‘Our city is broken’

Qaba out­lines plans to fix some of the prob­lems de­ter­ring in­vestors

The Herald (South Africa) - - Front Page - Rochelle de Kock [email protected]­soblack­star.co.za

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’

Anele Qaba

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.

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