Veteran City of Cape Town accountant George van Schalkwyk, who lives in Brackenfell, believes, contrary to what some may think, a job in local government finance can be sexy, if the number crunching is helping to change people’s lives for the better.
Mr Van Schalkwyk, who has worked at the City for 37 years and who was intricately involved in the amalgamation of various municipalities to form the current metro, recently received a lifetime achievement award from the Institute of Municipal Finance Officers.
Mr Van Schalkwyk, a director in the finance department, became assistant City treasurer in 1992. In 2002, he was appointed the director of revenue and managed the migration of a million municipal accounts from the seven different billing systems into a single system, which the City still uses.
During that time, he was also part of the team responsible for the financial turnaround of what was formerly the Cape Town Metropolitan Administration after it had received unfavourable audits from the auditor-general.
“Unfortunately, sometimes, there is a misconception that all City staff are lazy and that they don’t want to serve the residents. We must acknowledge that even in this well-run City we are not perfect and that some of our staff may at stages project an unfortunate image. But this is not the norm and where it happens, we must focus on corrective action,” he said.
He foresees changes to the management of local government finances over the next decade, driven largely by the increasing financial pressure residents will face.
“The ability of residents to pay will be under severe pressure and the funding required to meet the replacement of old municipal infrastructure, among others, will create further tariff pressure. This will also strengthen the misconception that property rates, which are collected in a particular area, must be spent in that area alone.
“Rates are a tax and they are not linked to services.
“They are similar to personal income tax. The provision of roads, street lights, parks, fire services and the general upgrading of previously under-invested areas requires funding. Residents with the ability to pay must appreciate that those who have been and continue to be forced to live in less fortunate environments also require municipal services to improve their living standards.
“This is the reality, but what we can assure our ratepayers is that their money is spent where it is needed most, in a transparent manner, and that we can account for every single cent that is spent,” he said.
When he is not working, he spends time with his wife, Christina, who he has been married to for 41 years, his two sons and a daughter, two grandchildren (the third being on its way), and Oscar, his dog.