Ushaka Marine World Latest: Plan for R160 million taxpayer bailout

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The Democratic Alliance has raised concern about the fortune of the Durban Marine Theme Park (DMTP), which operates uShaka Marine World and its various components.

In addition to repeated cash bail outs, the latest eThekwini Audit Committee report had painted a “bleak” picture of the governance of the DMTP, the DA’s eThekwini Caucus Leader Nicole Graham said.

“uShaka has become increasingly reliant on municipal bailouts since 2004 and footfall to the park has gradually declined. The Covid-19 pandemic was a nail in uShaka’s coffin, leaving it severely in debt and unable to recoup costs,” Graham said on Wednesday.

In February 2021, DMTP requested a bailout of R66 million from the municipality but was only granted R15 million. The division owed R40 million in municipal utilities. The 2021/2022 budget contains a R160 million bailout for DMTP.

R6 million of this was for a ‘research study’ to look into the ongoing plans for the park.

“In addition to these huge amounts, the municipality shelled out R40 million in December 2020 to procure the beachfront Funworld and incorporate it into the uShaka operation. The DA warned and voted against this,” Graham said.

“The DA has repeatedly called on the municipality to demand a comprehensive turnaround strategy for DMTP. It was clear that even before the Covid-19 pandemic, uShaka was becoming a financial burden that the municipality needed to carefully reconsider.”

Graham said that the latest Audit Committee Report bolstered this position. Thee latest report notes that:

  • There is no policy or procedure manual in place for the appointment of board members;
  • There are “inadequacies” noted over the board charter;
  • There are “inadequacies” noted over the recruitment of board members, including the shortlisting, screening and recruitment process;
  • There is inadequate long-term training provided for board members.

“The picture is now clear: Durban Marine Theme Park is in serious trouble and urgently needs to provide a turnaround strategy to the Executive Committee. If it cannot do so adequately, the municipality must look at drastic alternatives. A board with insufficient capacity to manage the entity’s affairs makes the situation far more severe,” Graham said.

“A well-run and innovative uShaka – that can sustain itself and pay it’s own bills is certainly an asset to Durban. The situation that DMTP is currently in, however, is not sustainable and is a serious ongoing financial risk to eThekwini. Action must be urgently taken to prevent further needless expenditure,” Graham said.

eThekwini Municipality had not responded to questions at the time of publishing.