What a load of rubbish

2010-06-04 00:00

TWO months into the implementation of the turnaround strategy at the Msunduzi Municipality, the one visible area where little or no progress is being made is in waste management.

While waste collection went smoothly for a short while after the new administration took over, the service seems to be falling back into disarray. Residents complain that rubbish collection is erratic, whole suburbs are left out or at times just certain streets within a suburb are left out. Amazingly, there are also instances when rubbish is collected from some houses in the street while it is left behind at others. Frustrated residents complain that the city is still not looking clean and garden-refuse sites groaning under loads of rubbish tell the story of the failure of this basic service.

Why is waste management proving to be such a difficult area to bring under control and what can be done to get the service running smoothly and systematically?

A clue to the challenge first became evident in October 2009, in a memorandum sent to the MEC of Local Government by members of the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu). The memorandum described the Community Services Business Unit, under which waste management fell, as the worst unit within the municipality and the union called for an urgent investigation by an independent commission of inquiry.

Municipal insiders claim that all that is dysfunctional within Msunduzi can be found within the unit. This includes widespread cronyism, money in the budget not being spent on the service and inexperience.

We know from administrator Johann Mettler and his team that they are investigating nepotism at senior and middle-management level. However, staff allege that within waste management this goes right down to the hundreds of lower-level workers who are employed within the unit.

The Sawmu memorandum alluded to this. It stated: “There is no policy with regard to the employment of A-band workers and this is deliberate in such that the elite at any time employ their friends and relatives. This has a potential for conflict within and outside the municipality.”

The result is that inexperienced managers have lost control of the department. Staff say that the entire department has been destroyed, there is no control, no administration and no one knows what is going on. It is alleged that a senior manager, whom workers do not want at the unit, spends his day whiling away his time at 333 Church Street and has not set foot in the waste management offices in Doull Road recently. Another misplaced appointee, who moved from being a clerk to a manager in the department, has allegedly had a nervous breakdown because of being unable to cope.

Insiders claim that waste management was allegedly misused to keep councillors happy in a council divided into two factions. A councillor’s support for the dominant faction was won over by giving jobs to his or her friends and relatives, and these positions were made available within waste management.

It is alleged that senior managers would go to Executive Committee (Exco) meetings claiming that there were complaints about the service because there were not enough staff or that they would be able to reduce the overtime bill by employin­g more people. The overtime budget never went down and there are more than enough workers in the unit. The problem now is how to get everyone working and to put proper supervision, schedules and systems in place.

Another common complaint by the department has been over the issue of broken-down and insufficient rubbish-removal trucks. Sources claim that once again, inexperience led to inadequate fleet management. There were no controls or systems within the workshop and no daily checks on what was going on, which vehicles were being repaired, who was carrying out the repairs and what time vehicles were due out. Inexperience also led to crisis management and the hiring of vehicles and equipment at the drop of a hat, without regard to budgetary constraints. There are also allegations, which apparently form part of the investigation by the turnaround team, that this continuous hiring took root within the unit because kickbacks were allegedly paid to certain managers.

Insiders say that it has been difficult for Mettler to cast his eye over the wide array of problems at Msunduzi and concentrate his attention on waste management. He has been delegating and the problem is that many middle managers don’t know how to work differently and have no control over those workers who have links with councillors or senior managers.

There is a suggestion that the province needs to send in reinforcements with at least two people to oversee waste management. The first step would be to confront employees in that section, including managers, and give them an ultimatum to either work or go. This has to be ­followed by putting proper supervision in place, enforcing rosters and setting up schedules. Most importantly, there have to be checks to see that all areas have been covered and that teams have done their work. It’s a matter of starting from scratch and putting systems in place, said a source.

The second step is to get enforcement working, with staff from licensing, traffic and security sections all playing their part.

For example, said a municipal staffer, there is a huge problem with the distribution of leaflets in the CBD, which just get thrown around. The distribution needs to be controlled and enforcement officers need to start patrolling the CBD, at least to make a start at curbing littering. If this happens and members of the public see that there is some effort from the municipality, they might become more co-operative about playing their part in keeping the city clean.

Suggestions for long-term solutions include outsourcing rubbish removal in the suburbs to SMMEs in order to concentrate the current staff and resources in the CBD or to outsource the entire service, as has been done in other cities.

Municipal insiders say that the provincial task team will be holding a workshop with waste management next week, and hopefully some of these suggestions will be put in place. Advice to the turnaround team for now, is to concentrate on getting the town clean and regulating the collection of rubbish. Waste management is the most visible service within the city. If the municipality manages to get the rubbish off the streets every day and maintain its schedules, the public will complain less. There will be patience with the turnaround strategy and a greater willingness to do one’s bit for the city.

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