BARELY two weeks after the Nelson Mandela Bay council adopted a stringent 2012/13 budget, mayor Zanoxolo Wayile approved a R42000 trip for council speaker Maria Hermans and a municipal official to attend independence celebrations in Algeria.
This flies in the face of Wayile’s recent call for councillors and officials to "exercise financial prudence” given the municipality’s tight financial situation.
The city’s acting chief financial officer, Selwyn Thys, in a special council meeting to discuss the budget, called for a clamp on overseas trips, expensive catering and the use of out of town conference venues.
He was echoed by budget and treasury portfolio head councillor Balu Naran who, in his budget speech, said councillors and officials should "join forces in following austere and conservative measures”.
Hermans and the assistant director for external relations, Hester Botha, are on a week-long trip to Annaba, Algeria, to attend the country’s 50th anniversary of independence.
Municipal invoices leaked to The Herald show Wayile authorised the trip.
Hermans and Botha must report on the visit within two weeks of returning.
Wayile’s spokesman, Luncedo Njezula, said an agreement with Annaba was signed in 2007 in a bid to enhance relations and to collaborate on environmental management, tourism, economic development, social development, culture, sport and urban planning.
The leaked documents show that the cost of flights and accommodation at the Sheraton Hotel totalled R36916. The pair had a subsistence allowance of R5311.
This comes after Wayile and his wife, Fezeka, went on a 10-day getaway at a four-star hotel in Durban over the festive season at a cost of R25000.
He refused to divulge the reasons for the trip, but Wayile said the truth would be known at the next council meeting. At a special council meeting, he said he would "expose those who continue to peddle lies”.
Njezula said the mayor of Annaba had invited the Bay to the independence celebrations.
"Given the historical ties between South Africa and Algeria, it was deemed important that representation be sent to the city of Annaba to celebrate with its people on such a momentous occasion.
"The second motivation was to further explore business opportunities between the two cities. In September 2011, a delegation led by the mayor of the city of Annaba visited Nelson Mandela Bay.
"One of the highlights of that trip was the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the business chambers of the two cities wherein they pledged to work together to pursue mutually beneficial economic relations.
"During the visit, the city of Annaba expressed interest in a number of business initiatives, and these included interests in energy efficient street lighting and solar water heating.
"Part of the speaker’s brief was to engage further on these opportunities and I am happy to advise that the mayor of Annaba has confirmed that he will be sending a business delegation to pursue these projects further with the view to formalising working relations in this regard.”
Thys said previously that the common theme of this year’s budget was the need to introduce austerity measures.
He cut from the budget about R100-million on items such as overtime, hiring of vehicles, printing and stationery, contract security services, catering, travelling, use of consultants, petrol usage, cellular phone usage, Telkom’s landline costs and project launches.
And despite the national Treasury’s advice that the city should provide for two months’ capital reserves, the budget was narrowly passed by making an allowance for only one month’s capital reserves.
According to the municipality’s Integrated Development Plan, it could provide for only one month’s working capital, about R120-million.
This means that if the municipality fails to maintain revenue collection at 95%, it could slip into another financial crisis.