Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality on response plans for COVID-19

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

10 June 2020 

Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs; 10 June 2020

The Eastern Cape has the second highest number of COVID-19 infections after the Western Cape. Buffalo City Metro Executive Mayor indicated that the movement of people between the Western Cape and Eastern Cape contributed to the high rate of infection, particularly during travel for funerals in the Eastern Cape. The Buffalo City presentation noted the measures it had taken to ensure lockdown regulations are adhered to. It had suspended its credit policy to ensure that those who are unable to pay for municipal services are not denied these services due to non-payment. Food vouchers have been provided to 4000 needy households in various wards. The Buffalo City budget should be adopted by 30 June 2020. It received an additional R340 million for infrastructure but this money will be spent on COVID-19 related items such as electricity, access to water, sanitation and de-densification. All grants will be reprioritised for COVID-19 relief measures and R1.4 million of unspent funds from 2019/20 have been reprioritised including grants for the next financial year.

Committee members felt a clear plan on combating the spread of COVID-19 and its budget should have been presented. They had concerns about illegal electricity disconnections, access to water and sanitation, food parcels and ward councillors, insufficient screening and testing, the ill treatment of patients at some quarantine sites and that some healthcare workers at a private hospital were being forced to work despite being infected with COVID-19. Buffalo City's socio-economic conditions and 50% of its people living below the poverty line were highlighted and they stressed that the municipality needed to remedy the situation. Concerns were raised whether oversight was being conducted by the municipal council, its ability to hold virtual meetings and whether the  municipality’s 2020/21 Budget and Integrated Development Plan (IDP) had been presented – this meeting was set to take place on 12 June 2020.

Meeting report

Buffalo City Metro Executive Mayor, Mr Xola Pakati,  said the municipality has sanitised public spaces including its offices as directed by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Since the onset of Level 3 of the Lockdown, the municipality has been operating at full capacity and has suspended its credit policy, particularly disconnecting the services of those individuals who are unable to pay their bills. As a result, the municipality has incurred revenue collection losses and is only collecting at 80% as of 30 April 2020.

Buffalo City has intervened by providing food vouchers for 40 000 households in the City worth R750 per household and targeting 800 households per ward. The City is engaged in the building of a 200-bed quarantine site at present as many people reside in high density areas and are unable to self-quarantine. The municipality now awaits approval from National Treasury. It has extended other services to rural communities such as grave digging and back filling of graves which it did not previously offer. Picks and shovels are no longer used for the digging of graves. There is a backlog in COVID-19 testing and people were not taking the existence of COVID-19 seriously and this is a challenge to be overcome if we are to reverse the scourge.

There is a COVID-19 Metro Council monitored by the Mayor which meets once a week and a COVID-19 Command Centre monitored by the City Manager that meets twice a week. The COVID-19 Command Council has taken a decision that it will develop ward-based Rapid Response Teams which would be chaired by the councillors and all stakeholders. The aim is to ensure that people take responsibility at a ward level and to involve local clinics, police stations, churches and non-profit organisations operating in the space.

On revenue collection for services and electricity, the net billing is higher than the payments received. In March, the figure stood at 87.27% and in April it was 86.87%. The billing on refuse is now at 78.53% and was 78% in March. The estimated shortfall on electricity is more than a R154 million. For refuse, a shortfall of R72 million is estimated. The estimated shortfall on property rates is R197 million and a R235 million estimated shortfall on water.

Buffalo City has suspended all credit control action and disconnections during the lockdown period and businesses and residential property owners will be allowed to make payment arrangements to pay their account over an agreed number of months when conditions change and this will be assessed on a case by case basis. He emphasised that interest would not be charged on accounts and property owners who have lost their employment and now qualify for indigent support in terms of Section 12 of the Indigent Support Policy are encouraged to apply. Senior citizens whose circumstances have changed and who now qualify for pensioners rebate are also encouraged to apply. The assistance required from provincial and national government is awaiting the finalisation of the guidelines for the R20 billion which will be allocated to municipalities.

Buffalo City Acting City Manager, Mr Bob Naidoo, summarised the City’s Command Council programme. Workstreams have been established to support the Command Council. These workstreams include Health, Safety and Security, Infrastructure Services and Public Works, Municipal Services, Economic and Social Development, Logistics, Communication, Legal and Records. These streams are multidisciplinary and made up of multiple departments at a national, provincial and local level including all other stakeholders within the metro. These reports are presented to the Command Council chaired by the Mayor on a weekly basis. The Health and Safety stream includes Law Enforcement, SAPS, Traffic, SANDF, District Health, Municipal Health Services, Disaster Management and Fire and Rescue. (See presentation for force levels/man power, dates and figures for offences and arrests).

