‘Far too slow’ — AG slams government’s epic failure to respond to floods in KZN and Eastern Cape
That the government failed to respond adequately and with haste to the catastrophic floods in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape earlier this year is now clear. A new report by the Auditor-General’s office explores the government’s failure ‘to alleviate the hardship of flood victims’ in its sluggish response to the disaster.
“We’ve identified that the overall response by government to this disaster was far too slow,” said Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke, on Wednesday, 31 August.
This is the conclusion made by the Auditor-General (AG) while presenting her office’s first real-time audit report on the use of public relief funds meant for flood-affected communities in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, before Parliament’s joint ad hoc committee on flood disaster relief and recovery.
Speaking before the committee on Wednesday morning, Maluleke said that vis-à-vis the government’s own plans and expectations on a timeous response to the crisis, “government institutions were not able to effectively and efficiently roll out key initiatives”.
Compromised control environments, pre-existing system and process deficiencies, lack of capacity and inadequate intergovernmental coordination, the AG’s office found, “had the direct impact of weakening the ability of the government to respond in this crisis.”
The impact of this sluggish response, Maluleke added, is that “residents and businesses in affected areas continue to experience hardship more than three months after the floods with little relief.”
The floods that ravaged KwaZulu-Natal in April and May this year, claimed the lives of at least 459 people, destroyed thousands of homes and displaced about 40,000 people. In the aftermath, damage to public infrastructure in the province stood at R25-billion, while damages to businesses were an estimated R7-billion.
The Eastern Cape was also severely affected by floods which left a trail of destruction in the farming industry.
The Cabinet in April declared a National State of Disaster in response to the floods in KZN and Eastern Cape.
Following the catastrophic flooding in both provinces, President Cyril Ramaphosa requested the AG’s office to conduct a real-time audit on the flood relief funds to ensure that they were used for their intended purposes. His decision came on the back of growing public concern that the resources allocated to deal with the disaster would be misappropriated or wasted.
The audit commenced in May 2022, and the AG’s first report — tabled before Parliament on Wednesday — includes the outcomes of the audit until 15 July 2022.
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In her presentation on Wednesday, Maluleke revealed that although the government had responded by committing to provide temporary relief measures, there was a lack of urgency in assessing damage and determining needs, “particularly in the Eastern Cape where there was a limited response”.
“The slow response in the Eastern Cape can be attributed to the lack of capacity due to persistent vacancies and inadequate coordination to deal with the disaster process, as there were no dedicated officials within the provincial education, transport and health departments. The departments and municipalities did not reprioritise funds to deal with the disaster to avoid compromising existing objectives,” reads the report.
Maluleke added that, in the Eastern Cape, the failure to address the impact of previous disasters as far back as 2013, due to a lack of funding and coordination between municipalities and provincial departments, meant that damage assessments on the impact of the recent disaster “had not been done on time”.
She said that Eastern Cape municipalities and provincial departments registered concerns with the AG’s office over the availability of funds and the reprioritisation of budgets to respond to the flooding.
“We believe that there needs to be some significant attention in the Eastern Cape around capacity, planning and coordination of different activities within municipalities and within provincial departments… The reality is that crises and disasters are becoming our reality. So we have to build the capability to respond to them,” said Maluleke.
Maluleke added that recurring procurement issues, including instances of non-compliance with requirements, potential unfair processes and disparity in pricing for similar services which the office has previously flagged, “reared their heads again”, during this audit report.
In KwaZulu-Natal, the AG said that the slow response “was due to a lack of capacity, inadequate project management and ineffective monitoring to ensure that contractors completed projects on time and delivered quality goods and services. Government was further not adequately prepared for a disaster.
“Government’s priority should be to urgently strengthen its disaster management capacity and capabilities, as disasters such as these floods are becoming more common due to climate change,” Maluleke cautioned.
The AG called on the government to take urgent action where delivery is slow or compromised so that relief can reach citizens “that are already struggling to restore their livelihoods”. DM