‘Our city is broken’
Qaba outlines plans to fix some of the problems deterring investors
Nelson Mandela Bay is struggling to attract new investors and clinch deals that could bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the city.
Acting city manager Anele Qaba believes the crux of the problem is that the Bay can no longer offer the cheapest electricity and water rates.
Also, it is hard to get businesses to pour money into a place that is filthy, riddled with potholes and unsafe.
In a wide-ranging, frank interview this week, he outlined his focus for his three months at the helm of the city’s engine room – and it boils down to getting the basics right.
“If you go around the city there are potholes all over. It’s totally unacceptable.
“We can’t talk tourism without talking safety and cleanliness,” Qaba said.
“We can’t just be moving to new projects without cleaning and fixing what we have and secure it.
“If we don’t fix the basics, and keep the citizens, businesses and investors happy, we have a problem.
“I want us to make what we have work, simple.”
He said the Bay was “a broken city”.
“Fix what is broken first and gain the confidence of everybody first.
“Because how am I going to begin to talk about investors if I don’t fix the potholes? And the city is dirty. I can’t do that.
“How do I expect someone to come and invest and yet our resorts are dilapidated?
“You go to the Uitenhage Springs resort today and it’s not in a good condition.
“We’ve got assets that you can begin to utilise for revenue for the city for tourism and the economy, but we are not using those,” he said.
“So, my basic issue is take those assets and utilise them correctly to attract investments because, in that way, you will be able to ignite investment.
“I’m passionate about tourism and to see these buildings in the state they are is bad.
“If you walk in the [Vuyisile Mini] Square, it is totally unacceptable.
“Those are the broken pieces of the city.
“You walk there and there are holes in the paving. It could lead to litigation claims.
“Fix those things. They might look small, but they are immediate things and you score the confidence of the public,” Qaba said.
The city’s one-stop shop for potential investors – which is meant to make it easier to do business in the city – had not been getting many inquiries.
“The one-stop shop deals with investor inquiries. There’s nothing much that is happening. It’s quiet from an investment point of view.
“We do get a couple of inquiries, but to get the actual deals, it’s still an uphill [battle],” Qaba said.
He said the city was feeling the pinch of South Africa’s economic downturn.
“People are not really looking for investment.
“That could be the reason why there’s quietness.
“But surprisingly, on the other side, we had an investment session with the mayor [Mongameli Bobani] and most developers spoke about the bottlenecks that drag on for months [rezoning applications, being sent from pillar to post before starting construction projects, and incompetent staff] and they’ve got money to invest.
“They say they are waiting for the city to play its part – they’ve got money, but the processes are delaying things and that’s what’s stopping them from pushing forward with these developments,” he said.
The one-stop shop, first launched five years ago and relaunched in February, is meant to be a facility where businesses and potential investors can get advice on incentives.
It is also meant to assist and fast-track rezoning applications and service-related queries, with the aim of cutting through red tape.
“We have processes that frustrate investors,” Qaba said.
“But how do we say ‘come and bring your business to us’ and we are not dealing with those processes?
“You can’t leave those as a city manager because they are crucial.”
Qaba has escalated some of the city’s long-term economic development projects to the city manager’s office, saying the departments had been working in silos for too long, each focusing on their own projects.
On Monday, he and the various senior managers agreed to work through the list of megaprojects that have been in the pipeline for many years – such as the mooted waterfront development and international convention centre – and decide on a way forward.
Department heads now have to give feedback every Monday on what was achieved the previous week towards realising those goals.
“The first focus is to deal with all major developments
‘Fix what is broken first and gain the confidence of everybody first’
ACTING CITY MANAGER
that are proposed – the waterfront, ICC and so on, that need the attention of the city,” Qaba said.
“If the centre is not holding, you then have a problem.
“You can’t leave them to junior officials.
“I believe that as the acting city manager you need to drive that process with your executive directors, or at least ensure there is monitoring and oversight to make sure the directorates are playing their roles.”
The city has a long infrastructure needs list, with an estimated price tag of R9bn, that officials say is needed to ensure water security in the Bay.
Among these projects was a desalination plant, projected to cost about R1.5bn – money the city did not have, Qaba said.
While the metro was looking into a private-public partnership, it was complicated because only the metro had the authority to sell water.
The city also relies heavily on water and electricity as a revenue stream – something Qaba believes should change.
“A few years back, when I was a director [of trade and investment], part of our value proposition we used when attracting investments was that we offer lower electricity and water rates.
“But it’s a different case now. For an investor to come here, we must be able to offer a proper business case for why they should come to Nelson Mandela Bay and not Durban, for example.
“If you are not providing a better business case in terms of the rates, you are in trouble and they will go to other places.
“The problem is when they [budget officials] are setting up tariffs, economic development [department] is not involved.
“The city manager’s office is not involved.
“Those things are not taken into account and they just charge businesses [more].
“The danger of using it [water and electricity] as a revenue driver is a problem.
“We have resorts that investors would kill to have – and they would turn them into real, proper resorts.
“We are not generating money – we are going for the easy [money] and just charging more.
“We need to see how do we bring in new developments using our assets and how do we fast-track our processes to ensure they are not frustrated.
“If we can tackle those things, we will win,” Qaba said.