From 29 May until 7 June 2020, 492 vehicles were stopped and searched in the City, 822 persons were searched, 34 taxi ranks, 41 shopping malls, 320 business premises, 407 spaza shops and 98 ATMs/Banks were visited. In addition to the Traffic and Law Enforcement executions, 2 hawkers were removed from the streets, 1147 prosecutions were made for various reasons, 5 vehicles were impounded , 2100 illegal electricity connections were cut off, 6229 speeding cases were found, 1 arrest was made, 19 vehicles were suspended. 380 illegal electricity connections were found at Nompumelelo Township, 620 at Redshack, 350 at Santa and all were disconnected on 30 and 31 May 2020. There have been a number of land invasions such as at Reeston behind Mabuye Bus transport where 3 fully and 3 half built structures were found. He added that the municipality was aware that it could not evict people during the Lockdown, but it has found that people have tended to take advantage of the lockdown situation. 1 person was arrested for contravening the Disaster Management Act 2002 in selling cigarettes and snuff.

In relation to community unrest, tyres were burnt on the N2 and the entrance of Newlands and Mount Ruth due to no electricity connections. Law enforcement were present to monitor the situation. 6 members of the public were also warned to refrain from public drinking in the Greenfields area. Social distancing was also monitored at various SASSA pay-out and it was found that social distancing measures were being observed.

On 1 June, 2444 people have been screened for COVID-19, 146 were tested, 1244 were confirmed, 568 were active cases, 663 recoveries were made and 13 deaths were reported.

The COVID-19 epidemic curve was moving considerably fast in the City (see presentation for details). The areas were listed for where contact tracing for COVID-19 was done. Daily mass screening and testing for COVID-19 continues. There are three quarantine sites which are actively admitting cases. There are 31 cases in the three sites and 13 of the cases have been discharged.

Out of 52 liquor outlets visited, 1 was found to be non-compliant and one was operating with people found locked inside. SAPS was called to deal with this. Food control inspections were done at various restaurants to ensure they complied with Level 3 regulations for social distancing, sanitizing and wearing masks.

Risk assessments are conducted in line with Disaster Management and the Health Department. Funerals, funeral sites and undertakers are visited to ensure compliance and all persons coming into the City from the Western Cape are screened and tested and this includes deceased persons. Food inspection and sampling has been done at supermarkets and water samples have been collected from clinics for microbiological analysis. The Decontamination and Disinfection Programme within the Buffalo City area was outlined. All persons visiting the Eastern Cape must be quarantined and isolated to limited the spread of COVID-19. All persons conducting funerals must report to their local police station to avoid COVID-19 funerals from other provinces taking place without compliance.

The City made recommendations for improvement on the Health, Safety and Security workstreams saying that there should be more focus on the inspection of taverns in villages and informal settlements to ensure compliance with lockdown regulations.

On water and sanitation, 31 outstanding water tanks are currently still in progress. There are seven COGTA donated tanks and installation commenced on 9 June. The municipality has been assisting the Department of Basic Education in situations where no potable water is available. A list of nine schools were submitted and it was ascertained that one school is not close to a water network.

The Chairperson cut the presentation short due to time constraints as Members had already reviewed the presentation documents.

Mr B Hadebe (ANC) said he was disappointed as the presentation document the Committee had received was different to today's presentation which included much more information. The Committee took the task of reading presentation documents seriously and what happened was unacceptable. The Regulations speak about developing a COVID-19 response plan. Thus far all that has been presented is actions undertaken. He wanted to hear about how much money was allocated for the response plan and resource allocation. He wanted to know if the three identified quarantine sites are public or private and how many beds are available. He asked how many quarantine sites are active?

On water tanks and tankers, he asked for a more detailed response about the areas they were installed in and how many tankers were still outstanding. He asked how many taxi ranks there are in Buffalo City and if all are operational. What measures are in place to ensure these taxi ranks are disinfected and how often is this done? What measures are in place to ensure the safety of employees at municipal offices now that all employees are back at work. Has the City adopted its 2020/21 budget and are virtual meetings being conducted successfully? If there are challenges, what measures are in place to mitigate this? Do all councillors have tools of trade such as laptops and data required to conduct meetings. Clinics have had to be closed in certain metros as they were unable to manage the volume of COVID-19 cases. In the case of Buffalo City, how many clinics belong to the municipality.  Are they all fully functional? Are the challenges with personal protective equipment?

