Focus on infrastructure in municipalities
A new paradigm shift is needed to address the infrastructural challenges confronting municipalities
For the past two decades of South Africa's democracy, government has focused on achieving universal access to basic services but it has become imperative that equal focus now be given to improving infrastructure in municipalities.
This is according to the President of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), Parks Tau, who said the current state of infrastructure in municipalities is under heavy strain and suffers from years of neglect and limited maintenance.
He recently addressed more than 400 delegates which included municipal leaders and officials, members of parliament, industry experts and key stakeholders in local government infrastructure, during the Municipal Innovation Infrastructure Financing Conference (MIIF) held in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.
Tau called for a new paradigm shift in order to address the infrastructural challenges confronting municipalities.
“The whole sphere of local government needs to rethink its approach to the kind of infrastructure that we invest in and start to focus more on climate-proofing investments to allow for longer useful life and better return on investment,” said Tau.
“With the increasing dynamic of inward migration, mushrooming of informal settlements, increased population size, urbanisation, climate change and new technologies, we have to take stock of whether our current infrastructure can withstand these challenges,” he added.
He said local government has to
deal with the challenge of building the technical capacity within, to master the art of project preparation in order to execute infrastructure projects.
SALGA organised the three-day MIIF conference to empower the sector to mobilise financial resources from outside their current budgets and financing instruments to overcome infrastructural challenges.
The conference called for the private sector to propose concrete measures to assist municipalities with value-for-money analysis and to assist in developing procurement documents and project concession agreements.
SALGA has a membership of 257 municipalities nationally. Membership is voluntary.
The association represents, promotes and protects the interests of local governments and raises the profile of local government, among other objectives. It has a duty to inspire municipalities to better deliver services because municipalities must inspire the confidence of citizens who have entrusted them with this vital role.
Although South Africa is 24 years into democracy, the current structure of municipalities was only created towards the year 2000, which means local government is only 18 years old and still at an evolution stage.
Earlier this year, during the Budget Speech of the National Treasury, it was announced that R13.9 billion would be stripped from local government infrastructure grants.
Tau said this was largely informed by the fact that despite the need, some municipalities are still unable to properly plan and execute their projects, resulting in underspending of these grants.
“This should be of concern to all of us. As municipalities, we should not be seeking access to financial markets and other lending institutions when we have the inability to spend what we have,” he said.
Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene was also at the conference to add his voice to the issue of infrastructure development in municipalities.
He said the manner in which municipalities look after their infrastructure, including roads, electricity and water, to mention just a few, had a huge bearing on quality of life.
Minister Nene said all economic activity takes place within the boundaries of a municipality; therefore the quality of municipal infrastructure matters for the performance of the country's economy.
“We know only too well of the backlogs in the building of new and maintenance of existing infrastructure,” he said.
“If we are to raise the pace at which our economy grows and eliminate the legacies of apartheid, we must fix municipalities; in particular, their ability to build and maintain infrastructure,” the Minister added.
Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Andries Nel said only 55 of SALGA's 257 municipalities have a qualified engineer.
“We must intervene and we are intervening. Our Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA) has been instructed to constitute
technical support teams to support 55 of the 87 priority distressed municipalities,” he said.
“Each district support team will include engineers, construction and project managers, financial accountants, town and regional planners, and governance and administration experts as needed,” Minister Nene added.
MISA's mandate is to provide support and develop technical capacity towards sustained accelerated municipal infrastructure and service delivery.
It must provide leadership, strategic direction, management and administration services to the organisation and provide technical support to targeted municipalities, which will improve infrastructure planning, implementation as well as operations and maintenance.
Efficient service delivery
MISA also manages the deployment of professional service providers to municipalities, ensuring that sufficient technical capacity is built within municipalities, which will result in effective and efficient service delivery in the long term.
It also provides comprehensive generic strategic support to the technical support and capacity development programmes.
By December, all distressed municipalities are expected to have a technical support team in place and the teams will be expected to develop permanent capacity in these municipalities to ensure that infrastructure funds are actually spent and that they are spent efficiently, effectively and accountably.
Roland Henwood, a lecturer in politics at the University of Pretoria, stressed that municipalities need more than just money in order to not neglect infrastructure and to keep it maintained.
He said planning ahead and preparing for the future is of paramount importance for municipalities to continue developing and maintaining infrastructure so that the delivery of services is not impacted.
“If we look forward to 2035, we are going to need nine times more schools, roads, clinics and other physical infrastructure in metro municipalities because more people are flooding in as years go by. We cannot just keep getting more people into the metros without expanding our infrastructure, it will be a disaster,” he explained.
Henwood added that without improving infrastructure, it will be almost impossible to deliver services to the people because local government is the sphere at which government delivers services directly to people.
Henwood agreed with Tau that infrastructure in municipalities has been neglected.
He said investment in infrastructure is not only about the physical structures but also hiring experts who will be professional about building and maintaining the structures.
President of the South African Local Government Association, Parks Tau.