Time To Revert To Smaller Municipalities

When the details of the 2019/2020 eThekwini budget are considered within the context of metro history and prevailing economic circumstances, it should be apparent that the tipping point has been reached.

In 2000, when the unicity model was proposed, its motivation was premised on the claim that the consolidation of more than ten local municipalities into a single metropolitan administration would reduce the duplication of services and prove cost-effective.

The history of eThekwini budgets since 2003 proves otherwise. The metro staff complement grew from 16,000 to in excess of 24,000, proving Parkinson’s law, that bureaucracy begets bureaucracy, is thriving in eThekwini. In tandem with that bureaucratic bloat, the size of the budget has increased by nearly 500%. In 2003 it totalled R9,75 billion. By 2008 it had grown 240% to R23,4 billion. Now it stands at R50,6 billion.

Yet service delivery has neither improved nor matched the costs involved in providing it. Indeed, at best it ranges from patchy to poor. But the most critical aspect of the eroding state of the eThekwini metro is its rates base. It has never grown in proportion to the ever-increasing budgets thrust upon ratepayers, languishing at never more than a 1,5% growth rate.

Thus, a situation has arisen where 19% of eThekwini subsidises 81%. Yet in a cavalier fashion, the so-called mayor boasts of the extent to which free services are extended to non-payers.

Although there is no drought and the dam levels are satisfactory, water tariffs for those who actually pay, are to increase by 15%. What is not disclosed, it that 40% of water bought by eThekwini is either stolen or lost through leaks, a situation that has been ongoing since 2001.

Despite the critical condition of the economy (growing at a mere 0,9%) and the faltering state of local government, the so-called mayor calls for “action” in order to “broaden service delivery and attract investors.” It’s the same claptrap we have heard for nearly 20 years.

The only action that can salvage Durban from the tipping point is to disestablish the metro and, piecemeal, re-establish municipalities like Pinetown, Umhlanga and Amanzimtoti. The metro is no longer affordable or sustainable. From an economic point of view, less is more. Smaller municipalities competing for business and offering investors and residents competitive rates would stimulate economic growth in a way the unwieldy metro has shown it cannot deliver. The province needs to re-establish development service boards so as to take care of the vast rural area that constitutes 68% of eThekwini municipality.

Across the country, local government has become bloated and dysfunctional because it is seen as a convenient cash cow for the politically connected. As such, it has proved beneficial only to them and their comrades. By reverting to smaller, sustainable municipalities, as the Freedom Front Plus advocates, the concomitant of improved governance would be improved service delivery.

Sent into The Mercury and published, 9 June 2019.

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