Mayoral Speech delivered at Council meeting held 31 August 2023, Clanwilliam, Council Chambers
(by Executive Mayor, Dr Ruben Richards)
BEING BUSY WITHOUT LOSING FOCUS OF THE VISION
The challenges of operating in a crisis mode
1. INTRODUCTION – A call to be responsible public servants
Good day Speaker, fellow councillors, members of the administration, members of the public present and those on line, ladies and gentlemen. I have prepared a rather lengthy speech for today. The substance thereof was tabled to Mayco a few days ago (23 August 2023). I wish to table an amended version here at council for consideration.
It bears mention that the South African political timetable has entered a phase that can be called “silly season”. The impending risk facing those who will be preparing and participating in next year’s general election is that they are likely to become what I will describe as “silly and irrational” possibly to a point of acting unconstitutionally. All this to gain political power and often, sadly, at the expense of the people. This is the political climate we are entering into in right now.
In the interest of party political agendas, politicians and dare I say councillors, will be tempted to misrepresent each other in order to score cheap political points. I wish to appeal to all of us here in the Cederberg to please avoid falling into that trap. It might be a big ask, but I appeal that you stick to the facts and stick to the procedures. Please do not misrepresent council or its policies and procedures. Please try to bring calm rather than inflame or mislead our already volatile and struggling population.
We all took an oath of office through which we promised to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and its constitution. Let us continue to work towards fulfilling our promise to our nation and be found worthy of the public office we are privileged to hold. Let us be responsible servants of the public as we deliver on our constitutional mandate especially here in the Cederberg municipality.
And now to the business of the Cederberg. The past quarter, especially the months of July-August has been particularly busy especially after the flood disaster in our area. We have much to do and so little money and time. The past two days is evidence of this challenge as we try to fix the potholes in our municipal region starting in Citrusdal. In this regard, a big word of thanks to the MM and his team as well as the behind the scenes staff, for their commitment and energy. Also, a big word of thanks to the public out there for your support and well wishes. Thank you to those who have supplied food to our workers as they repaired the roads. Thank you to businesses who have donated money in order to buy tar and other supplies needed to fix the road. We are still waiting for government to officially declare the Cederberg a disaster so that we can receive money to fix our towns hardest hit by the floods.
But we cannot wait any longer and so in partnership with private sector businesses such as The Old Village, Spar, Goodehoop Citrus, Mouton Citrus, to name a few, we have been able to mobilise resources in order to do some patch work and fix the worst potholes, at least.
Mayoral Infrastructure Inspection visits to all Wards
I wish to highlight that on Monday (21 August 2023) I commenced what I call Mayoral Infrastructure Inspection visits. I am visiting and inspecting the municipal infrastructure of each of the six wards that make up our municipality. I have asked each Ward Councillor to host me and to be proactive in generating a State of the Ward report regarding infrastructure. I had set a deadline of Friday 25 August (12h00) to receive a report from each Ward councillor. I am still waiting councillors. While we have a political oversight role to play, we must nevertheless make sure that we are familiar with the actual state of the infrastructure undergirding each of our Wards. I look forward with great anticipation to receiving these reports. I hope that there will be a correlation between what I see during my physical infrastructure inspection visits compared to what councillors will report on vis-à-vis their Ward.
Operational Clean Towns - Mayor joins Chamber of Commerce to cleanup Clanwilliam
On Saturday, 19 August 2023, I joined a group of residents clean up the town of Clanwilliam. These were members of the Cederberg/Clanwilliam Chamber of Commerce who have committed themselves to clean the town every third Saturday of each month (i.e. walk through the town and pick up garbage). I am deeply grateful to these residents for their commitment. My hope is that each town will have a group of residents who will take ownership and assist the municipality to clean up and keep the town tidy.
This initiative comes hot on the heels of other residents who have put their hands in their pockets and sponsored the purchase of ten skip bins for the collection of garbage in Clanwilliam that enabled us to launch Operation Clean Towns here in the Cederberg on 3 May 2023.
Let me again express a word of thanks to those residents especially Bernie van der Heever who has recently opened a special bank account for donations to help him pay the salaries of workers who will work fulltime to collect the garbage, and in this way reduce the financial burden on the municipality. Thank you to all those residents who are making a donation into that private sector bank account.
Furthermore, and in addition to the 10 skips sponsored by local residents, the national government, through the Department of Forestry and Fisheries, recently (3 August 2023) donated 5 skip bins for garbage collection. These bins will be placed in Citrusdal within the next few days, resulting from my infrastructure inspection visit to Citrusdal on Monday past.
