How the DA Would Do It

Fred Nel MPL

DA Gauteng Spokesperson for Local Government

Alternative budget speech delivered in the Gauteng Legislature on the Vote for Local Government and Housing – Local Government Component

Madam speaker

The local government component of the Gauteng budget is the smallest budget in the 2012/ 13 Gauteng budget at 0,27% of the total Gauteng provincial budget. Worse even is the fact that it too has had to undergo a cut in favour of health.

It is therefore crucial that the local government function of the department executes its core business as effectively as possible. Prioritisation therefore becomes critical.

In the next financial year the department, with regards to local government will focus on four priorities to execute its mandate within its limited resources.

Local government support is a crucial focal point of the department’s core business. Within this lies most of the priorities for the department in the coming financial year.

Firstly, support to municipalities to improve their financial systems will be intensified. To this end the following programmes will be funded.

* Support to improve skills to manage municipal finances will be funded and together with our partners in this programme we will closely monitor the impact of this programme. We will also build in incentives for municipalities that improve performance in their financial management.

* Linked to this will be improving collection rates by municipalities and targeting debtors in arrears will become a specific focal point. In this regards a partnership with SARS will be explored to link municipal arrears with income tax collection.

* As part of our objective to achieve clean audits for each municipality in the province the department will pilot projects in selected municipalities to implement strategies to deal with corruption, mismanagement and wastage. Prevention is better than cure and to this end we would like to pilot independent audit units to oversee procurement. Personnel in these units should report to a central point and not to the departments where they are allocated. They will also be rotated on a regular basis so that they do not become too familiar with a department. Their role will be to ensure that all proposals and tenders comply with the specifications required by a municipality and after a contract has been completed they will inspect the deliverable to ensure it complies with the specifications of the procurement request.

* Linked to this the department envisages compiling a procurement blacklist to ensure that companies that do not honour their obligations within one municipality does the same in another municipality. The list will be accessible to municipalities and the public as part of an early warning system against dubious companies.

* Furthermore, Municipal Public Accounts Committees will be empowered to function more effectively and their reports will also be required by the MEC in terms of Section 105 of the Municipal Systems Act in order to monitor their effectiveness. Through an intergovernmental framework an operational framework for MPAC’s will be drafted jointly for adoption by municipalities in the provinces.

* It is also important that the Gauteng Legislature executes its oversight mandate in terms of Section 132 of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA).

* Municipalities will be assisted to structure their budgets for optimal utilisation of the money available to them. Budgets should spend less on operational costs, especially personnel costs, and more must be spent on infrastructure construction and maintenance as well as developmental costs. This will be done in a way that will prevent a drop in service delivery.

* Linked to this will be the formulation of a human resource plan for each municipality to prevent an expensive top heavy structure and to promote a pyramid like structure for each municipality by placing personnel where it really matters. Although municipalities compete for skilled staff in certain industries a brake has to be placed on exorbitant salaries for top officials. In an urban province like Gauteng there is sufficient workforce competition to keep salaries in check, provided that skilled workers, within the requirements of BEE, are appointed instead of political appointments.

* In order to arrest a growth in municipal debtors, municipalities will be encouraged to contain rates, services and tariff increases for residents in future budgets. The current economic climate is not conducive for high rate hikes and poses a risk to municipal financial sustainability especially since stagnant employment rates limits the tax bases of municipalities in the province.

* Having said this we are very much aware of the fact that financial sustainability of municipalities need serious attention. To this end it is important to stimulate economic growth within the province and attract investment and promote employment in order to grow the tax bases of local government. If municipalities in the province do not improve their competitiveness they will fail to attract investment to our province. If they fail to attract investment there is very little prospect for economic growth. Economic growth starts with municipalities and as long as their infrastructure deteriorates and they overburden a small tax base they will remain unattractive to potential investors, despite the reputation of the province as Africa’s economic powerhouse. This reputation will be retained or lost within the municipalities in our province. Close cooperation with the Department of Economic Development will be crucial in achieving this goal.

