The move has since seen massive criticism from residents, who even started a petition calling on the mayor to obtain a cheaper vehicle and use the rest of the money to feed the thousands of Bitou residents who are unable to put food on the table as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.
It is not the first time Lobese receives criticism over his mayoral vehicle. In 2017, he faced a backlash after it came to light that ratepayers were forking out just short of R60 000 a month for a luxury Volvo SUV after the mayor was involved in an accident in his previous mayoral vehicle, a luxury BMW.
This, while larger municipalities like George and Knysna were only paying between R13 000 and R24 000 for mayoral vehicles at the time.
The latest car lease also extends over a three-year period, despite Lobese having only a year left as mayor.
‘Lack of concern’
“That such items can seriously be approved in these troubled times is startling. Even to contemplate them is to demonstrate a manifest lack of concern and accountability on the part of council,” said chairperson Peter Gaylard of the Plettenberg Bay Ratepayers Association, who has written to the municipality calling on council to rescind the decision.
A petition, which was started by concerned residents and garnered 243 signatures before going to print, also criticised the decision and called on the mayor to obtain a “more reasonably priced vehicle” and use the rest of the money to feed the people of the town “you serve”.
“Things are only going to get worse in the next few months; can you really sit back and watch people starve while you drive around in a luxury limousine?” the petition stated.
Currently, local volunteers are providing 10 000 meals a day for R47 000 a week. R700 000 would amount to enough food for just short of 15 weeks.
Another point of contention was the approval of a 3.8% salary increase for councillors.
“Government Gazette 43246, which outlines the remuneration for councillors, does allow for a vehicle for the mayor, deputy mayor and speaker, but at a time when we are facing a financial crisis and slashing budgets for infrastructure repairs, the citizen’s money should be spent for the benefit of the community, not the self-aggrandisement of a few.”
“Plett ratepayers expect the councillors to show compassion and solidarity with the people who are suffering and for whom they swore an oath to represent. Under these circumstances, no elected representative can justify the continued payment of a high salary while those they represent have lost their jobs and face hardship,” said Gaylard.
He added that should the mayoral vehicles and the salary increase be scrapped, it would shave off R1.5-million from expenses for which budgetary provision is made.
“Our purpose in writing this letter is to call on you to review all discretionary and vanity projects as a matter of urgency, and eliminate them wherever possible. In this category we include the acquisition of a new mayoral car for the mayor and salary increases for councillors,” Gaylard wrote in the letter to the municipality.
This also comes at a time where municipal revenue had dipped to 50% in May. “This will probably not be recovered in this financial year. We need an austerity budget, not one full of nice-to-haves. Service delivery should be the first and only priority.”
This while Knynsa’s councillors passed a council motion to not accept a salary increase for the financial year.
When asked for comment, municipal spokesperson Andile Namntu said the municipality is unaware of the petition and the letter written by the ratepayers.