(This article was first published on 13 January 2018 in the Weekend Argus, a weekly regional newspaper distributed in the Western Cape, South Africa.)
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Former Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon and the party’s former communications director Nick Clelland are being paid to run the City of Cape Town’s water crisis communications campaign.
In what could appear as a jobs-for-pals deal, the DA-led City of Cape Town’s media team yesterday confirmed that Leon and Clelland’s company Resolve Communications has been contracted to run the campaign.
“Resolve is a subcontractor to the city’s advertising agency, which was appointed through a tender process,” said the city’s spokespersons.
“The city ensures that its contractors, in this case Hero, manage their subcontractors in the manner which accords with our policies, structures and good governance.
“Resolve is assisting the advertising agency to develop and run the communications strategy for the crisis.”
Resolve claims to do “lobbying and advocacy” for businesses, with the intention to “influence government policy, at all levels, to align with your business needs”.
“We place our clients – and their business needs – at the centre of the policy-making process,” the company website states.
One of its clients, according to Resolve, “faced an uncertain future with the introduction of new legislation which would have completely destroyed their future business prospects”.
Resolve then “ultimately assisted our client to re-negotiate the legislation to their satisfaction”.
Weekend Argus asked the city whether it was perhaps unethical to appoint prominent DA faces such as Leon to run its campaign.
The city responded: “Tony Leon is not involved in this contract at all.”
Leon is Resolve’s executive chairman though.
Officials added: “Nick Clelland has huge experience and expertise in developing communications strategies for government crises.”
City officials would not disclose how much Resolve was being paid to run the campaign.
When asked whether it was appropriate to spend more money on an external contractor in its management of the water crisis – when residents are being asked to empty their pockets – city officials did not offer much explaining.
“An essential part of surviving this drought is getting Capetonians to change their behavior. Resolve is a vital part of that work,” they said.
Meanwhile Lauren Kent, speaking on behalf of Resolve, confirmed their involvement in the campaign.
“Resolve forms part of a broad communications team, providing strategic advice to the city’s advertising agency on the crisis communications,” she said.
“We’ve been providing advice and expertise on the communications strategy since the end of 2017.
“Nick Clelland is our project lead and he has 20 years experience in strategic communications with particular expertise in government communications in South Africa and abroad.”
The city has been threatening residents with fines for wasting water and has proposed a new drought charge. If the latter were passed into law, residents would be expected to pay between 10% and 11% of their rates account monthly.
This was to raise cash for “expensive” drought-busting efforts such as “drilling abstraction boreholes into the Table Mountain Group Aquifer to supply the Steenbras catchment area”, said the city.
It would “help pay for vital emergency water projects and will primarily also be used to ensure the water operations of the city remain available for all”.
If the city proposal passes through council, the drought charge would be implemented from February 1 until June 30 2021.