Final Members Update

Dear Members,

Kudos to the municipal teams who have been busy sprucing up Plett in time for the holiday season. Compliments have been rolling in for the Plett Quarter, which is a welcome upgrade to the area as well as for Market Off Main.

This is in stark contrast to the woes of our sister town Knysna, whose residents are suffering under mountains of waste, a lack of water, and overflowing sewerage. The municipality’s lack of attention to maintenance and investment in critical infrastructure has finally manifested itself.

The continuing population growth of Bitou demands that our focus over the next 12 months shifts to the longer-term strategic issues of water security, renewable energy, expansion of sewerage works, and more efficient management of our waste. An economic and business development strategy, in line with the towns’ character and tourist industry, needs to address the growing imbalance between immigration and unemployment. Much more work is required across these areas.

Despite ongoing and constructive engagement with the Mayor, the Municipal Manager who runs the administration, refuses to engage with the RPA, presumably due to his discomfort with the oversight we bring and the accountability and transparency we demand. This needs to be urgently resolved.

A brief update on affairs within Bitou;

  1. Water. We are pleased to see current efforts to bring the desalination plant back into operation. This will provide a potential 10 – 15% increase in supply when required. We remain vocal about the lack of a longer term water security strategy and the lack of groundwater options as our boreholes remain inoperable due to vandalism and/or lack of maintenance
  2. The Sewerage System.  The effluent quality from the Gansevlei Waste Water Treatment Works continues to be well within the required standards.  However an analysis of the load on the plant has indicated that it will be close to being at full load this Festive Season therefore serious consideration must be given to the planning of an extension to the works.  The pump stations have all been operating satisfactorily.
  3. Recycling/waste removal.  After five months of limited recycling, we are told a contract will be awarded in December.  In the meantime, the problems with vehicle maintenance continue to plague the carting of refuse to Mossel Bay.  As a result of the two truck/trailer combinations used for this purpose not being consistently available, the Transfer Station has been operating with a large stockpile of domestic refuse for most of the year with a significant overflow to the Old Nick’s drop-off station.  A very large stockpile of bulky waste has also been allowed to build up at the Transfer Station which will be very expensive to remove.  A new truck/trailer combination has been ordered and will hopefully be in operation this month before the start of the Festive Season peak.  To address the longer term problem and expense of transferring waste to Mossel Bay the RPA is investigating a project to establish a waste to energy plant. This will require a commitment and cooperation from Bitou with significant potential benefits in terms of cost savings, power generation and job creation.
  4. Erf 156 below Signal Hill.  After nearly two years since council withdrew the rights to a hotel development on the unsightly, illegally-constructed structure below Signal Hill, a tender has finally been advertised for the demolition, in accordance with a 2016 court order to demolish.  It has become a serious crime hotspot, so we are pleased the municipality is finally fulfilling its obligation after an inexplicably protracted and tardy process.
  5. Disciplinary Action.   We have repeatedly asked about the ongoing costs relating to staff on suspension and pending disciplinary actions, which in some cases goes back over two years.  After not receiving answers to our PAIA, we will now apply for a court order. The ongoing lack of consequence management in this municipality has become a critical barrier to performance enhancement and we hope that the Mayor listens to our advice about the recruitment of a senior and competent HR and labour relations professional.
  6. Rising cost of senior officials.  COGTA sets upper limits for salaries of Directors and senior managers reporting to the Municipal manager. In order to avoid these upper limits, we have seen a disturbing trend of Directors taking on lower level management positions at significantly elevated remuneration packages. This practice increases costs and is not sustainable.   It is regrettable that Felix Lotter, who has been a key driver of the recently acquired ‘clean audit’ as well as achieving progress made against a financial recovery plan he developed last year, is moving out of Finance next March, into a Governance and Compliance role. Once again we are looking for a new CFO and this ongoing lack of stability in this critical function should be of concern to both the municipal leadership and residents of Bitou. Another concern is that there have been three director positions open since August 2023, and we are told they will not be filled until April 2024.  That means Bitou’s budget of R900+ million is being managed by too many lower level managers.
  7. Promotion of Access to Information Act.   Despite a recent willingness to respond to our information requests, there is still resistance to providing full disclosures.  As a result, the RPA has had to resort to lodging PAIA applications and the magistrate has awarded the RPA with three court orders to which Bitou has not complied. Contempt of Court orders are being considered.
  8. Ratepayers’ Alliance.  The Plett Ratepayers have launched a Garden Route Ratepayers’ Alliance with over 30 RPAs in the Western Cape having joined so far.  Many new RPAs are being formed due to increasing dissatisfaction with how their municipalities are being run. Our intent is to open a line of communication, to share best practices, solutions, and to promote good governance from our municipalities and province.
  9. Plett Ratepayers’ year-end portfolio reports. Reports will be circulated in January, after the holiday rush, along with the date of the February AGM.

We wish you all a happy holiday season and thank you for your continued support.

Kind regards,
Steve Pattinson