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Five key takeaways from the Knysna service delivery diagnostic report

Five key takeaways from the Knysna service delivery diagnostic report
Residents have raised concerns over poor service delivery in Knysna. (Photos: Gallo Images / Rapport / Edrea du Toit)

A breakdown in communication between residents and council, high staff vacancies and interference from councillors were key issues raised in a provincial government’s diagnostic report on challenges faced by the Knysna Municipality.

A 109-page diagnostic report, produced by the Western Cape Local Government Department, has unpacked how and where the Knysna Municipality has failed. 

Knysna, once a gem in Western Cape’s Garden Route, has made headlines over recent months over a lack of water, a sewage crisis and political back and forth about who is to blame. A former council speaker has made calls for the council to be put under administration. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: ActionSA calls for Knysna to be placed under administration over service delivery challenges

In December 2023, the municipality – along with the provincial Department of Local Government, Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, and the Garden Route Disaster Management Centre, under the leadership of the Local Government Department – decided that a diagnostic assessment was needed to address the root causes of the issues raised about the municipality, including issues raised by the municipality itself. The provincial treasury also conducted an assessment of Knsyna’s finances.

The report was adopted during a special council sitting on Friday, 1 March, after a previous attempt to adopt it failed. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Knysna Municipality must adopt service delivery report or face intervention — Alan Winde

Here are five key takeaways from the report.

1. Council functionality 

The report found, during an interview with the office of Mayor Aubrey Tsengwa, that there were several issues related to governance, including delaying tactics used at council meetings, ward councillors not reporting back to their communities, and “certain ratepayers organisations are politicised institutions”.

Other concerns raised by the municipality included that while meetings were held regularly, the “council overregulates administrative decision-making, which negatively affects the administration”. 

The report recommended there should be training for councillors on their roles and responsibilities and the Code of Conduct for Councillors. 

It also recommended that councillors receive focused in-depth training with human resources and legal officials on the legal framework related to the appointment of senior managers. 

2. Administration’s functionality and corporate services

During interviews with the office of the municipal manager, issues were raised about the administrative stability of the Knysna Municipality. Issues were also raised about acting appointees who were not taking accountability. One example was the director for community services as, according to the report, “this is proven by the waste challenges”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Knysna Municipality given two-week deadline to solve unchecked raw sewage spillages

Other issues raised include high overtime pay and that the municipality had a poor organisational culture, with the report stating, “wellness sessions and diversity management sessions are needed”. 

The municipal manager’s office also raised concerns about long council meetings, sometimes from 9am until 9pm, and the council not wanting to “entertain” appointments, “in view of some officials’ ‘proximity’ to councillors”. 

At times, the municipality came to a halt when senior managers were out of the office during council meetings. 

The report recommended that the municipality expedite the filing of vacant posts.

It also recommended that, “A collaborative workshop entailing, inter alia, the Department of Local Government, Cogta, SIU, provincial treasury and National Treasury, conduct a workshop on anti-corruption, fraud and ethics with councillors and municipal officials”. 

3. Community development services and community organisations

Community organisations said poor appointments at council level needed to be addressed. “How can someone with a Standard 2 education oversee infrastructure projects?” one organisation asked during interviews at a closed session.  

Organisations said there were no repercussions for those transgressing bylaws and councillors interfered with the enforcement of bylaws. They said there was no forward planning, such as establishing a college, and the increase in rates and taxes was above inflation. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Knysna community irate over proposed hikes – 33% for rates, 18% for electricity

Proposals by the organisations included lifestyle audits of councillors, more regular communication between municipal leadership and organisations, a municipal vision to be developed for future growth, and the municipality to enforce its bylaws. 

The report recommended the municipality consider the proposals. 

4. Waste management 

The municipality rents the Knysna Waste Transfer Station (KWTS) from Transnet. The property is used for the accumulation and compaction of general waste into containers for daily transportation by a service provider to PetroSA in Mossel Bay.

According to the report, R120,000 per month is spent on diesel costs related to the waste system. Rental from Transnet is R30,000 per month, and disposal costs at PetroSA are between R250,000 and R280,000 per month, while servicing compactor equipment costs R35,000 every quarter.

The scheduling of the transportation of compacted waste containers at the KWTS was a logistical nightmare, with a “bottleneck” caused by limited offloading space and no empty waste containers.

“Staff were also ‘sitting around’ as they were unable to process any waste within the KWTS,” read the report. 

The report recommended that the municipality must “as a matter of urgency” prioritise waste recovery and the provision of integrated waste infrastructure. 

It recommended that the municipality must follow through with its proposal to create a dedicated post to focus on waste awareness, waste minimisation and recycling. 

5. Infrastructure and service delivery

There is a 56% staff vacancy rate in the municipality’s infrastructure services directorate.

“This has a significant impact on the ability of the directorate to deliver services in respect to planned and routine maintenance as well as response to emergencies,” read the report. 

One of the vacancies was for a director of technical services, although someone is acting in the position. Human capital constraints were reported by all sections within the infrastructure department to be “a significant challenge”.

According to the report, the acting technical director is in the process of appointing strategic key personnel, such as fitters and technicians to deal with water pump station overflows and the telemetry issues experienced at the municipality. 

According to the report, “This will improve the response to faults in both the water and wastewater networks and provide a degree of relief to the sewage overflows and subsequent occurrence of environmental pollution as well as interruptions in the supply of potable water.”  

The report recommended prioritising the filling of vacant posts critical to the day-to-day operation of water treatment works, such as process controllers, artisans and assistant artisans. 

Mayor Tsengwa said of the plan: “While council has adopted this plan, it must be noted that none of these are ‘quick fixes’. I am taking this opportunity to share the most notable recommendations with our residents. 

“A lot of work and cooperation between the municipality and various governmental departments must be done before any of these proposals can be put into place.” DM

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