Mayor Pakati replied that Buffalo City had three quarantine sites that are already operational and the City has used its resources for this purpose. When the peak of COVID-19 infections is reached in September, more space will be needed for quarantine sites and the municipality is considering building a 200-bed hospital. The challenge the municipality is facing at present is that it intends to use funding which requires approval from National Treasury and the municipality is currently awaiting this approval.

Ms P Xaba-Ntshaba (ANC) said the presentation was informative as she knew that the Executive Mayor was looking after his people and that she herself was deployed there. There were many people in correctional centres in Buffalo City who were infected with COVID-19. She appealed to the Mayor to continue looking after the people as many were unaware of the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to constantly sanitise hands. She asked if the Mayor had any staff infected with COVID-19.

The Mayor replied that there have been two cases of staff infected with COVID-19 who have been placed in quarantine, 1 recovery has been made and 1 death has been reported.

Mr G Mpumza (ANC) welcomed the presentation. He asked why the water tanker installation service has been discontinued by the Department of Water and Sanitation and if this was because Buffalo City had the capability of providing this service. He asked what progress was made in providing water and sanitation services to high population density settlements. What strategies is Buffalo City employing to ensure there is widespread and constant communication on the COVID-19 pandemic to communities?

The Mayor replied that all forms of communication are used including radio.

Mr C Brink (DA) asked if the Mayor had taken the effect of the lockdown on municipal revenue into account when putting together the draft budget for 2020-2021 which should have been published. The shortfall to be projected in the present financial year and the next financial year should be considered. He asked what the status was on the interventions that national government would take to support municipalities to bounce back from the drop in revenue.

The Mayor replied that Buffalo City is aware that it will not meet its budget projections which will be presented this Friday 12 June.

Ms H Mkhaliphi (EFF) asked about billing as there was a huge with Buffalo City’s billing system.

Mr K Ceza (EFF) said Section 195 of the Constitution asserts that services must be provided fairly, impartially, equitably and without bias. There have been complaints of biased distribution of services and food that is kept in councillor homes. This cuts across all political parties where food parcels are given to family, friends and their cabal. This behaviour was nothing short of fraud. He asked what measures the Buffalo City Municipality was taking to stop this within the area of its jurisdiction.

According to information we have received on the ground, workers at Nkqubela Santa Hospital in Mdantsane who test positive for COVID-19 are forced to continue working. When the EFF asked officials at the hospital why this was happening, they said it was because they are short staffed. What intervention has the municipality taken to stop this denialism and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Eastern Cape as numbers continue to escalate.

He asked about the sewage system in Duncan Village where there are flushing toilets that have been leaking for a very long time and the sewage runs into the streets. He asked when the metro would address this. He asked how people would ever be safe from the spread of disease during COVID-19 if this continued. People queue to collect water at water tankers and he asked how the municipality would ensure that people were protected against COVID-19 if they do not have water in their own areas. He referred to another case in Ehlosini where there was community uprising about. He asked how the municipality was addressing this in rural communities. He asked what sustainable measures the Mayor had in place to ensure that water is sustainable in rural areas. Water was cut off and communities were not informed prior to this. He asked if the Mayoral Committee had been converted to the Buffalo City Municipality Command team and if it was running the municipality. He asked if they were being held accountable by the municipal council.

The Mayor replied that a project has been set up to change the face of Duncan Village, but in some instances it is difficult to remove shacks. He said people have illegally connected themselves to the sewer system. Buffalo City is in the process of intervening.

On water provision, the City is at 98% in terms of water connectivity. It has placed additional stand pipes in certain areas to address water accessibility. It also provides soap for handwashing. The 2% of people that do not have access to water are located in the villages and 13 water tankers have been placed in the various villages. The Department of Water and Sanitation had promised to provide the municipality with 72 water tanks to deliver to the villages and out of the 72, 31 are still outstanding. It is working with the Department to ensure that these are delivered. The Mayor stressed that all 154 informal settlements have water, however they do not have access to electricity.

On the Mayoral Committee and it being the Command Council, the Mayor replied that the truth of the matter is that the Command Council is constituted by members of the Mayoral Committee and leaders of the opposition who meet every Tuesday. According to his knowledge, two virtual municipal council meetings were held in the recent past and the next meeting to present the budget would be on 12 June. He was not sure of council not sitting.

