Opinionista Zweli Mkhize 26 March 2018

The ANC shall turn municipalities around

There are 55 dysfunctional municipalities that require urgent support. We need to do things differently in order to change the face of local government and make it perform better. We need to get municipalities to do what they are supposed to do, which is to provide efficient and reliable basic services to the people.

The Constitution of the Republic guarantees human rights for all South Africans. The core services that the municipalities provide, such as clean drinking water, sanitation, electricity, shelter, waste removal and roads, are essential components of the right to dignity enshrined in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That is why this sphere is most important, because it is the closest to the people and provides services that promote their dignity.

Having been deployed in the area of co-operative governance, I have become more aware of the concerns of the people in relation to service delivery. We need to do things differently in order to change the face of local government and make it perform better. We need to get municipalities to do what they are supposed to do, which is to provide efficient and reliable basic services to the people.

A well-functioning municipality will have strong political and administrative leadership. It is characterised by stability. There are functional council and oversight structures, a consistent spending of capital budgets, consistent unqualified audit outcomes and good financial management. These are some of the key principles of the Back to Basics programme for the revitalisation of municipalities.

Uneven performance continues to characterise the state of local government and many municipalities perform below expectations.

There are several challenges facing municipalities that give rise to this state of affairs. There is high political infighting and instability in some municipalities. Unstable political coalitions in some areas affect governance. There is a high vacancy rate, non-compliance with rules and regulations, inappropriate spending of budgets, high debt, disregard of supply chain management regulations and lack of skilled personnel for critical posts as well as fraud and corruption and general incompetence of staff. We are also concerned about procurement irregularities.

Our people will not accept that we appointed people who are incompetent to run their municipalities and entrusted their basic services to people who cannot do basic administration. Our president will not accept disclaimers, incompetence and irregularities!

As the responsible minister I will also not accept deteriorating audit outcomes and disclaimers. Neither should any leader in any municipality.

These challenges facing municipalities require urgent action by the municipal leadership, both political and administrative. It requires that provincial government must immediately prepare a turnaround strategy with concrete action to reverse the situation. Our major concern right now is the problem of municipalities which are becoming distressed and dysfunctional, but worse is those that are regressing, those that had been performing well with a good revenue base which are now eroding their revenue base and eating into their reserves.

The matter of clean audits should not be seen as a duty of the chief financial officer and the Treasury staff, nor even of the municipal manager alone. It is the responsibility of the mayor, the speaker and councillors and administrative staff combined. No Treasury staff can cure the impact of illegal political instructions, badly researched decisions of council and poor supervision of a mayor and accounting officer who abdicate responsibility.

Also of serious concern is the tension between municipalities and Eskom. Municipalities currently owe R39-billion in unpaid fees. Government appealed to Eskom to suspend the interruption of services to municipalities due to the huge sums of monies that they owe. It is unacceptable that municipalities owe so much money to Eskom and water boards. The Inter-Ministerial Task Team dealing with electrification is looking into the matter.

One of the main challenges is the lack of technical capacity in municipalities to carry out their functions, especially to deliver much needed infrastructure.

There are 55 dysfunctional municipalities that require urgent support.

We aim to strengthen the support provided through the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA) and to find permanent solutions that can turn municipalities around once and for all. This cannot be achieved by simply accelerating expenditure and execution of projects. A more comprehensive strategic solution is required that will make the municipalities self-sufficient and more resilient. Revenue generation is a critical point. No council can succeed on the grant transfers from national government alone. We are committing to assist in revenue generation.

It is for this reason that we are approaching the provinces and municipalities with a concrete proposal. We are planning the urgent deployment of technical experts. These teams will include civil engineers, accountants, construction and project managers, town and regional planners as well as people with expertise in governance and administration. The focus of this support package includes the development of operations and maintenance plans in respect of water and sanitation, as well as roads, storm water drainage and planning-related support such as the review of spatial development frameworks, land use management schemes and land audits.

Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) also has a responsibility to play its part in co-ordinating activities to ensure economic growth, increasing investment and to create a conducive environment for radical economic transformation, job creation and a prosperous country. Therefore, our mayors must become the champions of inclusive growth and economic emancipation and job creation.

Importantly, for every decision that the municipality takes, the question must be asked how it will improve service delivery, create jobs and advance economic growth and transformation.

Local Economic Development is a key instrument of promoting thriving local economies, with investments such as in factories, workshops, technical hubs and locally owned retail operations in our townships and rural areas, large or small. The interventions do not need to be only small-scale. High-value economic activity in townships and villages must also be encouraged.

