Speechless over eThekwini municipality's R300k Zoom meetings
eThekwini municipality has spent more than a quarter of a million rand on hosting five Zoom calls for council meetings since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The video conferencing facility was used for five meetings, which were hosted mainly from the Durban City Hall main auditorium and connecting with three other meeting venues, thus making the provision of video conferencing equipment in four meeting venues,” said spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela.
“The total video conferencing costs for the five meetings held, as per the set-up outlined, came up to R300,648.30.”
Asked by SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE why the city appointed a service provider to facilitate its virtual council meetings instead of using their in-house IT department, Mayisela said: “The IT department is not in possession of the Zoom licence. They are also not in a position to acquire it because they’ve already acquired a licence for and manage Microsoft Teams, as per the existing contract entered into with Microsoft.”
The city justified the spending, saying in one meeting held through Microsoft Teams some councillors were frustrated, while others abandoned the meeting altogether as the meeting could not proceed without difficulty as a result of the lack of features for the speaker to control the proceedings.
“Subsequently, the municipality was taken to court arising from the manner in which the proceedings were handled. Arising from the learning of this meeting, a decision was taken to explore the other conducive approach to enable the eThekwini municipal council to successfully convene its meetings as per the legislative requirements,” Masiyela explained.
DA caucus leader in eThekwini Nicole Graham, however, raised concerns.
“The real question is why the city does not have the capacity to do this. We have a huge IT department that has many staff members and costs a lot of money. Surely they could have procured a Zoom licence? It does seem like it was an unnecessary expenditure for a big municipality that should have capacity to do this,” she said.
The city, however, remains adamant that the cost represents value for money.
“Zoom gives meeting control that Teams doesn't offer. Councillors request to speak and can only speak once they have been recognised by the speaker and their mic is activated, Zoom also allows all mics to be muted; with councillors not being able to unmute themselves.
“Zoom enables the management of a speaker request list. The security features in Zoom are better than in Teams, which is required for council meetings. There is a waiting room function which prevents unauthorised people from joining the meeting,” said Mayisela.
The city believes that Zoom has provided it with a platform to continue its governance work in the midst of the pandemic.
“eThekwini municipal council, which is a final decision-making structure within eThekwini municipality, has been able to fulfil its founding mandate through convening its meetings to deliberate on municipal affairs, even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, thus subsequently adopting decisions relating to the provision of sustainable service delivery to its local communities.”
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