We are not the only municipality wanting to tidy up and clean up our municipality. Residents of the South Coast in Kwa-Zulu Natal have done the same for their beach front. I congratulate them and am inspired by their commitment. If they can do it, so can we in the Cederberg. Their motto is clean makes clean – WOW! I think that is just great. Well done South Coast.
Other stakeholders stepping forward to help
I wish to acknowledge a growing number of residents and stakeholders who are stepping forward to offer their help, money, wisdom, assistance and prayers to the Mayor and the municipality at large, as we implement a turnaround for the Cederberg Municipality. Earlier I made reference to the Citrusdal-based private sector who are helping us. There are residents throughout our municipality that are stepping forward to help us fix our municipality. Thank you again to them.
I addressed the Annual General Meeting of the Clanwilliam Aquatic Club a little more than a week ago and shared with them the good news that the Cederberg ship is now turning into the right direction – away from the rocks and treacherous coastline towards calmer political and economic waters.
I have met with the Cederberg Tax Payers Union who also have valuable advice as do the Agricultural associations with whom I regularly meet. Thank you to all stakeholders for their support and show of confidence in the new leadership of the municipality.
Post-flood state of Municipality – flood damaged infrastructure (e.g. potholes)
Unfortunately, government funds move very slowly which means that we have no funds to immediately fix things like the unsightly potholes in Citrusdal, resulting from the recent floods. I have instructed the MM and CFO to review our budgets and see how we can reallocate funds to do some “patch work” while we wait for approval of “disaster relief funds” or grant money to do a proper repair of our flood-damaged infrastructure.
Eskom Debt Relief Approved
I am pleased to inform you that our application for Eskom Debt Relief has been approved by National Treasury. This means that if we faithfully pay our current account over a period of three years, Eskom will write off our debt of R45 million – proportionally after each 12 month cycle.
Organisational and governance renewal
We are in the final stages of a review of the organisational structure of the municipality as part of the provincial government imposed 154 Budget Funding Plan designed to help Cederberg fix its financial and service delivery performance challenges. Further, I am pleased to report that on 11 August 2023, we conducted a Delegations Workshop with all councillors present. Here we reviewed and aligned our core governance documents to the most recent legislation. These include our Rules of Order, Delegations of Political office bearers, and Disciplinary procedures for councillors. These documents will serve here at this Mayco for endorsement as they journey to the council meeting of 31 August for final adoption.
2023 Wild Flower Show and Ramskop Tuin upgrade
On 24 August, I attended the opening of the 2023 Wild Flower Show which is spectacular given the recent rains. This is a huge event in the tourist calendar for our region and I appreciate everyone’s efforts and contribution to this event.
It bears mention, as will be reported here, that last year the council approved the formalisation of a MOU between the municipality and the Wild Flower Association in respect of the management of Ramskop Garden – a municipal asset. It is this association that has managed to procure R450 000 (four hundred and fifty thousand rand) from the Lotto, to upgrade our municipal garden – Ramskoptuin. A huge word of thanks to those private residents and members of the association for their contribution to beautifying an asset that belongs to the municipality. If that is not commitment then nothing is.
Government liaison - PCF / DCF / SALGA
I have just returned from the PCF – Premiers Coordinating Forum - held two days ago (29 August) in Plettenberg Bay – a gathering of Mayors together with the Premier and ministers of the provincial cabinet. The big take away from that meeting is that government in general is facing a massive fiscal cliff with an unfunded wage bill. We have been asked to tighten our financial seatbelts and brace ourselves for what some describe as an impending financial blood bath.
On 17 August 2023. I attended the District Municipality (Mooreesburg) Coordinating Forum (DCF) meeting. A core focus on the meeting was to receive feedback from Saldanha Bay Municipality on the implementation of their Smart City Technology. I congratulate them on their progress. Unfortunately, we, the Cederberg are struggling to source the basics such as garbage trucks, let alone Smart City ICT systems. I hope we will soon be in a position to also adopt smart city technology. It is an expensive exercise.
I place on record my disappointment with the West Coast District Municipality who have only made promises of help to us but have not delivered with particular reference to post-flood support. I will continue to reach out to various municipalities begging and requesting for assistance be it for vehicles and or experts and/or expertise. We in the Cederberg can do with all the help we can get.
In a few days, September (4th to 6th), I will be attending the annual SALGA congress in Johannesburg. And so the diary fills up. My sympathies and thanks to my personal assistant for managing my diary and the very irritated people who want appointments and do not want to believe that the Mayor is actually busy.
