Dear Members,Thank you to all those who attended our AGM on 14 December. For those who were unable to attend, my Chairman’s Report is below, along with a synopsis of the meeting, and the resolutions which were taken. The year-end portfolio reports can be found on www.plettratepayers.co.za.We thank you for your ongoing support and wish you all a festive season and happy New Year!Ratepayers AGM 14 December 2021
Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us here today.
You have received full reports on our various activities during this year in our newsletter which was circulated last week. However, since we were unable to hold an AGM last year due to Covid restrictions, I will briefly cover some of the major activities of the past two years in this report.
It has been a busy couple years as corruption and bad governance have escalated: irregular expenditure skyrocketed, illegal municipal appointments were made, outstanding debt topped R300 million due to poor revenue collection, and criminal charges were laid against ex-mayor Lobese, the municipal manager, and two councillors. It led newspapers to conclude that Plett had been captured by a criminal syndicate.
My predecessor, Neville Petersen, took a decision in 2019 that the Association should take a more active role and become more involved in municipal oversight, on behalf of all the individuals of this town who are affected by corruption. Our activities over the past two years show it was the correct decision. The political commentators and politicians themselves agree that there has to be greater oversight and public participation in the affairs of municipalities, and that it is the lack of this which has severely damaged South Africa.
Monitoring service delivery is a primary function of our EXCO, and I would like to commend the expertise of our portfolio managers on EXCO for their oversight. As you may have read in their year-end reports, a particular concern is that budgeting for maintenance, expansion, and replacement of infrastructure has been grossly inadequate, and needs to be urgently attended to. We believe there are close to 1,000 housing applications currently being processed by the Municipality, and we will be evaluating whether our infrastructure can sustain this growth, or if it would be stretched beyond its capacity, and, if so, what needs to be done as a matter of urgency.
We realize that the new council has their hands full, but we believe there are actions council needs to attend to urgently, and which we have been and will continue to monitor, as the focus of our efforts:
- hold the officials named in the Provincial forensic report and HDRS’ fencing report to account. We are pleased that Municipal Manager Ngoqo has resigned, effective end of December, and a suitable candidate to run Plett’s affairs will be sought. The new MM must then build a competent staff to work under him.
- adjust the municipal budget immediately to reflect the realities of Bitou’s financial situation. Municipal accounting requires that the books be adjusted for uncollectable debt, but what we feel needs even more urgent attention is that these so-called debts are a result of thumb sucking and guess work in municipal budgeting, and laziness on the part of the old council to tackle the problem created by that. Although it is too late in this budget cycle, council needs to work toward zero-based budgeting in the next budget cycle. Unless you know the true cost of delivering a service, you cannot set a fair tariff. For example, our sewerage tariff is three times that of Knysna’s, and we deliver basically the same service. If the CFO and his staff are not capable of fulfilling this mandate, then the new municipal manager needs to hire staff who are.
- the Municipal Public Accounts Committee (called MPAC) is chaired by an opposition councillor, and nothing was done in these past five years to investigate irregular expenditure, recover funds, or take disciplinary action. We hope the new opposition chairman, Councillor Kolwapi, and the other members of the committee, take this critical committee more seriously.
- litigation expenses have increased alarmingly, rising from some R5,5 million in the 2017/18 financial year to R15,2 million in 2019/20. Public funds spent on settling political squabbles need to be recovered; council needs lawyers who represent the interests of the municipality rather than corrupt officials; and they need to settle cases and recover costs from those whose unlawful actions gave rise to unnecessary legal costs. Among the cases are the three that we have launched:
- to dismiss MM Ngoqo, which is now moot and needs to be settled,
- stop the illegal purchase of mayoral vehicles
- stop paying municipal salaries in excess of the legislated limit.
If the new council will work with us to settle these matters, we can save legal costs for both of us going forward, and fulfill the counc
il’s imperative of accountability and transparency.
- the tariff system needs to be revamped. As I just mentioned, we not only need to know the true cost of delivering services, but we need to apply it realistically. The waste removal and sewerage tariffs are the same for the residents of Beachyhead Drive as they are for the poor in the townships. No wonder they cannot pay their municipal accounts and fall further and further behind, with all the penalties that that entails.
Supporters. A question that has frequently been raised at the annual general meeting of the Association, over a number of years, was what we were doing to become more representative of the broader Bitou community as opposed to the residents of Ward 2. In response to this, we implemented a “Supporter” membership affiliation a few months ago to involve, and enable us to represent, ALL of Bitou in these matters. No matter where a person lives in Bitou, and regardless of their economic status, we all want good governance and to see that our money gets spent as it should. So, anyone in Bitou can become a Supporter and join for free by signing up on our website. Over the past three months we have conducted a trial recruitment campaign in Wittedrif and Green Valley, under the guidance of John Williams who joined the Exco earlier this year. The last report I received was that 183 people in that community had joined as supporters.
