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If we fixed municipalities, half of the country’s problems would be solved

Dr Zweli Mkhize is the Minister of Health, South Africa.

Local government offers huge opportunities in the battle to stimulate economic growth being driven by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Municipalities are at the core of promoting economic growth. One of the most distinct areas of local government’s competence with a direct and profound impact and influence over economic growth is the effective and efficient provision of core services. These services – reliable water and energy supply, road maintenance, refuse removal, maintenance of street lights to the satisfaction of its customers and cutting of grass at the verges of the road – are what we consider necessary services offered by a functional municipality. This is why the Department of Governance and Traditional Affairs’ (CoGTA) Back to Basics programme is aimed at promoting functional municipalities that deliver these services seamlessly.

Collectively, these basic services are included in the total basket of what could be considered catalytic economic infrastructure. The totality of catalytic infrastructure goes beyond the basic needs to include ICT; power including generation, transmission and distribution; roads, railways, ports and airports; accommodation establishments; and other urban infrastructure.

Municipalities must also create an enabling environment for economic development through their ability to provide regulatory certainty and build public and market confidence in municipalities as places to live, work and invest.

In 2016 Cabinet adopted the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) which positions cities and towns as engines of economic growth in South Africa. Our vision, which is expressed through the IUDF and is premised on the National Development Plan, is to build liveable, safe, resource-efficient cities and towns that are socially integrated, economically inclusive and globally competitive, where residents actively participate in urban life.

Land, transport, housing, and jobs are key structuring elements critical for the attainment of the outcome.

The overall objective is to create efficient urban spaces by:

  • Reducing travel costs and distances;

  • Aligning land use, transport planning and housing;

  • Preventing development of housing in marginal areas;

  • Increasing urban densities and reducing sprawl;

  • Shifting jobs and investment towards dense peripheral townships; and

  • Improving public transport and the coordination between transport modes.

These programmes will be successful if they improve the quality of life of those who live in townships and informal settlements. These interventions are also necessary because – while South Africa is rapidly urbanising – many townships and informal settlements are still poverty traps.

Townships require solid programmes to stimulate economic growth and the provision of adequate infrastructure, improvement of housing and transport networks and creation of job opportunities especially for the youth by boosting local procurement through Local Economic Development. CoGTA is in discussion with the Department of Trade and Industry towards this goal.

Municipalities should also adopt by-laws that support the stimulation and retention of the local economy. While we are mindful of the potential of municipalities to contribute meaningfully to the GDP, the reality is that all municipalities are not the same socially, economically or financially.

A number of perennial political, service delivery, financial management and governance challenges continue to remain an impediment to achieving a fully functional system of local government. Only 7% of municipalities are functional in the country while 31% are reasonably functional, 31% almost dysfunctional, 31 dysfunctional or distressed. We are working with provincial governments to support those and to implement a Municipal Recovery Programme which also includes National Treasury.

Since April this year, I have visited six provinces, meeting premiers, MECs and mayors to discuss the interventions and how we can work together to rebuild our municipalities.

The Municipal Recovery Plan is premised on, and takes forward, the Back to Basics principles and approach. Our interventions are based on the following priority areas: governance; financial management; infrastructure and services; fighting fraud and corruption; and political interventions.

We have noted that municipalities that experience service delivery challenges and community protests are characterised by, among other things, the lack of capacity to plan, deliver, operate and maintain infrastructure. For example, the electricity infrastructure is old and needs rehabilitation and maintenance in some municipalities, while non-revenue water losses are costing municipalities almost R10-billion in revenue annually.

Many of our water schemes need refurbishment while water treatment plants were by 2014 already being defined as in high and critical risk categories with sewage being discharged into rivers or into homes.

Current challenges include sewage spillages in areas such as Ditsobohla, Madibeng and other areas in North West as well as Gert Sibande district in Mpumalanga province. Emfuleni municipality in Gauteng is also facing a serious situation with regards to sewage spillages into the Vaal River.

Poor road conditions and recurring potholes, poor road markings and signage and storm-water drainage problems are other infrastructure challenges that require attention, and that make people frustrated and angry.

A number of municipalities are struggling to spend their Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) allocations from the fiscus for infrastructure development or maintenance, in the main due to the lack of technical capacity.

We have initiated an intervention programme that is focussing on assisting distressed municipalities to build permanent capacity for the better delivery of infrastructure and services.

At least 55 municipalities have been selected to receive support through the deployment of district support teams by the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA), which is the implementing agent of CoGTA. MISA has also recruited professional engineers and planners to strengthen its internal capacity for effective execution of the agency’s core mandate.

This process has culminated in the appointment of 36 civil engineers, 14 electrical engineers and 14 planners to date. We have since dispatched 80 engineers and town planners to distressed municipalities and we trust that those municipalities will have some capacity to spend their infrastructure budgets.

Further support to municipalities has included the training of 303 apprentices in technical fields, the training of 557 municipal officials in various aspects of municipal infrastructure delivery, and the placement of 102 qualified artisans and water process controllers in low capacity municipalities.