Speaker we have seen during the recent e-toll saga that communities in Gauteng will no longer accept deficient public participation processes and want their voices to be heard. We have seen that public participation processes have become public information sessions and that residents’ views are hardly ever taken into consideration in municipal processes in the province.

This is evident from the fact that draft municipal budgets and IDP’s hardly ever change after public participation processes. Municipalities do not even include public participation reports in their budget or IDP agenda items when they serve before a council.

The second focal point thus for the department would be to improve public participation processes in the province by introducing the following initiatives.

* In future the MEC shall in terms of Section 105 of the Municipal Systems Act and Section 23 of the MFMA require municipal IDP’s and budgets to be submitted to him and to include a report on the inputs from communities during the public participation process.

* The department will be formulating provincial legislation setting minimum standards for public participation in the province in order to protect our communities’ rights during these processes.

* The ward committee process will be improved in conjunction with municipalities the province through the implementation of a new oversight model. This model would require reports to go from the mayoral committee to ward committees first before serving before portfolio committees. Membership of ward committees responsible for a portfolio will also be expected delivery to report back at the following ward committee meeting what a council’s decisions were with regards specific items.

* In order to keep ward committees community driven and to prevent political patronage the province will set a maximum level of R300 stipendiary meeting for ward committee members. The province will furthermore legislate for a ward committee operational framework to ensure that ward committees can exercise their rights, stay within their mandates, are elected democratically and are elected from communities served by a ward.

* Finally, as an incentive to stimulate ward committees the province will match the budget allocated to each ward committee by a municipality for ward projects to a certain level.

Speaker, the third priority for the department is to play an active role in coordinating spatial planning in the province. Through intergovernmental processes the department will assist municipalities to among each other and in conjunction with the various provincial government departments agree on, and conduct proper land-use and transport master planning.

Our province is plagued by urban sprawl which can no longer be allowed to continue unabated. It is therefore important to promote densification strategies all over the province to contain the need for new infrastructure and to rather invest in upgrading infrastructure capacity within high density areas. Densification will become more important in the long run as urbanisation continues in order to accommodate those seeking opportunities in our province.

The further inclusion of areas outside the province, like Balfour, can therefore not be accommodated by Gauteng. If the province’s borders are not set firmly all surrounding small municipalities around the province will be vying for inclusion into Gauteng. What these smaller municipalities does not realise is that their inclusion into Gauteng will most probably cause them to pay much higher rates and taxes than what they are currently used to. This will promote impoverishment of those communities and would become a liability for the Gauteng province.

Linked to this it is important to review the current system of local government in the province. Although it has been the policy of this government before to cover the whole of Gauteng in Metros this does not seem to be feasible for a variety of reasons. However the current two tier system is also not conducive to effective local government. To this end the department will lobby the National Department for Cooperative Governance and Traditional affairs to amend the municipal structures act to add a provision for the establishment of unitary secondary cities in the province without them having to be classified as metros and without the requirement of district municipalities.

Lastly speaker I would be remiss if I did not address the issue of Community Development Workers. This programme costs us 55% of the budget allocated to local government in the province. This makes it the most expensive item within the cooperative governance budget while it does not perform a purely local government function. There is conflict between CDW’s and councillors and ward committees and we have struggled to define their roles.

To this end it is important to explore cooperation with other departments like health, social development and the national home affairs department to see if CDW’s cannot be retrained to serve in mobile and static one-stop service centres where they can assist residents with all the issues they currently have to deal with. Costs can be shared by all these departments which would not just promote a unique service delivery model in South Africa but would also make their existence much more affordable.

Speaker, the MEC may at this point wonder why the bulk of what I have said is not in his budget speech or documents. The truth is that most of it he would not find in the budget being debated today. What I have just delivered is the budget this house would have heard if the DA was in power in Gauteng.

I thank you.

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