Local Government Regressing in Northern Cape

Andrew Louw MPL

DA Leader in the Northern Cape

Honourable Speaker, Honourable Premier, Honourable Members of the House, guests in the gallery, members of the media

It is no secret that COGHSTA regressed from a financially unqualified audit finding to a qualified audit opinion in the 2010/11 financial year.

Considering the above, it was perplexing to learn during the department’s budget presentation that, while an action plan exists to deal with the Auditor-General’s concerns, there is “little time to drive this plan”. While we acknowledge the HOD’s special commitment to “drive the plan better” in the future, the DA wishes to emphasize that this is not reassuring enough. The plan must be driven with absolute commitment – time must be devoted towards this key priority, this is non-negotiable if the department intends achieving the desired outcomes for Operation Clean Audit 2014.

In terms of the above, the DA also proposes the following as a starting point:

• According to the AG’s general report on provincial audit outcomes for 2010/2011, six out of the seven SCOPA resolutions have not yet been put into action by the department. These resolutions deal primarily with financial management, predetermined objectives reporting and compliance with laws and regulations, which are critical to achieving good governance. Action regarding these resolutions must be taken immediately.

• The department is failing to achieve key outputs in respect of ensuring accelerated delivery of housing opportunities and expanding access to basic services, as well as meeting the basic needs of communities and building a clean, responsive and accountable administration. Lack of commitment by senior managers to stay within budgetary frameworks and to achieve targeted outputs within available allocations must therefore have consequences. There is no place in the public service for senior managers who are putting up internal resistance towards outcomes based budgeting – disciplinary action must be taken against them.

• The DA is also concerned that, following the bankruptcy of many of our municipalities, COGHSTA may have become the new dumping ground for cadres, and the new cash cow for cronyism and political initiatives. We believe that this can especially be seen in the number of unfunded mandates currently facing this department, including:

– The appointment of a full complement of Community Development Workers – Installation by Lefatshe Technologies of the computer hardware and software licenses for the financial, HR and municipal governance at Khara Hais – And the appointment of five municipal practitioners at senior management level to drive the Local Government Turn-Around Strategy and Municipal Turn-Around Strategy.

Hon. Speaker, unfunded mandates are resulting in high over expenditure, which totaled more than R33 million in the 2010/2011 financial year. Political interference in this department must therefore be stopped if the provincial government wants to see any kind of turnaround on the service delivery front.

This brings me to an interlinking issue, namely ongoing political interference in our municipalities.

Despite a countrywide concession that those heading up the majority of our municipalities are sorely lacking in skills, qualifications and competencies, there are still politicians who want to influence the appointment of municipal managers and CFO’s. This issue was brought home to us during Provincial Treasury’s budget presentation, whereby we learned that, at present in the Northern Cape, there are 10 municipalities which have CFO’s who have matric as their highest qualification. On top of this, both the Provincial Treasury and the Premier’s Office highlighted a case in point, namely the Magareng municipality. It is disturbing that the CFO of this municipality conveniently resigns each time he has to prepare the Annual Performance Plan. In his absence, consultants are then hired to prepare the relevant documentation. Once the job is done, the CFO conveniently reassumes his post as CFO. This is outrageous to say the least!

In response to the above, the DA has taken note that national regulations regarding the appointment of Municipal Managers and Section 56 managers takes effect in July. These regulations seek to give effect to the Local Government Municipal Systems Amendment Act passed by Parliament last year and set out the requirements in terms of education, experience and skills for the appointment of municipal managers and senior officials. However, such legislation and regulations will be meaningless if positions are filled by serial offenders prior to the enactment of the regulations. This problem will also be exacerbated if these offenders are placed in permanent positions from which they cannot be removed without great difficulty.

The DA thus calls on the Hon. Mmoeimang to take steps to prevent the current scramble to appoint dubious municipal staff before these regulations take effect. In doing so, we propose that a circular be sent to all municipal councils across the province informing them of the regulations and urging caution when proceeding with appointments. We also propose that the Hon. Mmoeimang should exercise vigorous oversight of appointment processes for MM’s and senior staff in the run-up to the implementation of the regulations; and that you undertake a review of the employment of all municipal managers or senior staff who have previously been found guilty of financial misconduct, dishonesty, fraud, discrimination and sexual harassment.

At the same time, it is necessary that remuneration of Municipal Manager’s and Section 56 managers is compliant with national regulations. A case in point is Sol Plaatje municipality. Over R2 million has been budgeted for the MM’s salary package. Sol Plaatje municipality, however, is a category 4 municipality, for which regulations prescribe a maximum salary of R1 million for the MM.

Hon. Members, I will say it again, take the politics out of governance and replace it with professionalism – this is the only answer to the mounting tsunami of problems facing local government. Only then will municipalities be able to function as going concerns. Only then can we really address the myriad of problems staring service delivery in the face.

Whilst the situation seems hopeless, we would like to believe that, with the right people in place, it is possible for bankrupt municipalities to once again function as going concerns. Provincial Treasury shared with us the success story of the defunct Renosterberg municipality. Since accepting assistance in the form of skills from Provincial Treasury, this municipality is, for the first time in years, paying staff out of their own revenue.

The same must be done in our other down and out municipalities. This, however, will require much political will. This is because eleven of the fifteen municipalities identified by Provincial Treasury as in need of an intervention, have refused assistance from Provincial Treasury. Instead, these municipalities, including the hopeless Phokwane municipality, are asking for financial assistance. Throwing more money at these municipalities will be like throwing paper cheques into a raging fire. Hon. Mmoeimang, your urgent involvement is required in order to persuade, or force if necessary, these municipalities to accept an intervention of skills and capacity. Only when we have staff who understand the basic concept of cash flow, can we begin to look at improving service delivery.

Hon. Speaker, we are all met with the pitiful state of our roads on a daily basis. Our tyres and wheel alignments are shot and our morale is low. The Hon. Rooi, recently shared with us that the pothole fixing machine procured by the Department of Roads and Public Works cost R1.2 million and that it is the department’s intention to eventually buy one machine for every district to ensure effective servicing of the provincial roads. We welcome this but at the same time, we want to know from Coghsta where is their collaboration with the Department of Roads and Public Works, or the sharing of best practices? Surely each district municipality, if not each local municipality, should also procure such a pothole fixing machine in order to restore what little is left of the road network in our city and our towns. Hon Mmoeimang, would collaborating such an effort amongst municipalities not be a worthwhile task for you?

In closing, I wish to emphasize the crux of this last point. Provincial government, through its various departments, needs to aid municipalities. Some of our municipalities are like drug addicts. They are addicted to money and power, caught up in a debilitating cycle of maladministration, and they fail to recognize that they need help. In other words, they are incapacitated to make financial, legal and other decisions. Hon. MEC, as the guardian of local government, you must intervene – our municipalities must urgently be entered into a rehabilitation programme. It’s almost too late to save them – act now or prepare for a face-off, of a magnitude never seen before, between local government and extremely disgruntled citizens!

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