That pesky Section 78
Knysna tourism fraternity faces its next niggling hitch
On Monday 13 August a council meeting will take place to decide whether a proposed service level agreement (SLA) between Knysna Municipality and the provincial public entity Wesgro will be officially accepted or not. (Wesgro is already mandated to act as the official tourism trade and investment agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape, but it proposes to “manage Knysna municipality’s constitutional mandate in terms of tourism and destination marketing at a local level”.)
For the council and Knysna Tourism – the latter currently nothing much more than a board of eight members with a skeleton staff of two after the operational wing was effectively closed down recently and eight employees were retrenched – a go-ahead will signify the end of a long hard slog that began last year when the then municipal manager Kam Chetty initiated discussions with Wesgro.
In some circles it constituted a puzzling move. The municipality’s previous contract with Knynsa Tourism (then still known as Knysna & Partners) had expired in mid-2017 and in terms of the council’s agreement with its tourism service provider, the contract had to then be subjected to a public tender process. Instead of initiating a tender process, Chetty gave Knysna & Partners another year-long contract and embarked on the discussions with Wesgro to stand in.
The extended contract with Knysna Tourism ended last month and since then there has effectively been no official, fully functioning tourism service provider for Knysna.
It is exactly this rudderlessness which members of the Knysna Tourism board hope will be rectified with the Wesgro deal. “(The Knysna Tourism office) seem to have been lurching from one leadership crisis to the next over the last 10 years,” board member and Knysna businessman Charles van Tonder told KPH last week. According to Van Tonder, Wesgro has what it takes to provide adequate leadership and members of the board want the agreement signed and sealed as soon as possible.
Other legislative requirements
But it’s the as-soon-as-possible part, however, that apparently represents the nose pimple. Says Susan Campbell of the Knysna Ratepayers Association (KRA), “Even if the municipality and Knysna Tourism introduces a state organ such as Wesgro into the mix – which means they don’t have to go through a tender process – there are still other legislative requirements that have to be complied with.”
Most notably Section 78 of the Municipal Systems Act.
In documents delivered to KPH last week the Knysna Tourism board responded to cautions by KRA members that the proposed deal with Wesgro was not following the correct procedures. The agreement with Wesgro would have to cross a few “hurdles” set out by Section 78 before the deal could be clinched, the KRA’s Chris Gould had warned – hurdles such as public notice and participation, impact on jobs and employment patterns and a feasibility study, among others. A failure to do so would constitute a contravention of the act according to Gould.
‘Time to put Knysna first’
Which is all eliciting a collective groan from Knynsa Tourism members Clive Bennet and Van Tonder, who cite correspondence to their office by Grant Thorton advising that “Section 78 can take six to 18 months in a ‘normal’ year.” And that the upcoming elections would likely lengthen the process. “I believe it’s time to put Knysna first and reach a sustainable, long-term arrangement that will align and benefit our town, our region and our province in a synergetic team effort,” Van Tonder stated in impeccable PR speak.
According to a statement by Knysna Municipality, the SLA with Wesgro is seemingly already a done deal. “Once the SLA is approved, “mayor Mark Willemse states, “Wesgro will take over the management of the [tourism] office and the destination marketing function for the Greater Knysna with immediate effect.”
But Campbell cautions, “All roads lead to section 78. No matter who deals with who or what. They still have to negotiate Section 78. No-one said following the rules was ever going to be easy.”
Running on empty: Knysna Tourism has reached skeleton staff status.