We have prioritised action in some municipalities including:

  • Eastern Cape: Buffalo City Metro (Duncan Village, informal settlements, sewers, water service, poor condition of roads) and Makana Local Municipality (general infrastructure collapse, National Arts Festival risk)

  • Free State: Matjhabeng Local Municipality (informal settlements, mining distress, water service)

  • Gauteng: City of Joburg Metro (backyard dwellers, informal settlements, inner city, sanitation, roads, spatial transformation and consolidation) and Emfuleni Municipality (focusing on the contamination of the Vaal River)

  • KwaZulu-Natal: Msunduzi local municipality (informal settlements, electricity and roads)

  • Limpopo: Thabazimbi local municipality (mining distress, informal settlements, bulk sewage, spatial transformation and consolidation)

  • Mpumalanga: Govan Mbeki local municipality (sewer spillage, housing, roads, spatial consolidation)

  • Northern Cape: Sol Plaatje (informal settlements, water service, electricity, roads)

  • North West: Madibeng local municipality (sewers and dams, informal settlements, mining distress, water services, roads, spatial transformation and consolidation)

  • Western Cape: George local municipality (informal settlements, sewers, electricity, spatial transformation and consolidation)

On the governance side, it is critical to appoint the right people with the right qualifications and expertise to lead municipalities. Some municipalities have high vacancy rates which is unacceptable, especially for the distressed municipalities.

Challenges in the financial management arena include unfunded budgets where the operating expenditure of municipalities is greater than their revenue. Other municipalities cannot generate revenue due to low collection rates as a result of high indigence rates and ineffective implementation of credit control and debt collection measures. Through the Municipal Recovery Programme we seek to correct this by insisting that financial management staff should be technically qualified and experienced.

We are also aware that some municipalities are seriously stuck in a debt trap and owe providers like Eskom more than R9-billion. They also owe huge amounts to water boards. But these municipalities are also owed staggering amounts by government departments. As at March 2018, municipalities were owed R3.2-billion with National Public Works having a recorded debt of R2.8-billion to municipalities. Government has established an inter-ministerial committee chaired by CoGTA working to find solutions to this debt trap which is causing financial strain to Eskom and water boards.

To ensure that employees dismissed for misconduct, fraud and corruption are not recycled through the system, we are building a database for such employees and blacklisting them. Also critical is the implementation of Forensic Reports findings, consequence management and accountability by Municipal Councils so that we can rid municipalities of fraud and corruption. We are working with law enforcement and investigative agencies such as the Special Investigating Unit to probe the fraud and corruption within municipalities.

Our Municipal Recovery Plan also calls for action to deal with conflicts within political parties which negatively affect governance and delivery. The death threats and even killings of councillors and municipal officials are being prioritised by the police and other law enforcement agencies working closely with communities.

It must also be noted that some municipalities are non-viable for structural reasons. They have a non-existent rates base and inadequate fiscal allocations and distribution of powers and functions. Regardless of interventions, they will continue to struggle due to this historical structural challenge. This is one of the challenges we are looking at.

To further ensure successful interventions to resolve problems, we are working with other national departments to ensure integrated support and delivery, in the main through the Inter-Ministerial Task Team (IMTT) on Service Delivery. Members of the team include the ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs as chair, and the ministries of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; Basic Education; Energy; Environmental Affairs; National Treasury; Health; Home Affairs; Human Settlements; Performance Monitoring and Evaluation; Public Enterprises; Public Works; Rural Development and Land Reform; Sports and Recreation; Transport and Water and Sanitation.

As the IMTT we have identified a total of 57 municipalities with a potential to boost the economy upon addressing some of the service delivery challenges.

These 57 municipalities contain high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Over 1340 projects totalling over R57-billion each financial year are presently being implemented in these municipalities.

We also need to get the community as a whole to play a role in building better and cleaner neighbourhoods and living spaces. The President’s Coordinating Council meeting in Pretoria on 18 September adopted the Thuma Mina Green Deeds campaign which was being championed by the late Minister Edna Molewa.

Partnerships with non-state stakeholders are necessary to optimise local government’s impact on economic growth. We welcome the progressive activism that we have seen from the private sector. These partnerships – like the Business Adopt-a-Municipality Project – offer options and solutions to identified challenges.

CoGTA through MISA is also partnering with Business Leadership South Africa in nine municipalities to create a common understanding on how the challenges can be addressed. This effort and support from the BLSA is much appreciated.

During visits that we have undertaken around the country we have also been impressed by the willingness of business to work with us to turn municipalities around – in Makana, Mahikeng, Emfuleni and Gert Sibande and other areas. The captains of industry say let us work together to resolve these challenges and build functional municipalities.

It is also encouraging as well that despite all the performance and structural challenges in local government, we still have many dedicated and hard-working councillors and senior managers who perform their jobs diligently. They remain committed to building functional municipalities.

Since everything happens in a municipality or a ward specifically, once we fix municipalities, half of the country’s problems would be solved, if not all. We will be able to turn our municipalities into key centres of economic growth and development.

Local government is everybody’s business. Let us make it work. DM

Dr Zweli Mkhize is Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs

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