Pause to reflect
I share the above as a snapshot and a sample of what is positively happening in our municipal area and what is negatively happening in my diary. As you can tell, there is much happening. But we do well to pause and reflect, amidst our busy schedules just to check that we are still on track in achieving our vision.
2. THE BIG DREAM / VISION
Let me then turn my attention to the vision of Cederberg Municipality as adopted on 31 March 2023. Our vision/dream is to be: The home of good governance, service-excellence and opportunities for all”.
But what does this mean in reality. I believe we need to give our broad vision statements some focus and content. And this, among others, is what I want to do with my speech today. I remind you that we are not yet out of the financial woods. The municipality remains battling with an UNFUNDED budget, with insufficient funds to repair unbudgeted for flood damage. Nevertheless, we are working hard to comply with the 154 Budget Support Plan as prescribed by Provincial government and adopted by Council. I will leave it to the portfolio chairs to report on the detail embedded in these 154 reports and they provide feedback from their Section 80 committees.
From vision to reality – smaller dreams / baby steps towards the big dream
Our core mandate as a municipality is to deliver basic services to our residents. But how do we do that amidst a host of competing interests, priorities and emergencies. We are very much still in a crisis and emergency mode although matters do seem to be much calmer than a few months ago. I am almost persuaded that we are beginning to stabilise – both politically and administratively. My hope is that our financial stability will soon appear on the horizon.
As a way to achieving our big vision, I want to propose a series of smaller steps (visions/objectives) to help us achieve the big vision. I will identify a core service deliverable and give it an objective for us to consider adopting as a strategy. I believe we should have a set of objectives for each of our service delivery mandates. For example (and now I ask you to dream with me);
1. Billing system
• As a municipality, we sell services in exchange for money (not votes). It is therefore imperative that our services are excellent but more importantly that our billing system is accurate so that we can send accurate accounts to our customers. I am not yet convinced that our billing system is accurate. So we have work to do in this area. Let us dream of a fully automated and accurate billing system which is trusted by both the municipality and the general public.
• I therefore propose that we should dream of a municipal billing system that is accurate and where our customers pay their monthly bills promptly and with a smile, because of the good service they are getting from the municipality.
• We should dream of delivering electricity efficiently and continuously to each formal dwelling/structure in our municipality and to receive at least 95% payment for electricity provided.
• We should dream of a future with less dependence on Eskom and more reliance on renewable energy.
• Potable Water – We should dream of providing clean, high quality piped potable water to all formal dwellings / structures within the municipal area.
• Waste Water – We should dream of removing all waste water and release treated water back into the system in compliance with legislation.
4. Solid Waste Management
• Garbage collection – We should dream of a municipality that is clean, and where garbage is not only collected promptly and regularly, but also where garbage is seen as a precious resource that can generate jobs and revenue through recycling. What is garbage and a problem to one person is no doubt a gold mine and a solution to another person.
5. Property Assets
• Resorts – We should dream of a municipality where our parks and resorts are places where our residents and tourists want to spend time in safety and comfort. We must dream of these facilities being fully booked 365 days per year and earning us much needed revenue. We should consider finding partners that can help us maximise the potential of our resorts, maximise our income and create jobs.
• As a side note, I remind you that our Clanwilliam Dam resort area will soon be lost to construction as the work on the raising of the dam wall intensifies. The resort area is already considered a “construction site” and soon we will not be able to host visitors and consequently lose income. Hopefully, a renewed and higher dam wall will also result in better opportunities for the municipality to build a new and modern waterfront facility - a new resort area with enormous income potential.
• Land – We need to prepare for the future and further growth of the Cederberg population (especially Citrusdal and Clanwilliam) because we will become successful and attract people to our municipal area. Let’s prepare to welcome those who will come to our area.
• We should dream of a municipality that has a FUNDED budget within the next two years and eventually with enough in reserve (“profit/surplus”) to fund its own maintenance of infrastructure and projects.
• We should dream of municipality where there are no potholes, no bad roads and where all roads older than 25 years are upgraded for the next 25 or 50 years.
3. THE HOPE
I am convinced that if we make a decision to achieve just these few things I have mentioned, we will have made a significant impact for the Cederberg both socially and economically. Furthermore, my fantasy is that people will want to live, invest and visit the Cederberg because it is clean, safe and prosperous and is vibrant, growing and welcoming of everyone who arrives – workers, migrants, tourists, family – everybody.
My hope is that all resident of the Cederberg will take pride in their towns – in their surroundings – and in that way help Cederberg to become the most sought after town in the whole of South Africa. Why not!
