It is crucial that leadership at municipalities have the right skills


Service delivery at local government level is a critical component of SA’s future stability. But it’s apparent (and has been for a while) that there are serious issues at many municipalities, especially those in the rural areas.

Currently there are eight metropolitan councils, 205 local councils and 44 district councils. Many of these organisations are suffering from an increasing level of failure to deliver.

Nhlanhla Nene, the Minister of Finance, recently told Parliament in reply to a question, that 112 municipalities do not have the money to carry out their service delivery plans for the current financial year and that only 14 of these have approved financial recovery plans. Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs, recently said 87 municipalities were considered dysfunctional – in other words, they can no longer operate.

Many councils cannot pay their Eskom or water bills, with the resultant knock-on effect to these organisations’ revenue streams. Billions are transferred every year from the central government and much of this is frittered away in wasteful or negligent expenditure – or simply disappears in a web of corruption.

In 2011, the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) published a report that contained the following words: ‘Almost every municipality in South Africa is corrupt and the growing lack of transparency and accountability in local government is creating networks for graft to survive and thrive.’ On 23 May this year, Auditor General Kimi Makwetu reported an overall deterioration in the audit results of SA’s municipalities for 2016/17.

Makwetu said, despite his office’s constant and insistent advice and caution to those charged with governance and oversight about administrative lapses since 2013, its counsel has largely not been heeded. ‘When we released the 2011/12 municipal audit outcomes in August 2013, we highlighted, among others, a lack of decisive leadership to address the lack of accountability by ensuring consequences against those who flouted basic processes that hampered effective municipal governance. It is now five years later, and we are still faced with the same accountability and governance challenges we had flagged throughout these years.’

In more polite language, Makwetu argued that it pointed to glaring governance, leadership and oversight lapses that have contributed immensely to the undesirable audit results.

He said just 33 municipalities (13%) of the 257 SA municipalities and 21 municipal entities made the grade in the 2016/17 tax year.

A major problem was the increase in unauthorised expenditure from just more than R16 billion to nearly R28.4 billion. It is a case of corruption, incompetence and nepotism all playing out in an ever-spreading contagion.

Corruption is not merely one person being paid to favour a (perhaps competent) company with the sale of goods or a service. That is clearly happening, but it becomes even worse when the corrupt person in a position of power is pushing a contract towards someone who is incompetent. The public then ends up with a vastly diminished quality of goods or services. Sometimes with none at all.

Also, municipalities have become a favourite place to ‘park’ politically connected people without the proper skills to deliver properly on what is desperately needed across the country at a local level for millions of citizens.

It is time for a proper civil service education organisation, outside of other graduate institutions, to be instituted so that the right people can be deployed to critical positions (such as engineering), so the correct processes can be followed to provide a proper delivery of service. Our future success as a nation depends on it.

By Bruce Cameron
Image: Haleema Rawoot