Punish municipal mediocrity and maladministration, says SA Local Government Association
The SA Local Government Association recognises that municipalities across the country are in a dire state. It wants to implement a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to improve performance.
With 45% of SA’s municipalities receiving poor audit outcomes in the 2021/22 financial year, the South African Local Government Association (Salga) believes that a renewed approach to enforcing accountability and consequence management is needed to turn local government around.
Delivering the association’s organisational report at a two-day national member’s assembly in Kempton Park, Gauteng, Salga president Bheke Stofile said: “A carrot and a stick approach – where excellence is rewarded while mediocrity and maladministration are punished.”
His sentiments follow Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke’s findings that local government institutions are continuing to deteriorate, which has far-reaching implications for service delivery because of cash-flow crises.
For instance, in 2021/22, only 38 out of 257 municipalities received clean audits. This was a decrease from the previous reporting period, 2020/21, when 41 municipalities received clean audits.
In 2021/22, 115 municipalities, or 45% of the country’s total, received audit outcomes that were either qualified with findings, adverse with findings, disclaimed with findings, or were still outstanding.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Local government litany of woe — municipal decay and its dire consequences for service delivery
Only two metros received clean audits: Ekurhuleni and the City of Cape Town.
“There must be a significant reduction and eventually elimination of irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure in the remaining financial years of this term. Non-submission or late submission of financial statements for audit purposes must be a thing of the past, ” Salga’s organisational report said.
Part of Salga’s solution is for municipal leadership to set targets for achieving good audit outcomes during their term of office. There would be consequences for those who failed to achieve their targets and some sort of incentive for those who completed them.
Performance planning, monitoring and reporting of municipalities was another concern flagged by the Auditor-General. In response, Salga said it would intensify work done during its councillor induction, which would in turn empower representatives to be more effective in their oversight roles.
“The national and provincial Salga leadership will interact more with its member municipalities to advise and support them in this regard.”
The association would also look at the possibility of bringing in the expertise of retired government personnel.
“Salga will also mobilise additional capacity to provide support to municipalities, including experienced former councillors and mayors who left good records of leadership in the municipalities they led, to assist in the support and empowerment of councillors to effectively perform their oversight and leadership roles.”
‘We can’t allow municipalities to collapse’
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Thembi Nkadimeng, who gave a keynote address at the summit after President Cyril Ramaphosa was unable to attend, spoke at length about how daunting getting rid of the apartheid planning system had been.
“The access to basic services prior to 1994 was skew and services were provided mainly in the former white suburbs and main cities. As a government, we continue to redress the evils of the past by prioritising the elimination of backlogs to provide basic services such as water, sanitation, roads, electricity, low-cost housing, schools, primary healthcare facilities and telecommunications in areas where access was not provided before,” she said.
The rising tide of Section 139 interventions in municipalities was another area which Salga flagged as a concern in its report. This intervention occurs when dysfunctional municipalities are unable to meet their obligations, and are in financial distress.
Often these interventions came far too late or were ineffective, as was the case with Ditsobotla in North West, which has been under some form of administration or directive at least seven times since 2008.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Ditsobotla Municipality has collapsed, with no water and no way out of the mess
By the time the decision to dissolve the municipality came in October 2022, the local government was in a state of total collapse.
“Municipalities are often worse off during and after the intervention. A case in point is both Mangaung in the Free State and Emfuleni Municipality in Gauteng. Emfuleni, for instance, was subjected to Section 139 intervention for four-and-a-half years and yet their bank account was attached while under the administration of the provincial government, with municipal workers not being paid,” Salga said.
Nkadimeng admitted that her department had been inundated with calls and letters from disgruntled citizens from various municipalities, who cried foul over service delivery. Despite this, Cogta had no intention of taking control of local government functions.
“We can’t allow municipalities to collapse; we will work together with you.”
Legislating for coalitions
As the country heads towards what has been dubbed the most consequential elections since 1994, it faces the prospects of a formation of government through coalition. This is already happening in several metropolitan areas including Johannesburg which has relatively been unstable.
Speaking to Daily Maverick, Cogta Deputy Minister Parks Tau said the department was looking at introducing several legislative changes.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Political parties divided as ANC, DA push alternative to proportional representation system
“We are currently going through a process of reviewing the Municipal Structures Act because it has not created an environment for coalition governments and we have already pronounced on that.”
Parks said the ministry anticipated producing a draft bill by the end of 2023. DM