4. BIG ISSUES AND CONCERNS
Economic development - the dam wall
Economic opportunities link to the upgrade of the dam are enormous. But the pace of progress of this project remains a concern. The projected date of completion for the project now stands at April 2028 – at a cost of R3,2 billion - estimated total project cost.
Our municipal land around the dam has been expropriated by DWS given the new projected flood levels.
Water security – a call for a water indaba
I have requested the MM to facilitate the calling of a Water Indaba within Cederberg to hear from private sector and public sector experts regarding solutions to our precarious water supply situation in the Cederberg. We remain dependent on borehole water with the boreholes located on private property. More about this in future feedback reports from myself. I herewith only want to register my deep concern regarding water security for our municipality.
A huge concern remains the proposed regional dumpsite and the associated costs and also the long distance we as Cederberg municipality will need to travel with our garbage trucks to reach the regional dumpsite which is no longer located in Traval but in Van Rhynsdorp. This is a matter for which I have asked the MM to provide us with a comprehensive briefing as it has huge financial implications not just for us but those who follow us as a council. We are being asked to make decision that will tie up the municipality for 30 years, financially. We do not want to leave a legacy of ill-considered projects which those coming on behind us will curse us for.
Defective infrastructure causing sewerage spilling
My infrastructure visits have already exposed defective machinery causing unacceptable sewerage spillage into the waterways of our municipality. I have asked the MM to make it an absolute priority to find the funds in order for us to fix this crisis – and in my book this is a crisis.
During my infrastructure inspection visit in Citrusdal it was brought to my attention that a contractor was paid R500 000 to repair the roof of the Citrusdal municipal building. However, the first rains after the repair exposed poor and low quality workmanship. Offices were flooded and buckets needed to be placed in corridors to collect dripping water from the roof.
A range of questions now surface regarding the sign off on the quality of workmanship for which we pay. Who signed off and what penalties and remedies are available to us as a municipality.
My own inspection of the interior surface of the roof exposed the signs of leakage. But more worrying, it seems to me that we have a structural weakness which may result in the collapse of the roof itself. This “structural” defect is located just above where customers stand when reporting to the municipality or paying their bills.
I have instructed the MM to get an assessment of the structural damage to the roof which seems evident.
Community tensions – let us learn to listen carefully
The recent uprising and unrest and subsequent damage inflicted on the municipalities of Swellendam and Mossel Bay have enabled us to put more urgency into listening as carefully as possible to our communities on the on hand, and trying our best to explain policies and procedures and tariff structures to our residents on the other hand.
In this regard, I was pleased that we have, early in our Mayco meeting, received feedback from the Khayalitsha Informal Settlement with perspectives from the community and the police. The recent assault of a female resident there and the dissolution of the community committee has focused our attention. I, as Mayor, visited that victim (a female resident of Khayalitsha) in hospital and expressed our disapproval of the action taken against her by fellow female residents. My hope is the police investigation will rapidly take its course. We cannot afford to have community tension spill over into mob justice.
I have requested an urgent engagement with the Riverview community leadership in Citrusdal as a proactive gesture to ensure open and clean lines of communication between all parties and thereby reduce unnecessary tension and confusion
I have also asked all Ward Councillors to arrange special community gatherings (in addition to the IDP schedule) to listen to the heartbeat of our people who are suffering out there and finding life difficult.
5. ESTABLISHING ADDITIONAL LIAISON CAPACITY
After broad consultation, I have decided to appoint three spheres of Mayoral advisory councils made up of private sector residents/individuals representative of all the Wards and core business investment and interests in our municipal region. Their contribution is to share their wisdom and simply provide advice to the Mayor on a macro strategic level. They will not have any legal or statutory status and will meet perhaps twice or thrice a year around a coffee or tea to share their wisdom. The three entities will be (1) a Council of Elders, (2) a council of Youth, and (3) a Business/Economic Development Council.
6. WAY FORWARD
The above synopsis of issues and activities, coupled with extracts from my Mayoral diary, confirms the need to be vigilant about how one uses ones time and energy especially when you have to operate in crisis and unfunded budget mode. The risk is that we become so busy with the everyday nice-to-do activities that we lose sight of our big vision and reason why we are actually here and the must-do-activities that bring us closer to realising our dream as a municipality and fulfilling our legislative mandate. I conclude by reminding myself and us all, that we are here to serve our resident whose basic needs come first. Therefore, in short, and without delay, let us first ensure the delivery of basic services to our people.
Skryf 'n opmerking …
Last published 31 August 2023