Ms M Tlou (ANC) welcomed the presentation. The Eastern Cape had been declared a COVID-19 hotspot and it is known that people in the province do not take the pandemic seriously. She asked what control measures are in place in public spaces to control the transmission of the virus. She asked for more information on quarantine sites. Municipalities were expected to do their best in revenue collection while allowing for the relief of the indigent and those experiencing temporary payment challenges in line with the existing credit control policy framework. She asked how the City would address this.

Mr H Hoosen (DA) said he was concerned about the statistics on the spread of COVID-19 in Buffalo City Municipality. The presentation does not reflect the true nature of what is happening with the exception of one slide which shows the graph with the upward trajectory for number of infections. Buffalo City is the epicentre of the virus in the Eastern Cape and the response to this should match the seriousness of the matter. He was troubled that the municipality was not doing as much testing as it should be. About 350 people had not yet been traced and these people are possibly infected and infecting others. On 6 June no tests were conducted and he asked why this was the case. The number of tests done per day was inadequate.

He referred to the high number of electricity disconnections and asked if the Mayor thought this was an appropriate time to be doing that given the community unrest on this same issue. How many of the 154 informal settlements still do not have access to water since the start of the lockdown? How soon will resources be directed to the provision of water? Why is the municipality shutting down informal traders and why were two informal traders prosecuted? He asked how many schools still do not have water and what provisions have been made for these schools since they have reopened.

Ms Mkhaliphi asked for clarity on illegal electricity disconnections. Regulations specify that electricity cannot be disconnected during COVID-19. She asked how poverty was addressed in the City. She referred to a hospital called Life Healthcare in Buffalo City and said there was a huge challenge with staff who have tested positive and have been admitted to a quarantine site, but are not treated with dignity. She just posted a video on the committee Whatsapp group about this and asked the Mayor to intervene. There is a doctor travelling between hospitals to assist in the COVID-19 pandemic and was continuing consultations at his private practice in Buffalo City, but he has tested positive for COVID-19 which is concerning since he is not in quarantine. People were moved to temporary shelters in 2011, but these are now damaged and the people residing there are still suffering. She asked how the Mayor could allow this as many housing projects were incomplete such as in Ward 11 and 12 and criminal activities took place in these houses. She asked how food parcels were managed as this was used by political parties to gain favour.

The Mayor replied that it is the responsibility of the Health Department to provide leadership on screening and testing for COVID-19. The municipality does not own any clinics.

On healthcare workers who are infected with COVID-19 and forced to work, the Mayor said he was hearing this for the first time and that the hospital in question would be better placed to answer that question. He would follow up on this. On the provision of food vouchers, the list to identify beneficiaries was not developed by political parties, but by ward councillors in consultation with ward stakeholders. A decision has not been made on the distribution of food parcels. Lists have been given to supermarkets and people can decide on their own what they would like to purchase there. On the incomplete housing projects, the municipality’s process to build houses was interrupted by the lockdown, but will recommence.

Mr Naidoo replied that Buffalo City Municipality has a very close relationship with the Health Department and a risk assessment plan is in place for the municipality and each department dealing with PPEs, social distancing and rotation of staff.

Ms Xaba-Ntshaba asked about land grabs in Buffalo City and if these people were evicted and what the Mayor was doing about it. She asked what it was doing about people who do not observe social distancing protocols.

The Mayor replied that land grabs were not tolerated and the municipality has used law enforcement agencies to intercept this.

Ms Mkhaliphi said the Mayor should not say that food parcels were dealt with by ward councillors [audio inaudible 1:26:00). She asked the Mayor to intervene about hospital staff being forced to work even though infected with COVID-19 and despite being employed at a private facility. She asked the Mayor to inspect quarantine sites and the way people are treated there.(She spoke in her vernacular language 1:29:05). She stressed that people were being treated like animals at the quarantine site in question. 50% of Buffalo City residents live below the poverty line and she asked what interventions the Mayor had in place to address this. Illegal electricity connections were due to poverty and unemployment thus disconnecting illegal electricity connections cannot be done. People cannot be punished like that without being provided with an alternative.

On the Life Healthcare hospital, the Mayor replied that what was reported as happening there was unacceptable and could not be tolerated. He pointed out that the state had an option to withdraw the hospital’s licence if it did not comply with regulations set out by the Command Council.

It was true that 50% of residents lived below the poverty line due to unemployment and underinvestment. For employment to be created, investment is required, but this is not happening. Even state-owned entities were not investing enough in Buffalo City. In a situation where both the private sector and the state are not investing, it is likely that people will be living in poverty. The municipality was working to correct this and it was working with local businesses. The municipality is a major employer in the City as it employed more than 5 000 people.

