City of Johannesburg MMC for Group Corporate and Shared Services (GCSS) Loyiso Masuku says she suspended plans to host a R2.6-million ceremony for long-serving employees, adding that no funds were spent.
"As MMC, I became aware of the plans for such an event last week and I immediately requested that the plans be suspended given the current financial and economic challenges that face our City and its residents," Masuku said in a statement on Thursday.
However, the Democratic Alliance's (DA's) Nicci Rahn called for Masuku and city manager Floyd Brink to "resign in shame" in a statement released earlier that day.
Johannesburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda, however, remained nonchalant about the matter, saying he was unaware of an end-of-year party.
It follows News24's report on the same day that the GCSS planned to hold a ceremony for public servants who've served 40 years or more in the City.
About R2-million had been diverted from the City's locomotive savings to fund the ceremony before the GCSS contracted the services of the City's IT provider, the Metropolitan Trading Company (MTC), to provide events management services.
According to an invoice seen by News24, MTC planned to splurge millions on the event for gifts such as watches and jackets as well as food, flowers, a red carpet, a DJ and vague event management fees.
Documents seen by News24 show that Brink gave his approval for the event despite warnings from legal personnel that it went against National Treasury's cost containment regulations.
Masuku said the City was "forever grateful to the many employees that have served the residents of Johannesburg with dedication for 40 years and more, however, our current circumstances are limiting how we recognise and express our appreciation".
She added that the matter had been referred to the administration for reconsideration.
"Based on engagements held with the City manager and the relevant officials on Monday, the said event and proposal must be significantly reconsidered and must align fully to the lawful processes as outlined by the City manager in an internal submission signed by the City manager", Masuku said.
A 'disgusting' affair
Rahn said the diversion of funds from the locomotive savings was "disgusting" in the face of residents who struggle to receive basic services such as water and electricity.
"The locomotives allowances were a hard-won victory by the DA for the unions and the workers, especially for the frontline workers who had not had an increase for over a decade. These are workers who are most vulnerable to the massive cost of living increases our country has experienced and require the allowances to do their jobs," she said.
Rahn was adamant in her statement that this conduct demonstrated how the current coalition "will continue to put their interests far ahead of residents".
"The City has its own venues for hire, can do internal catering, and is under strict instruction from National Treasury to eliminate all expenditure on parties and gifts. Residents of Johannesburg have a right to be angry, as there is no excuse for this abuse of critical funds."
Gwamanda 'doesn't know'
Speaking to News24 at a caucus break during the council sitting on Thursday, Gwamanda took a more relaxed approach to the debacle.
"I don't know anything about a staff party," he maintained:
Gwamanda said there were so many entities in the City that he could not keep up with their different parties. He said he would be working throughout the holidays, so he would not know anything about it.
In his response, the City's deputy director of media relations Nthatisi Modingoane told News24 that they could not ask the mayor about the party and must wait until the City provides an official statement.
The City is yet to respond to News24's request for comment sent on Wednesday.