This intervention was put to our members in a circular letter earlier this year and received virtually unanimous support from the numerous members who responded. Later, in this meeting, I will ask members present to formally ratify the resolution that was circulated at the time.
Signal Hill. You will have read that a major concern we are monitoring, among many town planning issues, is the development of a boutique hotel just below Signal Hill which would block part of its iconic view and encroach on its parking area. For those who have lived here for decades, you are no doubt familiar with the long history of litigation and the failure to implement a court order for the demolition of the structure. Fortunately, those who have been affected by the possibly unlawful decision taken by the former acting executive mayor, are taking the matter to court, and we trust that the legal system will determine the matter. Or better still, that the municipality will sit around the table with the litigants and relevant experts and sort out the problem in the best interests of the citizens of Bitou.
Airport. A good example of the success from sitting around a table and finding suitable solutions is with the Plett Airport, which as you know, was closed to commercial flights in the middle of the year because of failures on the part of the municipality to implement and maintain appropriate safety measures. Our EXCO member Steve Pattinson was instrumental in bringing all the interested parties together, to discuss the way forward to re-open the airport, and as a result, commercial flights have resumed.
Voter education. In preparation for the past municipal election, we tried to help people understand the consequence of voting for a majority party which had proven it was incapable of doing the job. Our initial intention was to give everyone a central place to go for information on all parties and their options; but unfortunately, the two big parties were unresponsive. We published a report which was not aimed at getting a council of one sort or another, but to ensure that voters were fully informed…not to affect the party outcome.
Everything we do is focused on oversight for good governance. The Ratepayers’ Constitution requires us to be apolitical and we cannot favour one party over another. We will continue to exercise oversight over all political parties, regardless of affiliation, without fear or favour, to demand good governance. We have done our best to hold the previous council to account for the past five years, and will do the same with this one. It does not matter which party or parties are in the controlling seats. It is council’s performance as a whole that we are concerned with, not just the ruling party’s.
We will particularly hold them to the imperative of accountability. If there is no accountability, and no one calling for accountability, there will never be any, and crooked officials and councillors will continue to act with impunity. It may be unpopular, but anyone who is against what we do is for the criminals, for poor governance, unresponsiveness a
In concluding this report, it would be remiss of me if I failed to express our appreciation for the work done on our behalf by Martin Brassey in handling and guiding our legal and litigation activities over the past two years. We have been very fortunate to be able to draw on Martin’s knowledge and expertise as an eminent Senior Counsel and which he has so generously provided to us. He is not a member of the EXCO but has always been available for consultation and guidance when called upon.
Finally, I must record on my behalf and on yours as members, my thanks and appreciation to all the members of the EXCO who give so generously of their time and expertise to attend to the affairs of the Association and to the monitoring of the performance and service delivery of the municipality. It would not be appropriate to single out any individual members of the EXCO because they all work as a team and extremely hard and diligently. To them all, I say “thank you!” End.
The resolutions approved at the AGM included:Confirmation of 2019 AGM minutes. It was resolved to approve the 2019 AGM minutes.Confirmation of 2019 and 2020 Financial Reports. It was resolved to approve both financial reports as posted on the RA website.Confirmation of membership fees to remain at R600 per annum for 2022. It was resolved to approve the fees at R600 per annum for 2022.Ratification of resolution to add a membership category called Supporters. It was resolved to approve a non-voting affiliation of Supporters, available to all Bitou residents, at zero fee or a small donation.Ratification of 2020 AGM postponement. It was resolved to retroactively approve last year’s 2020 AGM postponement due to Covid restrictions.Confirmation of 2022 EXCO committee. It was resolved to approve the 2022 committee consisting of Peter Gaylard, Peter Pyke, Stuart Comline, Steve Pattinson, Len Swimmer, Genevieve Frost, John Williams, Debi Nicholson, and Christo Vlok.Guest Speaker Martin Brassey SC. Mr. Brassey spoke about the RA’s outstanding litigation, that the three cases accomplished what we intended, and we are now approaching the new council to settle the cases to save ratepayers further expense.Questions and Answers: Concerns were raised about the appearance of Plettenberg Bay and its safety, including non-functioning Main Street street lights, municipal buildings in need of paint, more effective speed humps on Longships, dead carcasses on the beach, etc.We will raise these issues with the Ward Councillor. We suggest you report incidents like these to Customer Care, and if you receive no response after a reasonable period, then send a letter to the ward councillor with a copy to the MM.