The Auditor General’s recent report on local municipalities painted a grim picture of the state of local governance. The report showed that only 33 of the country’s 257 municipalities had received a clean audit in 2016-17, down from 48 in the previous year. 31% of municipalities were found to be dysfunctional.
Barely 100 days in office, new Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Dr Zweli Mkhize is confident that his department can and will turn this around.
He highlights four main areas that the various Cogta teams will tackle:
Local governments are crippled by poor governance due to people appointed in positions they don’t have the right qualifications for, too many vacancies, incorrect managerial organograms and people simply not doing their jobs.
A team from Cogta has been put together to make sure anyone who gets employed has the right qualifications.
“Section 154 [of the Constitution] allows us to go in and give support,” says Mkhize. “Anyone who gets employed must be qualified. We’ll do it so strictly that if a municipal manager is appointed, their appointment will remain pending until the minister approves it.
“We’ll also be keeping a database of those who were guilty of transgressions and were charged before they were fired. So, if your name appears in an application at any municipality in the country, you will not get appointed.”
The support team will also assist with filling vacancies, setting up timelines for recovery, etc.
2. Financial management
Irregular expenditure has ballooned by 75% to R28.4bn in 2016-17‚ up from R16.2bn the previous year. Out of 257 municipalities nationally, 112 received an “unqualified with findings” audit, meaning that their financial statements contained misleading information that could affect the financial decisions of those who rely on the statements when working with them.
Problems with corruption, credible budgets, poor revenue generation, management of expenditure and procurement processes are some of the problems that lead to the above.
Another team made up of officials from Cogta and National Treasury will be sent to problematic municipalities to make sure they abide by the Municipal Systems Act and the Municipal Finance Management Act.
“The team will be helping them with the qualifications of the technical staff. The CFO [Chief Financial Officer] must be proper,” says Mkhize. “We’ll look at vacancies, everything. We have a basic finance revenue generation model and general finance recovery programme that we take them through and we’ll monitor them as we go.”
3. Infrastructure delivery
“We’ve got a number of municipalities who cannot afford things like engineers, town planners and chartered accountants,” says Mkhize. “To assist them, we’ve created municipal technical support teams at district level. We’ve created 16 teams who are going out to the districts and will be targeting the first 54 districts that are distressed. By October to December, we must create teams for all the municipalities.”
According to Mkhize, a big challenge is to ensure all municipalities spend the infrastructure service grants they receive. This year, R16bn of the budget has been made available for infrastructure. Every municipality has to apply for this, and the department has to make sure the money is correctly spent.
“I’m sending a letter to all mayors – they’re going to be setting up budgets. I want to see them budget for the simple measures people want to see taken. Can they ensure that the streets are clean? Can they ensure that there are no potholes? Can they make sure the grass is cut? Can they fix the leaks? Can they supply water and electricity where they have capacity?
“We have to cover the basics that municipalities have to offer. So, we want them to confirm that they’ve budgeted for the simple things first,” says Mkhize.
4. Political problems
The last and most problematic issue for the department is political infighting and interference in the municipalities, which sometimes leads to complete collapse.
“We are asking the ANC, that leads the majority of coalitions and municipalities, to take responsibility,” says Mkhize. “We are saying, get the parties, call their members and deal with them. Make the point clear we want leaders to take responsibility. We’re giving them one year to turn around.”