The Mayor said disaster management officials were deployed to enforce regulations. On illegal electricity connections, people are installing illegal connections themselves and as a result are causing the collapse of electricity provision to deserving communities.

Mr Hadebe asked about the Mayor's plan and if it was approved and adopted by the municipal council. What was the resource allocation as dictated by the COGTA Minister. The Committee wanted to ascertain if the City had enough resources to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. He did not get a clear answer on quarantine sites and if they are public facilities or privately owned and how many beds these facilities had. Are these beds all active at the moment? He asked how many taxi ranks were disinfected in the municipality?

The Mayor replied that there are 10 taxi ranks in the City and all have been sanitised and decontaminated. Sanitisation will be redone. Taxi ranks have been disinfected and with workers returning to their workplaces, there is a high demand for decontamination. The municipality began a new program for decontamination of work spaces at the start of Level 3 of the Lockdown. All COVID-19 protocols such as wearing masks and sanitising hands were followed and all workers who are over 50 years of age are still working from home. It provides personal protective equipment for its workers.

Mr Naidoo replied that all the quarantine sites were owned by government and there are approximately 180 beds combined. There are regulations from the Health Department on the meals to be provided for those in quarantine and hygiene protocols and the municipality will comply with all of this.

Mr Mpumza referred to slide 17 and relief measures such as food parcels. Distribution to the poor and destitute was not clearly indicated and he asked if this was an oversight in the presentation. He asked where the hotspot areas are in the municipality which require extraordinary measures to be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He asked about the Response Task Teams which are led by ward councillors and asked if they were already operating or if the municipality was still in the process of developing these teams. He asked if there was a weekly report to the municipality on the spread of COVID-19 within the City.

Mr Ceza asked about homeless people in the City and the 50% of people who are unemployed. The presentation did not have any information about homeless people and which quarantine sites they have been taken to. He asked what provisions were made to feed the homeless. He asked about an area in Ward 40 in King Williams Town and power outages which have occurred there twice a day. He asked the Mayor to explain why this was the case. He asked about communication issues on COVID-19 awareness and asked how often public spaces are disinfected in the City.

The Mayor said power outages were done by Eskom and added that he would bring inconsistent supply of electricity to its attention. In relation to homeless people, the Department of Social Development asked the municipality to erect temporary structures in 5 identified areas. Many of these people have been reconnected with their families, however the provision of needs is the responsibility of the Department of Social Development.

Ms Tlou asked if the Mayor had finalised its IDP, if so, did it consult the relevant stakeholders and entire communities.

The Mayor replied that the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) adoption had not yet been done. It would be done with the tabling of the budget. Subsequent to this, consultations with communities will begin.

The Chairperson asked about tariff increases and inflation rate. This doubled and she asked how it could be justified in the context of COVID-19. She noted that the municipality’s collection rates are estimated to drop another 2% this month. This was a clear indication that the people could not afford it. She asked how the municipality would maintain costs in its 2020/21 budget. She asked when water restrictions would be lifted to encourage better hygiene practices. How many water and electricity disconnections have been reconnected over the past two months? She asked why 31 water tanks have not been installed yet and highlighted that nine schools did not have water in the municipality.

On billing, the Mayor replied that the municipality is contemplating a move away from the manual reading of meters and would like to move to SMART metering for accuracy in readings and billing. Sometimes municipal staff were unable to read meters as doors were locked and staff could not reach meters leading to estimated billing based on the previous month’s account. This challenge of the manual billing system must be addressed.

Mr Ntsikelelo Sigcau, CFO of Buffalo City Metro, replied about how COVID-19 expenditure would be funded. An IDP budget process plan was adopted by Council which the municipality is religiously implementing. The draft budget plan was being adopted. Due to the COVID-19 disaster regulations, council sittings had to be suspended, particularly where there are council members who are over the age of 50. Virtual meetings were encouraged to adopt the draft budget and this had been scheduled for 27 May. In one of the areas identified for convergence of councillors, an employee at the civic centre tested positive for COVID-19. The area needed to be decontaminated and disinfected. Councillors said they felt unsafe in that venue therefore the meeting had to be reconvened on 29 May. The draft budget was not approved and councillors said they wanted a workshop. A virtual workshop was arranged for 4 June with input from the councillors. The adoption of the IDP and budget is scheduled for 12 June.

