Accountability is a hallmark of good governance. Council is the apex structure through which Councillors hold the Executive accountable. It is also a platform in which policy and legislative decisions are taken to advance service delivery.
The success of a Council meeting should, therefore, be measured by its ability to make high level decision that have impact on the residence and on holding the executive accountable.
However, all of these cannot be achieved without the spirit of cooperation, constructive engagements and general decency among councillors.
It is with a deep sense of pride for me as Leader of Executive Business to report that the 19th Ordinary Council Meeting, held on 31 October 2018 was, in terms of these two criteria – making decisions and holding executive accountable – a resounding success.
However, before one could delve into the issues covered at this October Council, it is important to reflect on the Special Council meeting that was held in the morning as it seem to have had a huge impact on the proceedings for the entire day.
The special Council meeting was in honour of Cllr Jerry Mabe of the Democratic Alliance, who passed on after a long span of illness.
Cllr Mabe's unexpected death is a profound loss, not only to his family and friends, but to the City of Johannesburg, its residents and fellow Councillors.
As we gathered on Wednesday morning to celebrate his life, we were once again reminded of his determination and commitment to serve the people of Johannesburg and his immense contribution to the City.
Speaker after speaker commended and reminisced about his calmness, decency and the dignified way in which he carried himself.
I was deeply pleased to observe the reverence, honour and the respect with which fellow Cllrs honoured Cllr Mabe and the bereaved family; and the manner in which all Councillors conducted themselves throughout Council proceedings was highly commendable.
It was indeed heart-warming to feel and observe the spirit of cooperation and camaraderie permeating throughout the corridors of Council, from morning until 21h00 in the evening when Council adjourned. What a better way to honour and send off one of our own!
As I have already said, the 19th Ordinary Council meeting was a huge success. The sheer number of (82) items considered and approved by Council speaks volume.
Even more significant is the fact that Wednesday's meeting was a demonstration of the appreciation of Council of its role in holding the Executive to account.
The question session – especially the Executive Mayor question time – underscored and showcased the transparency of the DA-led coalition government, its willingness to be accountable and to uphold the principles of good governance.
The finance department is the engine that propels the City into motion. It collects revenue necessary to fund service delivery. It has to be prudent in its handling of the finances of the City and be compliant with national regulations. A semblance of stability in the department is, therefore, the oil that makes the wheels of the city to roll smoothly and with speed.
It is for these reasons that I was filled with immense pleasure and a sense of relief when Council finally approved the appointment of Group Chief Financial Officer (GCFO). Even more comforting was that both the appointments of GCFO and that of the Executive Head in the Office of the City Manager were approved unanimously. This showed yet again the confidence that Council has on the Executive that our recruitment processes are transparent, fair and meticulous.
A significant progress made by the department of finance was to close the long intervals that existed previously regarding the Opex and Capex reports submitted to Council. Previously, Council would receive reports that are three months late making it impossible for Council to exercise appropriate oversight. In this October Council meeting the Finance department brought the reports up to date as of end of September 2018. This is unprecedented. We are indeed a transparent and an accountable government; and this is exactly the hallmark of good governance that I referred to earlier.
It would not have escaped an observant eye that more than a third of items considered by Council were property related items submitted for approval by Johannesburg Property Agency under the political leadership of Cllr Leah Knott, MMC for Economic Development.
Looking at the size of the individual properties one could be mistaken to think of Council's decision as having no material significance. However, the cumulative value of these properties, amounting to the tune of no less that R43 billion worth of transactions to the benefit of the City, makes it plain obvious that Wednesday's meeting was of great significance. This will go a long way in facilitating development in the city.
Another milestone achievement in this 19th Ordinary Council meeting was the approval of the Land Use Scheme. The new Land Use scheme is a tool that regulates the zoning of each property in the City. The proposed scheme is also aimed to promote economic development and attract investors to the City. Drafted nearly two years ago, the legislative document will do away with the previous 16 historic town planning schemes, adopted in the 1970s and 1980s. These older schemes were also designed to separate and discriminate people on the basis of race. The new Land Use Scheme will therefore bring certainty, uniformity and end inconsistencies in the application of rules for land use. Even more so it should be welcomed for its historic contribution towards eradicating apartheid spatial planning.
Council also approved a report seeking to conduct public consultations towards the development of a special ratings policy and by-law. This is meant to facilitate the charging of appropriate levies to areas established in accordance with the Gauteng City Improvement Districts who are currently uncovered by the existing policy, making it impossible to recover outstanding levies. The development of the policy and the by-law will give guidance on how special rating areas will be determined, bring to an end a period of uncertainty and quell our quarrels with Provincial government.
Being accountable to Council is not enough. We have a responsibility to be accountable to the residence, the people on whose behalf we represent in Council. The report on the declaration of disaster area in Protea Glen and the Zandspruit action plan, underscored this principle.
The community of Protea Glen have been let down by national government in the aftermath of the floods that ravaged their homes on 30 December 2017. An application to declare a local state of disaster was submitted to national and provincial government, requesting them to release the necessary funds to provide relief to affected families. Meanwhile an impression was created that it is the City of Johannesburg that has failed the residence. We could not, therefore, have left this misinformation go unchallenged and the Executive deemed it appropriate to table a report to clarify this matter, give feedback to the people of Protea Glen that the City will take action as soon as national government has made budget available. This report was approved.
The community of Zandspruit have been waiting for far too long for their plight to be addressed. They have been sent from pillar to post, with ESKOM failing to adhere to their commitments and timelines with regards to provision of electricity. The development of housing has been dependent on availability of adequate land spaces, which the City has been acquiring, albeit in snail pace, making no dent in reducing housing backlog. The Executive Mayor recently visited the area and made a commitment to table a report in Council proposing an action plan with timelines for their plight to be addressed. Council unanimously agreed to avail financial resources in the next budget adjustment for purchase of land parcels for the development of houses and for entities like City Power to cooperate and provide support in the development of the area. Council also approved that JMPD should establish a satellite station to improve safety and police visibility in the area.
It is usually expected that the time for tabling of motions is a very vibrant and emotionally loaded session. Two motions were tabled and these were motions to kick start a process towards the renaming of the Soweto Theatres and the Jeliwe cemetery. In both motions, Council underscored the need to adhere to its policy on renaming and undertake the necessary public consultations. The fencing of the cemetery will also be considered in the adjustment budget. The spirit of cooperation and calmness also prevailed, enabling Council to pass these two motions unanimously.
A lesson coming from this previous Council meeting is that holding the executive to account does not mean that we should howl and be indecent with each other. Neither are we to be friends nor foe. The atmosphere of the last Council meeting was calm, yet robust. A lot of criticisms were uttered, yet they were constructive. Sometimes we differed in our opinions yet we were civil with each other. That is how societies are build.
I wish therefore, on behalf of the Executive, to express our gratitude to all Councillors for the camaraderie spirit that imbued our minds and guided our tongues during the last Council.
May the spirit of cooperation and the calmness of Councillor Jerry live on and continue to inspire all of us, to engage more constructively as we all demonstrated in the last Council meeting.