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Cheers, jeers and laughter in budget debate

Story credit: JoNews Reporter – City of Johannesburg website (www.joburg.org.za)

IT was a day of rhetoric, cheers, jeers and laughter as opposition parties responded to the budget tabled by the executive mayor, in the council chambers on Thursday, 24 May.

Democratic Alliance
First to take the floor was Mike Moriarty, the leader of the DA in Johannesburg, who welcomed the budget presented by Executive Mayor Amos Masondo, eliciting cheers from ANC benches.
The budget provides for operating expenditure of R21-billion and capital expenditure of R4,7-billion. In his presentation, Moriarty expressed overall satisfaction with the money allocated, but went on to attack the City’s service delivery record.

While lauding many of the council’s achievements, such as developments in Soweto, Moriarty said areas such as Diepsloot, Orange Farm and some established suburbs had been neglected. He also accused the City of not incorporating the opinions expressed by communities during the Integrated Development Plan public participation meetings into the final budget.

Moriarty warned that the DA would be lobbying for crucial amendments to the budget during the course of the financial year. However, he welcomed the increased investment in City Power and Johannesburg Water, saying that it was much-needed, especially in light of continued power failures.

"Of course we welcome his announcement that he will improve safety and security by increasing metro police manpower to 4 000 by 2010. However, we are curious to understand why there is no capital budget available to the Johannesburg metropolitan police department when the council has announced plans for more CCTV cameras."

The DA also called for more investment in street lighting to combat crime.

Moriarty welcomed the increases in rates and tariffs, describing them as "competitive", but called on the City to be more robust in collecting outstanding revenue.

Pan African Congress
Speaking on behalf of the PAC was councillor Cameron Tabane, who described the budget as a "well-crafted" document that "will accelerate growth and development in the city".
Tabane blamed some of the problems the City faced on poor administration. "The mayor dealt with critical issues and outlined the rands and cents behind the plans," he said approvingly, but called on the council to increase its spending on housing for the poor.

Christian Front
In his speech councillor Rudi du Plooy, the leader of the Christian Front in Johannesburg, called on the council to clamp down on illegal immigrants, blaming them for the spiralling crime rate.
They were also a burden on infrastructure and "threatened the job security of our own people", Du Plooy charged.

His major criticism, however, was that development in the city happened in a fragmented way. Du Plooy called on the council to hold a "summit with developers to streamline processes for [them]".

Operation Khanyesa Movement
The one dissenting voice was that of the socialist Operation Khanyesa Movement, represented by Joyce Mkhonza, who opposed the budget on ideological grounds. Mkhonza accused the City of privatising essential services and said her party stood for the nationalisation of assets, eliciting laughter from ANC and DA backbenchers.
She went on to rail against tariff increases. Putting the rate of unemployment at 40 percent, she criticised the installation of prepaid water meters, saying they made life even more unbearable for poor households.

Lamenting the shortage of medication at some clinics, she called on the council to spend more money on housing and healthcare for the poor. She vowed to continue fighting against capitalism, to fulfil the promises of the Freedom Charter, triggering another round of laughter from ANC councillors, who see themselves as the custodians of the charter.

Masondo responds
In his response, Masondo welcomed the support and constructive criticism from opposition parties. "We commit ourselves to addressing challenges facing the city in an ongoing way." The mayor also said that public meetings are not merely talk shops.
Responding to Moriarty’s charge that some areas had been neglected, the mayor said the DA leader would need to be more specific. "We are a caring government and we would like to be kept abreast with the needs of communities."

In response to Mkhonza, Masondo revealed a humorous streak when he said she had converted to the ANC, citing her quotation of the Freedom Charter as proof. "I think we are very close to one another."

The mayor dismissed the accusation that the City was privatising services. "Privatisation suggests that water will be delivered by a private company to make profit. Please tell us what is this company that now supplies water in the city," he asked, to much applause from the house.

Turning to Du Plooy’s statements, the mayor said the City was opposed to xenophobia. "We are not a city under siege. We have established a Migrants Helpdesk to deal with foreign nationals. It is in our interest to keep in touch with migrants."

Masondo said recently, while attending an international conference on climate change, that he realised that many cities in the world were beginning to adopt a more rationale approach to migrants.

"Migrants should be seen as people making a contribution to our development. The City needs to manage the process of urbanisation positively."

Overall, however, the mayor was satisfied with the support from opposition parties. "I am happy that the house overall supports us."