OPINION | Misguided Outa is barking up the wrong tree with it's attack on Salga

Wayne Duvenage is the CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa). (Lucky Nxumalo)
Wayne Duvenage is the CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa). (Lucky Nxumalo)

Salga is not the one that the CEO of Outa, Wane Duvenage, should be attacking, writes Lance Joel.

The desire for public office goads people to find creative ways to remain relevant.

Having one’s name circulating in the public domain and receiving constant media coverage is one such strategy to maintain relevance.

While shrewd politicians craft a message of hope to win the hearts and minds of people, excited amateurs can find themselves barking up the wrong tree.

The latter is exactly what is happening with one, Wane Duvenage, the CEO of Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), who has mischievously positioned Salga as a foe of local government and target it for his nefarious political campaign.

His recent articles: "Has Salga’s day of reckoning arrived?" and "Municipal Managers Mindlessness", both published in the Daily Maverick, as well as his seminar "Save South African Municipalities", which took place on 22 July, are actions of someone in a quest to remain relevant for purposes of campaigning for public office in the forthcoming 2021 and 2024 elections.

His attempt at tarnishing the reputation of Salga and sowing the seeds of doubt in the public mind about the relevance of our organisation cannot be left unchallenged.

His attacks on Salga expose his ignorance and little understanding of the history, purpose and role that Salga plays in local government.

The place of Salga in our cnstitutional framework

Salga is an organisation established in terms of the Section 163 of the Constitution, which enjoined the democratic government to form and recognise national and provincial organisations that represent municipalities.

It is embarrassing that someone who clearly harbours ambition for political office could be so ignorant of such constitutional provision. Ignorance is, indeed, blissful!

Salga represents all municipalities irrespective of the political party in power. We have structures in all nine provinces, whose composition mirrors the political representation, representation in the Finance and Fiscal Commission that recommends the allocation of the budget of the country as well as the National Council of Provinces.

Our membership is testament to the confidence that municipalities have in Salga. The very fact that municipalities led by different political parties have continued to affiliate annually over the past 24 years is proof that they derive value and appreciate Salga’s contribution in local government.

Few highlights of Salga’s achievements

Salga has made countless achievements over the years, inter alia, our successful lobbying for a new energy deal which enables municipalities to build their own energy generation capacity and to procure energy from independent power producers.

There is not a single legislation that impacts the local government sphere that has passed without Salga’s influence and scrutiny. The new requirement for all parliamentary bills to have their impact on local government assessed first before they can be passed is a victory that Salga has fought for in the interest of municipalities. The regulatory impact assessment tool used in this regard is a product of our work.

Salga’s record of 12 years of consecutive unqualified audits, of which the last seven have been clean audits, speaks for itself. The South African Institute for Chartered Accountants has, for the past three years in succession, recognised Salga for its sterling financial management.

Salga is a constitutional body neatly stitched in the intergovernmental system to strengthen, not destroy, municipalities as Outa would like us to do. Criticising municipalities is not our raison d'être. Even when we criticise, ours is constructive.

It is for these reasons that we have been intensifying the implementation of consequence and accountability measures since 2014. The latest call we have made for national government to withhold grants for those municipalities that have transgressed is consistent with the work we have been doing over the past years.

The request by National Treasury for a relook on wage bargaining agreements is a universal call made to all unions and bargaining bodies in all spheres of government. It was not made to Salga alone. To suggest that Salga’s call for withholding of funds was in reaction to this smacks of ignorance or mischief. 

Measures to fight corruption 

Efforts to combat corruption in municipalities are beginning to bear fruits.

The National Prosecution Authority has, as of February this year, 86 cases of fraud and corruption already in court, involving over R1.3 billion. Meanwhile the SIU is also investigating 66 cases of fraud, corruption and maladministration that have been referred by municipalities. There are currently 34 senior managers suspended for misconduct. All of these shows the commitment within local government to enforce consequence management and hold people to account. Municipalities have not been waiting for messianic Outa to rescue them from corruption; they have been taking action to curb this scourge.

Duvenage sends alarm about municipalities that are broke and yet he doesn’t even tell us as to why they are broke.

The reality is that our national economy is struggling and municipalities are feeling the brunt of the low growth and high unemployment rate that has ravaged our communities. With the Covid-19 outbreak, we can only expect the situation to worsen. 

The funding model for municipalities has not kept pace with service delivery demands, a view made more sharply by the Auditor-General. The rate of the growth on municipal funding as appropriated through the equitable share, is outpaced by infrastructure backlogs and inward migration into the country and into our cities.

Whereas a shrinking revenue base compounds these problems, a high consumer debt further throttles municipalities’ ability to fulfil their mandates.

In the latest report of March 2020, National Treasury highlights that the aggregate municipal consumer debt stood at R181.3 billion. About 70.5% of this (R127.7 billion) was money owed by households and 10% by government departments, and the rest by businesses.

Campaigning for public office requires more than howling gigantic curses at organisations such as Salga. A message of hope and a clear plan of action, informed by correct analysis and understanding of the challenges facing local government is a sine qua non to nurse an ambition for public office leadership.

If Outa is truly committed to "working with communities and authorities in improving administration and service delivery, within all spheres of government" as they suggest in their mission statement, Salga is keen to engage with Outa constructively with the aim to strengthen municipalities, rather than to participate in these "mindless" public spats.

Salga is not a foe of local government. We are an organisation established for purpose of strengthening and not destroying local government.

- Lance Joel, is the Chief of Operations of the South African Local Government Association (Salga).

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