AS I sat through interminable waits, medium length caucuses and hopeful conjecture amongst myself and my colleagues, I started to feel a glimmer of hope that the ruling party in city council and the opposition parties, would reach consensus regarding the metro budget.
What was it that we, as Democratic Alliance, COPE, UDM, ACDP and PAC were hoping for?
Not a miracle, but the existence of some sweet reasonableness where a balance could be reached which would result in a budget being presented to the residents of this metro. A budget which would leave them with the knowledge that everything had been done to put the finances of the city on the road to recovery.
Surely not too much to ask?
With flaring protests across the most depressed areas of this metro, the urgency of moral and reliable action where spending was concerned, should have been the only priority on everyone’s minds?
But no. Despite a top-level indaba of all parties, lasting well over an hour "behind closed doors”, only slight concessions were observed coming from the ANC bigwigs – not sufficient to convince the DA and the other opposition parties that we could morally "pass” this budget.
It became increasingly clear that morality had nothing to do with it.
Neither did good financial sense.
What trumped any true attempts to instill firm austerity into the way the city council would go forward?
Sad to say, point-scoring, cheap political jibes suggesting that the opposition parties were just "maintaining their privileged positions”, racist comments coming from a senior ANC official such as "It’s a case of ‘black boy, you are on your own!’”
And that last salvo was fired, merely because DA caucus leader Leon de Villiers, had passionately demanded clarity on an attempt by the ruling party to spend millions of rands of the struggling budget on soccer events ... in secret negotiations!
What became patently clear in the latter part of the afternoon, as interminable put-offs and caucuses continued, was that the ANC was waiting for the return of councillors who had been writing exams in East London, to bump up their voting numbers, and thus pass the budget.
Even councillor Fikile Desi was hauled from his hospital bed, and arrived, to cheers from his colleagues, to take his seat in the mayoral committee benches.
Then, councillor Babalwa Lobishe arrived, well after 4pm, and the requisite 61 votes was a certainty, raised to 62 by the vote of the speaker.
Then came the full frontal attack from one of the ANC councillors who averred (in a clearly pre-prepared harangue) that "if the DA (note, ignoring the other opposition parties which were of the same mind as the DA) failed to vote for the budget to be passed, they would be directly attacking service delivery to the poor.
One of his final comments in this skewed diatribe was: "If the DA does not vote for the budget, their councillors should not collect a salary on Monday”.
At present, the metro has enough money to fund itself for a scant one month.
In anyone’s reckoning, this is a reckless and unacceptable state of affairs.
As De Villiers pointed out, in one of his statements, it just needs one glitch in the system to leave the city bankrupt and unable to pay its debtors and its officials.
National Treasury have insisted that a three-month buffer is the way to go.
The DA, in its attempts to bring some sanity and good financial governance into play, voted against the budget to guard against this type of collapse – surely fulfilling its role in local government?
Changes that were desperately needed to set this metro’s feet on the road to recovery, to build up its capital reserves, to cut out all fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and to ensure open and fair dealing, with no "secret” stashes to fund pet sporting projects, were cavalierly ignored by the ANC, and the budget was carried by their last-minute total of 62 votes.
The opposition parties stood for what is right, for integrity and good governance and service to the people.
The ruling party chose to reject the warnings, the requests, and also the alarm bells ringing in the poorest areas of this metro.
Then, sad to say, came the real gloating and grandstanding. It is time the city council came of age, eschewed puerile jibes and cleaned up its act.
If this was a private sector company, it would have failed and collapsed, years ago.
Let’s raise the bar, behave with dignity in council and show some real integrity in carrying out our duty to our city and its people. Before we run out of time ...
Bernice Wright, DA Councillor, Nelson Mandela Metro