SA’s municipal health is improving

2014-08-04 13:45

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As we celebrate 20 years of democracy, various opinions ?have been advanced on the sociopolitical health of our country.

With the release of the local government audit outcomes report by the Auditor-General on Wednesday, yet another contribution has been made on the performance, successes and challenges that need to be considered in reviewing the state of our municipalities.

The Auditor-General’s report on the state of local government is a yardstick to track the accomplishments and setbacks with the transformation of this important sphere of our government.

SA’s Auditor-General, Kimi Makwetu, released his report on the state of local government this week.
Picture: GCIS

Commentators have shared their opinions on these audit results. Some paint a gloomy picture of the current state of affairs; others take a narrow technical view, choosing to focus on the headline figures to the exclusion of other equally important variables.

I want to contend that a balanced and fair analysis of the results will somewhat acknowledge the progress by municipalities in attaining a greater degree of financial, administrative and performance stability despite the challenges that remain.

It is important to note that the Auditor-General’s report focuses on the past 12 months. By the time it is presented, a municipality could have regressed, stagnated or improved.

However, in shaping a post-audit response, it is a good departure point to consider past audit results and compare trends over a number of years.

Such an approach allows for gaps to be identified in critical areas that warrant attention and support. This approach could also provide indicators on the achievements made by various stakeholders in supporting municipalities to perform better.

The report highlights three root causes of poor audit findings.

These include the slow response by the political leadership in a municipality in addressing the root causes or the risk areas identified by the Auditor-General of poor audit outcomes; lack of consequences for poor performance and transgressions; and key positions that remain vacant or key officials lacking the appropriate competencies.

These causes are manifest through various areas of operations such as supply chain management; poor quality of performance reports; poor human resources management practices; poor quality of submitted financial statements; limited information technology systems controls; poor financial health; and others.

Considered holistically, these are usually predicters of poor service delivery and, in some areas, the violent service-delivery protests we have seen.

These issues are real and are experienced daily when people interact with their municipalities. They affect almost all municipalities.

But the report seems to present a story of hope and progress. It outlines that municipalities are making strides, especially in service-delivery improvement and financial management.

Even regarding the performance on audit issues, there is a year-on-year increase in the number of municipalities attaining “clean audits”.

This is enhanced by the decrease in the number of municipalities getting an adverse or disclaimer opinion. The Auditor-General also found there was an improvement in several municipalities that moved from qualified to unqualified audits.

Actually, 50% of the 273 municipalities got improved unqualified audit outcomes compared with 48% in the previous year.

This points to improved service delivery, accountability and governance, compliance with legislation and capacity, especially in small, rural municipalities. It is particularly encouraging to see a number of these municipalities making significant progress and getting unqualified audit results.

This state of municipalities poses several challenges to local government practitioners and their stakeholders.

The three key issues that require urgent attention are: How do we ensure sustainability on the clean audit progress made; how do we package and escalate targeted, customised and multidisciplinary support to municipalities battling with service issues; and how do we ensure that clean audit outcomes correlate with improved service delivery.

While audit outcomes are important, the final measure of progress should be a service-delivery satisfaction barometer that tracks the extent of happiness and satisfaction of citizens with the services rendered by municipalities.

» Dzengwa is executive director of municipal finances at Salga

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