THE City’s 90-day service delivery programme strove to establish the principle that “excellence becomes the norm” in everything it did, explained the mayoral committee member for finance, Geoffrey Makhubo, at an investor briefing in Sandton this week.
He outlined a number of challenges that the City was getting its head around: urbanisation; climate change; water scarcity; energy provision; poverty and unemployment; building and growing an inclusive economy; building sustainable human settlements; ensuring resource security and environmental sustainability; and promoting good governance, which, in his words, was a “non-negotiable”.
The City is planning for a population of about 8 million by 2030. “Our main aim is to make Joburg a competitive city,” he said.
These and other issues are being discussed with the citizens of Joburg in the nine-week Growth and Development Strategy (GDS) meetings that are taking place at present. The consultation is now in its sixth week. The GDS process is a review of the 2006 strategy, taking the vision of the city to 2040.
Regarding making the City attractive for investors, Makhubo outlined a set of priorities: managing liquidity and debtors, addressing billing issues, balancing revenue and expenditure; rebuilding cash reserves; improving operational efficiencies or getting more value for each rand spent; and fixing the call centre.
“The conversation continues – we are all players; let’s play, don’t be a spectator,” he encouraged the investors present.
The City welcomed challenges, and admitted that mistakes would be made. “We are trailblazers – we were the first metro to turn around a township – others are following,” he said, referring to Soweto.
Lungelwa Sonqishe, the City’s acting executive director for finance and group chief financial officer, admitted that while there had been challenges in revenue collection, the collection rate in the past year was 92,6 percent.
Two City entities, City Power and Joburg Water, had received clean audits in the 2009/10 financial year; another positive was the redemption of the City’s 2001 bond, to the value of R1-billion.
She said that the City had received a clean audit for three consecutive years, although it received a qualified one for 2009/2010 because of the billing queries and the resultant drop in revenue.
This qualified audit was being taken seriously, she indicated. “The qualified opinion has resulted in a process of introspection by both the political and administrative leadership of the City to ensure improvement of the financial management environment.”
She added: “The financial position of the City is stable.”
Sonqishe was up front about the billing challenges. A number of problems existed, but they were being eradicated: customers were not receiving statements; cut-offs were occurring despite people not receiving those statements; statements didn’t always add up; and the turnaround time needed to be improved.
“More than 98 percent of queries are being cleared monthly,” she said. The City had also simplified the statements in its efforts to improve communication with its customers. Of a total of 65 000 queries, only 2 000 remained.
Regarding the problems of the call centre, Sonqishe said that the City had improved the answer rate of agents. “In January, we had 50 percent of calls dropped, this is down to 20 now.” It was working towards a benchmark of 10 percent.
Trevor Fowler, the new City manager, confidently indicated that the City was looking at a number of issues: going beyond basic services delivery; rolling out the GDS; being held accountable to deliver on its commitments, among others.
“Our challenges are the qualified audit and the revenue issues,” he conceded. Those should be balanced against the successful 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and the roll out of the Rea Vaya bus system.
“The challenges are real,” he said. “We want an administration that is dynamic and innovative to confront the challenges through the GDS process.”
Some of those challenges are concerns about exhaustion of landfill sites, Joburg’s carbon footprint, and the extension of water, electricity and sanitation services to keep up with the growth of population. This goes hand in hand with replacing elements of the infrastructure network, which is ageing.
“We are focusing on fiscal responsibility and high standards of prudent financial management,” he said. This would be guided by the Batho Pele principle – putting people first. “[We] Need [to] give voice to the voiceless but most importantly we must respond when they speak.”
Fowler reiterated points made by Makhubo. “We are committed to a customer/citizen-centric approach, and will take complaints seriously.”
He said that in the next six months the focus would be on implementing service delivery imperatives; crafting a financial turnaround strategy; finalising the GDS; and ensuring that the priorities in the budget would be met.
“We are looking forward to building your confidence in the City of Joburg,” he told investors.