Local government in crisis: 7% of municipalities function well

Residents protest against poor service delivery in North West.
Residents protest against poor service delivery in North West.

New Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize has opened the lid on the poor state of municipalities across the country, painting a picture of governance getting worse and the financial situation worsening.

Mkhize was appointed to the post only in March and appears to have spent time assessing the state of local government, which he laid bare in the budget speech delivered in Parliament last week.

Setting out the barometers by which local government should be measured, Mkhize said: “Municipalities should be able to provide water, electricity, street lighting, cut the grass on the verges of the road, ensure refuse removals, repair potholes and ensure correct billing systems for both households and businesses.”

He said municipal staff should treat people with respect and dignity.

“A visit to municipal offices must be such a positive experience and a pleasure that our people look forward to it.”

However, the hard reality of local government is that only 7% of the country’s municipalities are classified as well functioning.

. About 31% of the municipalities are reasonably functional;

. Thirty-one percent are almost dysfunctional; and

. The remaining 31% are dysfunctional or distressed.

Mkhize said what worried him was that there were previously performing local governments which were now regressing.

“There are some that have been performing that had good revenue, but which are now eroding their revenue base and eating into their reserves, or diverting conditional grants for operational expenditure.”

He conceded that some of the problems might be structural, such as in municipalities which now incorporate previously neglected communities and are battling financially.

“Some of the municipalities were created out of a collection of villages and largely rural or peri-urban communities and small towns with no industrial base or significant economic activity.”

He said there was a need to differentiate between the causes of the dysfunctionality that is a result of human weaknesses, such as incompetence or corruption, and situations where non-viable or distressed municipalities are occasioned by structural and systemic constraints.

Mkhize pledged to reverse the culture of impunity and inaction in municipalities.

He has introduced a clause in the contracts of municipal managers that they will be fired if the council receives a disclaimer from the Auditor-General.

“No disclaimers will be tolerated. We give all municipalities with disclaimers one year to put their house in order. All interventions must show improvements and a reversal within 12 months.

“We are also piloting the insertion of a clause in the contracts of municipal managers for them to be removed in case of disclaimers,” Mkhize said.

The department had identified 87 municipalities that are distressed or dysfunctional, which would receive help.

He slammed municipalities for being unable to spend the municipal infrastructure grant.

“The failure to spend the municipal infrastructure grant allocations is unacceptable as it affects ordinary citizens who need water, roads, electricity and other services.”

Unsurprisingly, North West municipalities form the bulk of deteriorating municipalities.

“In North West 20 out of 22 municipalities had deteriorating audit performance in terms of the audit outcomes of the 2016/17 financial year.

“Twelve out of the 22 North West municipalities are in serious financial distress, of which eight received disclaimers in audit outcomes. Previous section 139 interventions in five municipalities have not yielded results.”

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