Alain Walljee reports on his recent interview with Nelson Mandela Bay ACDP councillor Lance Grootboom, a member of a coalition that supported the election of the DA’s Nqaba Bhanga as Executive Mayor of the metro which has been without a mayor for a year. Bhanga’s election at a chaotic meeting on December 4 raised hopes for an ending to a long season of political instability in NMB in which political machination has crippled service delivery. But uncertainty still prevails in the metro amidst a political challenge to the validity of the election and a call by local church leaders for the president to intervene
In my interview with Councillor Lance Grootboom on Friday I learned just how much it has cost Nelson Mandela Bay to be without a mayor for so long. I learned that National Treasury has been withholding a grant amount of R1.6-billion until the metro installed an executive mayor, among other conditions. Grootboom explained that the grant, for which the metro has failed to meet treasury’s requirements since the start of the current financial year on April 1, accounts for 40% of NMB’s budget and is essential for it to meet its service delivery mandate.
He spoke about the importance of coalitions over the past four years in a time in which voters in the metro have not endorsed one majority party in the council. In a period when coalitions are key, he emphasised the important role that small parties play in achieving such alliances. “There is no DA-led coalition or ANC-led coalition because they cannot do anything without the smaller parties. And as we approach local elections in 2021, we should be careful not to fall for the deceitful narrative that a vote for a smaller party is a wasted vote,” he said.
Grootboom said that the parties that formed an alliance to elect a new mayor — the DA, COPE, UDM, PA and the ACDP — are currently busy drafting their coalition agreement in order to be able to govern and start the mammoth task of delivering much-needed services and put the residents of the metro first.
This planned action will come as a relief to the metro should the allies remain true to their word, he says. Commenting on the experience of the last hew years, he said: “We had coalition partners who come in, who want positions; they want contracts. They’re not interested in the city, they are more interested in deals.”
That is why coalitions are so difficult because now you use your muscle for personal gain and not for the gain of the community. That is why it becomes critically important that when coalitions are formed that they have coalition partners that really put the interest of the people first, above themselves or even their partners [in the coalition].”
Among the focus areas that he is putting forward on behalf of the ACDP for inclusion in the new coalition agreement are addressing the metro’s status as a Covid-19 hotspot, and service delivery issues such as potholes and water shortages, among others.
To curb the spread of the virus in the metro he says local government should assist with achieving compliance with pandemic regulations, while ensuring that the economy is not locked down. They should carry out compliance blitzes at shopping centres, roadblocks, etc. — not to restrict people but to promote safety.
He said the new coalition plans drought intervention measures to address the risk of dams running dry because of insufficient rain in the catchment areas. Grootboom said the water shortage is reflected in the dire state of sports fields around the metro.
He said the coalition planned to look at drilling more boreholes, and completing desalination plants at Coega and Schoenmakerskop. The Coega plant could be ready soon, while Schoenmakerskop may still take some time. He said they are also looking at the Nooitgedacht Water Scheme to pump water from the Kirkwood area to NMB. The scheme is currently at phase two and needs to get to phase three where more areas in the metro can be reached, including the western suburbs. He said he believes that existing dams need to be recommissioned and that the Church
should pray for more rain in the right areas!
Other priorities for rebuilding the metro include meeting conditions set out by national treasury to release grant funding. A mayor has already been appointed but other strategic appointments need to follow, he said. A city manager must be appointed in the next three months and three directors must be appointed, including in the key human settlements and corporate services portfolios. He said a dashboard will be set up in the mayor’s office to track service delivery issues but the key will be the appointment of a competent mayoral committee.
To address corruption in the metro, Grootboom said the municipality needs to strengthen internal controls. Critical vacancies in directorates need to be filled, internal audit and legal services need to staffed with competent and qualified personnel and capacitated to help curb corruption and save the municipality on legal costs by reducing the need to utilise external legal expertise.
“We have so much audit findings against us that has not been addressed in the last 10 years. We need to address those things!
“And while the new coalition are looking at fixing the problems everyone can see in order restore faith in local government, I believe that unless internal controls are fixed, corruption will continue to undermine any progress made.”
Regarding the Church’s role in rebuilding the Metro he believes it needs to unify for that is where God will command His blessing. And while admitting that prayer is powerful, he said: “If you’re a believer and you pray, but you are not part of the agenda of what’s happening in the city, what is more powerful than praying and being part of the agenda? Influencing the agenda and praying is a powerful place to be in.”