No more official abuse

2018-03-23 13:35
Dr Ray Ngcobo.

Dr Ray Ngcobo. (Ian Carbutt)

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Umgungundlovu municipal manager Dr Ray Ngcobo is not looking to win any popularity contests.

He told The Witness that his non-tolerance for a lack of accountability and abuse of municipal resources is partly what he believes made him unpopular with some of uMgungundlovu officials — but he is not about to change his tune.

Ngcobo joined uMgungundlovu District as a municipal manager in December but he has already had some officials voicing their dissatisfaction with his leadership skills.

Speaking to The Witness on Tuesday, he said one of the challenges he is still dealing with is making some officials understand they have to account for their actions. He said the district was without a municipal manager for about a year before he came, and some officials got used to doing as they pleased.

“I’ve made it clear that compliance with legislation, especially the MFMA (Municipal Finance Management Act) is not negotiable and the things that I want all of us to toe the line on were also raised by the Auditor-General [Kimi Makwetu] in his report,” he said.

He said when he joined the district there were problems over the abuse of leave, allowances and municipal resources, including the fleet and other tools of trade.

“Some officials were taking the cars home for the weekends and using them to run personal errands. I had to put a stop to all of that because at the end of the day I am the accounting officer so the buck stops with me,” said Ngcobo.

He said some officials were earning two salaries and taking home thousands every month in stand-by allowances.

“If you don’t deal with that then you are an accomplice [to the abuse] in terms of the MFMA so I couldn’t turn a blind eye just so I could be liked,” he said.

Ngcobo, however, said he is fortunate that the majority of the district’s administrative staff and the council support his vision to make uMgungundlovu stable in all aspects and to also improve the level of service delivery.

He is reviewing the organogram so they can start filling critical vacant positions that include his three deputies, who will be responsible for community services, economic development and strategic planning.

“We will also be getting rid of all deadwood and bringing in vibrant warm bodies,” he said.

The focus is going to be on creating capacity on the areas that generate revenue.

Water is the district’s trading service but Ngcobo said they are not collecting enough revenue.

“We spend about R12 million every month buying bulk water from Umgeni Water, which we then sell but we get nothing. We hardly get back 10% of what we spend,” he said.

Ngcobo said the municipality is financially stable and it has a cash coverage of about three months, but that does not mean that people should not pay for the services they are using.

uMgungundlovu’s debtors book is at approximately R400 million and Ngcobo said this is because the culture of non-payment is rife in the region, and there is also a problem of “distorted patterns of development”.

Using Bruntville, Mooi River, as an example, he said there is a housing project where at least five households are connected to one meter.

The development first made headlines in 2012 when more than a thousand houses had to be demolished because of shoddy workmanship. The government had to spend about R88 million building new ones, which also later required fixing.

“We need to have a long-term plan on how to deal with these challenges because we can’t keep on responding to pressure points,” said Ngcobo.

Other areas that are costing the district revenue include car washes, illegal diversions of water from main pipes, illegal connections, meters that need to be replaced and those on wrong addresses, ageing infrastructure and backyard shacks.

Ngcobo has established a revenue enhancement team to work on strategies to collect revenue.

“We are going to start switching off [water to] businesses and government departments and entities that owe us because they can afford to pay, but for some reasons they decide not to,” he said.

Each household will be reviewed individually because in some areas they need to replace infrastructure and also ensure that the correct property is being billed.

He said they are also hoping to start installing smart meters that will help prevent water theft.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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