Min­is­ter be­moans stricken mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties mired in debt

Po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity leads to col­lapse of ser­vices, protests

Sunday Times - - News Politics - By AMIL UMRAW

● Ma­luti-a-Pho­fung in the Free State is one of the poor­est mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in SA yet it owes Eskom close to R3bn.

It is one of the lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties drown­ing in debt, ac­cord­ing to co-op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance min­is­ter Zweli Mkhize.

The debt will now es­ca­late for those mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in North West, Gaut­eng and Lim­popo that are caught up in the fraud and theft at the VBS Mu­tual Bank.

Ma­luti-a-Pho­fung, which en­com­passes what was the QwaQwa home­land un­der apartheid, lies on the foothills of the Drak­ens­berg in the east­ern Free State.

It was sin­gled out by Mkhize as the worst elec­tric­ity pay­ments de­faulter in the land. The to­tal debt owed by lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to Eskom is R14bn.

Mkhize was be­moan­ing a “wide­spread ‘cul­ture’ of non­pay­ment by con­sumers” when Ma­luti-a-Pho­fung came up in his re­cent brief­ing to the ANC’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

The re­port, which the Sun­day Times has seen, re­veals that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are fail­ing to per­form “ba­sic

Wide­spread ‘cul­ture’ of non­pay­ment Zweli Mkhize

Min­is­ter of co-op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance

leg­isla­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties”. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing slides showed spilt sewage, bro­ken pipes and col­laps­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

Mkhize said there were also prob­lems with age­ing in­fra­struc­ture that led to “high elec­tric­ity and wa­ter” losses.

He blamed po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for the col­lapse of ser­vices. The high turnover of coun­cil­lors also im­paired in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory and ca­pac­ity.

Mkhize’s depart­ment evaded ques­tions on the con­tents of the re­port. Depart­ment spokesper­son Musa Zondi said be­cause the re­port was pre­sented at an ANC meet­ing (this de­spite it be­ing com­piled by the de­part- ment and pre­sented by the min­is­ter) it would be “ap­pro­pri­ate” to con­sult the party. Mkhize was not avail­able for com­ment. He told the meet­ing he had ap­pointed an ad­vi­sory panel to make rec­om­men­da­tions to lift mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties out of debt.

These would in­clude a “strong pro­vi­sion of free ba­sic ser­vices” and a cam­paign to pro­mote a cul­ture of pay­ment. It is not clear what Mkhize means by “strong pro­vi­sion”, and if cri­te­ria for de­cid­ing who qual­i­fies as an in­di­gent con­sumer will be re­viewed.

The re­port shows that more than 70% of coun­cil­lors were newly ap­pointed af­ter ev­ery lo­cal govern­ment election. This led to a loss of in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory, new pri­or­i­ties, no con­ti­nu­ity and no align­ment to long-term de­vel­op­ment — all of which had a detri­men­tal ef­fect on ser­vice de­liv­ery.

“Po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity ap­peared to be the main fac­tor con­tribut­ing to turnover. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties which en­joy po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity tend to be char­ac­terised by a more set­tled and ma­ture po­lit­i­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive lead­er­ship,” his re­port says.

The most de­prived ar­eas of the coun­try in 2001 were the for­mer home­lands, the re­port says. These are still the poor­est.

Mkhize’s pre­sen­ta­tion was largely based on a 2016/2017 re­port by the au­di­tor-gen­eral which showed that va­can­cies and in­sta­bil­ity in key mu­nic­i­pal po­si­tions slowed down sys­tem­atic and dis­ci­plined im­prove­ments.

There were also con­cerns about in­ad­e­quate skills and po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing at coun­cil level, as well as in­ter­fer­ence in the ad­min­is­tra­tion, which weak­ened over­sight. This led to a dis­re­gard of con­trols and com­pli­ance with leg­is­la­tion at some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and “en­abled an en­vi­ron­ment in which it would be easy to com­mit fraud”, the re­port says.

On the ques­tion of how to deal with the loss of R1.5bn in mu­nic­i­pal funds in­vested in the VBS Mu­tual Bank, Mkhize rec­om­mended that af­fected mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties find al­ter­na­tives for planned cap­i­tal projects and op­er­a­tional pro­grammes.

He said they needed to im­ple­ment a com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy “in or­der to be trans­par­ent and avoid com­mu­nity un­rest”.

Pic­ture: Daniel Born

Zand­spruit res­i­dents went on the ram­page in 2012 over the lack of ser­vice de­liv­ery in the north of Johannesburg. Be­low are slides of in­fra­struc­ture de­te­ri­o­ra­tion shown by Zweli Mkhize to the ANC in a re­cent brief­ing.

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