of all customers,” said Strachan.
ANC councillor Mehmood Oumarsaid the city’s continuing financial woes were owed to the inability to collect revenue and to fix revenue-generating areas including water losses.
“In this city, there are burst pipes everywhere and it takes three days to fix them and that is money that gets lost unnecessarily. Full-blown debt collection will save this city,” said the councillor.
The report, which was presented by Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Dudu Gambu, further indicated that the municipality had failed to spend on conditional grants, managing to use only 26% of its allocations.
“The appetite to spend on conditional grants by business units is very low and quite concerning,” said CFO.
Councillors said this was a reflection of bad planning and called for harsh action against officials who were failing to use budget allocations. They also questioned whether the numerous plans that have been presented in the past were working.
“We do have strategies, but unfortunately, we have nothing to show for it,” lamented the CFO.
Another councillor, Linda Madlala, said lack of spending on grants amounted to mocking of the residents who expected basic services to be delivered in their areas.
“People are not asking for triple storey houses; all they want is for potholes to be fixed and refuse to be collected. They will not understand how money is not spent and will, in turn, blame us,” said the Exco member.
The report, which is part of the 2019/20 adjustment budget, will now be tabled before a council sitting scheduled for Thursday.