Shifting the burden
Doubts whether incapacitated municipalities can take on provincial delivery
FINANCE MINISTER Trevor Manuel and Cabinet colleague in charge of housing Lindiwe Sisulu are squaring up for battle. Theirs is a fight that goes to the heart of a paralysing catch-22 situation a possible Jacob Zuma-led government would have to beat in order to do justice to its core mandate of speeding up and expanding services.
The crux of the issue is institutional. The flow of funding between the national, provincial and municipal spheres of government is subjected to bureaucracy and territorial tensions. The outcome is inefficiency, low levels of expenditure and slow delivery.
Government spokesman Themba Maseko echoes the irritation of several Cabinet ministers and directors-general – especially those in charge of education, health and housing. “You find the priorities as set by Government aren’t being implemented at provincial and local levels. Provinces determine their own priorities. For instance, in housing and education national Government will say priorities will be on early childhood development or adult basic education. But when it comes to allocation of resources, you find provinces would actually identify something else other than those national priorities.”
Manuel plans to get around that by bypassing provincial governments and giving housing budgets directly to local municipalities. And backed by the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC), the Constitution’s provisions for certain functions to be devolved to municipalities – plus the Housing Act’s clear requirement for power to be devolved down to local authorities – he’s starting with housing. The plan is to eventually do the same with health, education and social welfare.
FFC deputy chairman Bongani Khumalo says: “We think this is the best way to avoid a situation where housing developments are built without provision being made for roads, schools and other community facilities.”
Clive Keegan, of the Local Government Research Centre, says devolving housing down to local government is “absolutely essential” and logical, in that municipalities control complementary infrastructure – electricity, sanitation, water and most land – necessary for sustainable housing programmes. Giving local authorities exclusive power over the delivery of housing would surely mean a sharper, more efficient system?
Sisulu doesn’t dispute that. Even though she’s the first to admit the provincial tier of government is a frustrating obstruction, she’s told Manuel she’ll fight him on his proposal to Cabinet to bypass provinces.
The question is, why? Especially given that Sisulu introduced a system in 2005 that allows municipalities to apply for and then begin the process of qualifying for official accreditation as a housing provider. She’s adamant that until municipalities are accredited they can’t be handed that kind of responsibility. Nearly four years after the accreditation system was introduced only 18 of SA’s 283 municipalities have applied for accreditation – and none have qualified for it so far.
As auditor general Terence Nombembe confirms, the over- all municipal picture is bleak – especially when it comes to the critical issues of internal controls, documentation to support financial statements, capacity and skills. Nombembe’s report – compiled for a recent road show to all nine provinces – shows that more than 60% of municipalities can’t account for the revenue they receive. That means they’re unable to show how and when financial transfers from Government took place and can’t provide proof of where the amounts listed in their financial statements come from. “More than 50% can’t account for the bulk of their expenditure, so their financial statements can’t be trusted.”
Sisulu’s plea is to do it right: to give municipalities responsibility as they qualify for it. So far 11 municipalities have reached Level 8 of the accreditation process and appear to be battling to get to the ninth and last level.
The FFC supports Treasury when it comes to arguing the accreditation process is going nowhere slowly. Is says municipalities need to be given the powers to provide housing and that national and provincial government need to go all out to make sure they have the capacity and skills to manage the process properly.
Above: Plans to bypass provincial governments. Trevor Manuel Right: Ready to fight Manuel’s proposal. Lindiwe Sisulu