COGHSTA Budget Vote Debate

Andrew Louw, MPL

Northern Cape Provincial Legislature

Hon. Speaker, Hon. Premier, Hon. MEC’s, Hon. Members, guests in the gallery

The Democratic Alliance acknowledges that this department successfully moved from a qualified audit opinion to an unqualified finding with matters in the 2011/2012 financial year. This is, however, a bitter-sweet pill to swallow considering that it was the former HOD, who has now been removed from her post, who was largely responsible for the department’s improved audit outcome. It was also the former HOD who spoke out on controversial matters, such as the government contract with Lefatshe Technologies. As such, her questionable removal places a dark cloud over the motives of this department. At the same time, the now vacant HOD post, and the resultant absence of strategic leadership within this department, raises red flags around COGHSTA’s ability to effectively deal with its growing list of backlogs in the new financial year.

Hon. Speaker, these include backlogs in respect of departmental mandates, backlogs in housing and, above all, backlogs in local government:

Let me start with backlog 1, namely Disaster Management:

The DA notes that this department has redirected funding to make provision for firefighting and the National Emergency Alarm Radio. This is good. But, in the bigger scheme of things, is it not a case of the tail wagging the dog?

Hon. Speaker, in 2009, it came to light that all provinces, except for the Northern Cape, had established disaster management centres. Four years down the line, nothing has changed, and the department is still only talking about finalizing the provincial disaster management framework.

This is in clear contravention of section 29 of the Disaster Management Act of 2002, which mandates all provinces to establish disaster management centers. This is important, because disasters such as droughts, floods and fires are familiar events in the Northern Cape. Hon. Speaker, we want to know from the MEC, whether the havoc and devastation caused by past disasters, such as the floods of 2011, is not enough motivation to compel this department to complete the necessary planning and to set up the required disaster management center?

Now on to backlog 2, relating to housing:

The backlog of housing in the province has grown from 48 000 in 2011 to over 53 000 in 2013. In contrast, the department only has the funds to construct about 3500 housing units this year. At the same time, the housing grant for the Northern Cape is set to decrease significantly over the remainder of the MTEF, meaning that output in the years ahead can be expected to dwindle.

Hon. Speaker, this is proof thereof that the current housing delivery model cannot address the current and future need for housing, as the growing demand continues to exceed supply. In other words, the current provision of housing by government is simply not sustainable.

Against this backdrop, it is worrying that COGHSTA has chosen to be remain quiet about its role in reaching nationally prescribed outcomes, such as the provision of accommodation units within the gap market, for people earning between R3 500 and R12  800. It is also worrying that all hopes of this department providing affordable rental delivery, appear to rest on the completion of a single development, namely Lerato Park.

Hon. Speaker, it is the DA’s view that this department should place greater emphasis on providing rental, institutional and GAP market housing, as well as leveraging private funding in the low income and affordable housing market. At the same time, the department should stop fighting the losing battle of merely trying to keep up with the growing housing backlog. Instead, this department should give more attention to the upgrading the provision of services, such as clean water, sanitation, electricity and refuse removal, as well as security of tenure, of already established informal settlements.  In this way, COGHSTA can increase the living standards of more people, in a shorter period of time, as well as inculcate in our people a sense of ownership.

Last, but not least, allow me to highlight backlog 3 in respect of the state of local government:

Hom. Speaker, the most recent local government audit outcomes saw as many as 21 of our 32 local municipalities falling into the disclaimer or qualified category.

Is it therefore not ironic, that, with just a year to go until the due date of Operation Clean Audit 2014, this department has only now established a unit to champion this long outstanding initiative?

And isn’t it ironic that, three years since the birth of the Local Government Turn Around Strategy, this department has now identified 13 municipalities for fast-tracking of the strategy?

Is this not a case of too little too late? While we can only wonder at these last ditch attempts by this department to save face, we have no doubt that they will make little difference towards saving local government from itself.

Hon. Speaker, as at the end of January this year, municipalities in the Northern Cape were owed R1,5 billion by government departments and other entities. To put this amount into perspective, this is enough to build approximately 19 000 RDP houses.

Municipal debt is a major problem for municipalities and directly affects their ability to render services to their clients. This is a largely structural problem, and requires at least three key factors to be addressed.

1.    Firstly, is the issue of capacity. The inability of many municipalities to comply with financial regulations, as set out by the Auditor-General, and the inability of many municipalities to perform basic services, are disturbing indicators of the lack of capacity in many municipalities.

To this effect, COGHSTA needs an effective and workable plan to improve and create this capacity. This plan shouldn’t merely entail throwing money at skills training, which often has no payoffs. Instead, it should focus more intently on assisting municipalities with the development of recruitment and retention strategies, and the creation of incentives, that will attract people like civil engineers, town planners and quantity surveyors, to the Northern Cape. The plan should further facilitate the implementation of pre-employment checks throughout all municipalities, to weed out candidates with criminal records and falsified qualifications. This is necessary to ensure quality appointments.

2.    Secondly, is the issue of compliance. Hon. Speaker, we are blessed with some of the most progressive and useful legislation in the world, including the MFMA, the PFMA, the Systems Act, the Structures Act, the Property rates Cat and the Demarcation Act. However, this legislation means nothing without.

3.    Thirdly, is the matter of consequences, or rather the lack thereof.

Hon. Speaker, how can it be that municipalities that receive adverse audit opinions, that overspend their budgets and underspend their grants, and that don’t comply with the prescripts of the law, reward municipal managers and officials with performance bonuses?

In this regard, we propose that COGHSTA oversees the implementation of a Performance Management and Development System across all our municipalities. This is necessary, if incompetent officials are to be taken on for poor performance.

The DA would also like to challenge the Hon. MEC to develop a consequence framework for municipalities. We know for a fact that in the Northern Cape, consultants are hired to do the jobs of senior managers, that poorly performing staff are simply shuffled between units,  and that officials are not held liable for over and underspending. Hon. Speaker, such a framework could be the start of ending this perpetuating situation whereby non-compliance and poor performance is protected and even rewarded.

On a higher level, the DA also proposes that the department’s joint MFMA steering committee with Provincial Treasury, submits proposals to National Treasury to institute more section 100 interventions within our municipalities. After all, if withholding funds is what it will take to get municipalities to comply, then so be it.

Hon. Speaker, it is the DA’s conclusion that this department is not able to meet its key mandates, that this department doesn’t have a realistic plan in place to deal with the housing backlog, and that this department is not effectively overseeing our municipalities.

Given these reasons, the DA cannot support Budget Vote 9.

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