He clarified that he was giving this account to demonstrate to the committee that legislation was not being disregarded. The municipality will request the assistance of national government. The draft budget will have public consultation for a period of 21 days. There is legislation which dictates that consultation take place for at least 30 days. However, this is not practical currently. The municipality will write to COGTA to request a waiver on the timeframe given the unprecedented times. The budget should be adopted by 30 June.

On infrastructure matters, the municipality received an additional R340 million from the Urban Settlement Development Grant (USDG). However, this money will be spent on COVID-19 items such as electricity, access to water and sanitation and de-densification. 70% of the municipality’s normal catering budget and sponsorship not yet allocated has been redirected to COVID-19 matters. Council will also be meeting on the reallocation of funds before 15 June.

When determining a tariff increase many factors are taken into account and the CPI rate is not necessarily a true reflection of the determining factors of the true expenditure of the cost of living. The cost of living across the country is 4.5%, but this is an average. There is a regulation which dictates that a tariff must be cost effective. National Treasury was satisfied with the justification provided by the municipality on the tariff increase. There were two matters relevant to the escalation of billing. One of these was meter readings as some consumers would not allow staff on their property to get to the meter readers for fear of being exposed to COVID-19, however, all meter readers were equipped with PPE. Another restriction is water consumption where punitive tariffs are imposed if consumption is high. Water is not restricted. He highlighted that consumers have created businesses in their properties which are not registered which also contributes to high water bills.

The Chairperson said Mr Sigcau had replied sufficiently. She rarely saw a CEO who replied so eloquently as they usually dealt only with figures.

Ms Mkhaliphi said illegal electricity disconnections was not replied to adequately.

Mr Naidoo said this question was already replied to and repeated that it was done because of the impact it has on electrical infrastructure and the danger it poses to the communities who do this.

Mr Brink replied about the municipality not being able to comply with the time period for the Property Rates Act, saying that the Deputy Minister should assist in answering this as it also affected other municipalities. He asked what the progress was on financial support for municipalities affected by the lockdown.

Mr Ceza said the municipality had to eradicate the root causes before scratching the surface when it disconnects electricity. Ms Mkhaliphi mentioned that illegal electricity connections were as a result of poor socio-economic conditions. He asked how the City was addressing this. He urged the municipality to provide the relevant details on the root causes of this and what it was doing to remedy the situation.

The Mayor replied that with the collapse of influx control rules and apartheid people lived wherever they wanted to and people came to cities in search of greener pastures. He referred to inward migration saying that Buffalo City is in close proximity to rural communities. People believe that coming to cities would bring greener pastures. This can only be reversed if we ensure that people live in better conditions. Illegal electricity connections are very dangerous and have maimed children. Economic loss is also suffered by the municipality and it does not have enough resources to connect all informal settlements at once. The municipality is in the process of applying for a grant to remedy this.

Deputy Minister Obed Bapela replied that R20 billion relief has been allocated to assist municipalities. Once this has been appropriated by Parliament, the Minister will provide details on this.

Mr Themba Fosi, COGTA Deputy Director General: Policy, Research & Knowledge Management Support, replied that the exemption that National Treasury has provided on the extension of the deadline for the adoption of budget will part of the same process. If people have objections to their property evaluation there is a timeline set out for them to do this. All grants will be reprioritised for COVID-19 relief measures and R1.4 million of unspent funds have been reprioritised including grants for the next financial year.

Mr Hadebe asked if all councillors have the necessary tools to do their jobs. He asked if councillors have to gather in community halls.

The Mayor replied the councillors are well equipped, but sometimes choose to be in one space. They gathered in numbers that were below the number set out by the Regulations.

Mr Hadebe asked why a meeting was cancelled when two positive cases of COVID-19 were discovered at a venue. The meeting could have continued virtually.

The Mayor replied that the cancellation was not due to councillors not having the digital tools of trade.

Mr Hadebe said the Mayor was not doing justice to what he had asked.

The Mayor replied all councillors have cell phones, laptops, airtime and data allowances which makes it possible for virtual meetings to be held.

Ms Mkhaliphi said about illegal electrical connections that the Mayor should look into this as it was a great cause for concern. The City should have a clear plan on how to address this as it was necessary for people's survival.

The Deputy Minister said that COVID-19 regulations state that virtual platforms should be used for meetings, however there have been connectivity challenges reported by some councillors, particularly in rural communities. Protocols then allow for the meetings to happen with social distancing observed.

Meeting adjourned.