Such activity must also help us to generate the agrarian revolution that President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke about in the State of the Nation Address. Hence we want to work with sister departments to ensure that households with land in their back yards start food gardens and that no piece of land must remain fallow. Former President Zuma had championed rural development, and we need to take his vision forward and achieve the goals he espoused.

As we carry out our duties as public representatives at all levels of work, we need to remember that we represent those struggles and sentiments for which our people laid down their lives. This should influence our approach as we work to further improve the way local government works, so that our people can get better services.

Public representatives and government officials must make an impact in the improvement of the lives of our people. As public representatives and officials, we must always put our people first – Batho Pele. Our people must feel that their elected representatives are here to serve them, that they care and are prepared to listen and respond. They must feel that their representatives in particular have no other interests than to work for the improvement of their lives. We will work hard to promote that ethos.

Our public representatives must conduct an introspection and ask what else they can do to earn the confidence of ordinary South Africans. They should not be distracted by factional fights, greed and self-interest.

Provincial and municipal leaders must redouble effort to restore good governance in municipalities and eliminate irregularities, fraud corruption and all forms of procurement transgressions. Each of these misdemeanours undermines services that our people are waiting for and in many instances constitute theft from poor South Africans.

There must be consequences where resources meant for the poor are mismanaged or stolen, to prevent recurrences.

We are also seriously concerned about conflicts that we often observe among public representatives who are meant to serve together. KwaZulu-Natal has borne the brunt of the killing of councillors in uMzimkhulu, Mkhambathini, Richmond, Pietermaritzburg and other areas. These killings undermine the history of KZN as broker of peace and tolerance. It creates an impression of weak leadership and poor record of criminal investigations. This scourge has spread to other provinces. We must all take a collective stand to say, “Here and no further! This must stop.” Councillors are elected to serve and should be given the space to do so peacefully and without fear.

We need to investigate thoroughly to see if corruption and procurement irregularities may have been precipitating the deaths of councillors in some municipalities, which has affected KZN municipalities more than most. All these matters need scrutiny as they impact on the delivery of services to our people.

As we assume leadership of Cogta, we shall do our best to provide leadership working with provincial and local government to ensure that our people get the local government they deserve. However, government will not achieve these goals working alone.

We call on all civil society – the faith-based organisations, traditional leaders and community-based organisations – to work with us and not miss the opportunity to hold government accountable for decisions made. It is this vigilance by our people that will ensure that government performs as elected.

There must be an improvement in the lives of the people. Services must be provided. Municipal councils need to get back to basics and fix potholes, cut the grass, fix broken street lights, fix leaking pipes and show our people that we care.

The people must also play their role. We need to clean our towns and cities. The refuse dumping all over is not only despicable but is also dehumanising. We need to stand up and embark on cleaning campaigns in all our towns and villages. Cleanliness is a sign of self-respect and love for ourselves. We need to co-ordinate this campaign and inculcate a spirit of caring for our environment and love our towns.

We must also build a compassionate society where women and girls feel safe from violence and abuse, a society where we care for the aged and vulnerable, and a society where everyone has the possibility of a better life.

We are determined to turn municipalities around, working together.

President Ramaphosa issued a clarion call for us to go all out to serve our people with honour integrity and dignity with the words Thuma Mina.

?We join in and in the words of our icon Hugh Masekela, and we declare;

  • I want to be there when our people turn municipalities around. Send me!?
  • When they triumph over poverty unemployment and inequality I want to be there.?
  • When our people protest and cry out for service delivery I want to be there.?
  • I want to be there for the indigent unemployed and those in informal settlements.?
  • I want to lend a hand when our people fight against the rigging of tenders, fraud and corruption. ?
  • I want to be there when our people eliminate crime, violence and abuse of women and children.?
  • I want to be there in the fight against HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and cancers.
  • I want to be there to ensure food security and healthy lifestyles. Send me!?
  • I want to be there when our people fight for land and get involved in the agrarian revolution.
  • I want to be there when our people clean the streets of our towns and cities to reclaim our dignity and pride.
  • I want to be there in the fight for a sustainable environment.?
  • I want to be there when our people fix the potholes, fix broken lights and cut the grass on the verges of the roads.?
  • I want to be there when our people share in the country’s wealth to be included in a growing and vibrant economy.?
  • I want to lend a hand in the struggle to improve the lives of all South Africans.?
  • I want to be there for nation building, social cohesion and the protection of human rights for all.?? Thuma Mina! Send Me?!

I am ready to serve our people, nothing else but serve our people.?? Thuma Mina.? DM

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