Intervention needed in local government

By Ismail Obaray, MPL, DA member on the Portfolio Committee of Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs:

The Democratic Alliance has written to the department of Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs to determine the nature and scope of support services rendered to municipalities whose equitable share was withheld by National Treasury earlier this year.

Eleven municipalities are affected and, in the absence of any other income, we are worried that conditional grants are being used to cover operational costs. This will have a negative knock-on effect on service delivery.

The Democratic Alliance welcomes the release of the equitable share to ten of the eleven affected municipalities. We remain concerned about the Renosterberg Local Municipality, which is yet to receive its equitable share. An amount of R5 million has been released by National Treasury after an appeal from the municipality. At that stage, the municipality was unable to cover its basic commitments and was in real danger of not being able to pay salaries. The amount that has been released is insufficient to cover debts of R30 million to Eskom, R1.7 million to the Water Board and R.74 million to the Auditor-General.

Due to ongoing poor administration at the municipality, we have requested the Minister of COGHTA to place the municipality under administration.

We call on the MEC for COGHSTA to intervene in the negotiations between Renosterberg and Eskom in the meantime. Renosterberg cannot receive its equitable share until it has come to an agreement with Eskom. At the moment, it appears that the main bone of contention is the payment period. Eskom seems to want a shorter payment period, which the municipality feels is unaffordable. The matter has been escalated to SALGA, but we need an urgent intervention now to ensure that the bulk electricity supply to the municipality is not disconnected.

We look forward to receiving more detail from the department on interventions in local government. In the latest report on audit outcomes for municipalities, the Auditor-General noted that seconding staff from the department often has very little effect on the municipal audit outcomes. We need to know that departmental intervention in municipalities are useful and ultimately results in better service delivery to communities.

We also need an assurance that municipalities will not resort to plundering the conditional grants to cover operational costs or to pay back debtors. We have seen in Ubuntu, one of the affected municipalities, that membership to medical funds of personnel and councilors have been suspended due to an inability to afford the fees.

The medical aid and pension funds of municipal staff and officials should not be used to pay back debt.

A conditional grant like the Municipal Infrastructure Grant is specifically set aside to improve and maintain the electricity grid, water supply and road infrastructure. It is not meant for salaries, telephone accounts or stationery. Without any other source of income, it is likely that municipalities are using conditional grants to cover operational costs.

The Democratic Alliance believes in efficient local government that prioritizes service delivery.