Underperforming municipal managers face the chop

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Municipal managers, who receive disclaimer audit outcomes, could soon have their contracts terminated for the adverse findings, says Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Deputy Minister, Andries Nel. 

Nel on Tuesday announced that Cogta is piloting the insertion of a clause into the contracts of municipal managers for them to be removed in case of disclaimers. 

“Even though there is an ongoing long-term improvement in municipal audit outcomes, 27 municipalities received repeat disclaimers,” he said. 

Nel made the announcement at a conference titled ‘State Capture and its Aftermath - Building Responsiveness through State Reform’, hosted by the Public Affairs Research Institute at the University of Johannesburg. 

Nel said the department is confident that the recent amendments to the Public Audit Act will assist in ensuring stronger action in cases of transgression. 

He said the Auditor-General (AG) would now have the power to refer material irregularities to appropriate authorities to investigate.

“The AG now also has remedial powers that can be levelled against transgressors. These remedial powers include the recovery of money lost as a result of the irregularities. 

“The failure to spend Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) allocations is unacceptable, as it affects ordinary citizens who need water, roads, electricity and other services,” he said. 

Numerous municipalities, he said, do not have the capacity to execute big infrastructure projects, with only 55 out of 257 municipalities having a qualified engineer.

“In the past five years, since 2012/13, a total of R3.4 billion in MIG transfers was stopped and was reallocated from underspending municipalities to better spending municipalities,” Nel said. 

State capture 

In his speech, Nel responded to questions of whether the concept of ‘capture’, as understood in the South African context, is useful in depicting what has happened at local government level and whether it assists in devising solutions to local government challenges. 

The question, he said, must be approached “in relation to the role of a democratic developmental State in the building of a national democratic society, the society our Constitution enjoins us to build”. 

“Uniting South Africa is necessary for the process of reducing poverty and inequality; unity in turn depends on the eradication of poverty and the reduction of inequality. 

“The National Development Plan (NDP) argues that long-term growth and investment requires a shared vision, trust and cooperation between business, labour and government.”  

Presently trust levels are low, Nel said.

 “The State sets the ethical bar for society as a whole. This makes it even more important that government acts to address the high levels of corruption in its ranks. In this context, our understanding of State capture and how to deal with it is important and urgent.” 

Local government transformation 

Nel said the democratic government has a medium to long-term project of transforming local government and improving municipal performance. 

“There are no quick fixes. The transformation of 1 262 apartheid local entities, many of which were fundamentally corrupt, into a coherent system of constitutionally recognised and statutorily regulated wall-to-wall local government took a decade and was a major achievement - technically and politically,” he said. 

The Back to Basic analysis of the state of South Africa’s municipalities shows that one third are functioning well. 

“One third are getting many of the basics right but require support, and one third are dysfunctional or distressed,” Nel said.

Many of the causes of this dysfunctionality and distress are historic, structural and systemic and are not unrelated to challenges inflicted by other spheres of government, he said. 

Cogta has, however, initiated a conversation on reviewing the district municipality and local government wall-to-wall system.

“Do we need 44 district municipalities and what should their roles be vis-a-vis local municipalities? Are the powers, functions of local municipalities commensurate with their capacity and configuration? Is the distribution of powers and functions amongst provincial and local government optimal? How do we improve planning, budgeting and targeted implementation amongst the three sphere?” he questioned.   

He did, however, admit that there were political and governance factors that were distinct and very problematic, citing matters such as the high turnover of senior management after elections. This, he said, also contributes to instability and impacts negatively on service delivery.

“Over the past five financial years… eight provinces collectively invoked 58 interventions in both their district and local municipalities. Since 2012, 52 councillors have been killed,” he said. 

As at the end of September 2018, a total of 198 protests were recorded -- 25 more than in 2017. 

In response to these challenges, government adopted the Back to Basics programme based on five pillars. 

“During the 2017/18 financial year, 423 appointments were concluded with competent and suitably qualified senior managers. In 95 cases, interventions were made to enforce compliance with the Municipal Systems Act and its regulations where appointments contravened these provisions,” he said. 

Since the amendment of the Municipal Systems Act in 2011, a total of 1 651 municipal employees were dismissed for misconduct and 130 resigned prior to the finalisation of the disciplinary proceedings.

Cogta, Nel said, requests and analyses all forensic investigations conducted, monitors their implementation and refers matters to law enforcement agencies. 

“Out of the 311 cases, 98 are in court, 178 are under investigation, while 35 are considered finalised or withdrawn.” – SAnews.gov.za