Is this the worst-run municipality in South Africa?

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) has again raised concerns around the Emfuleni Local Municipality, located near Vereeniging in Gauteng.

In a statement on Friday, the committee said that the municipality remains dysfunctional and despite Section 139 (1) (b) Constitutional intervention there is little evidence of improvement.

“It is extremely disheartening to realise that the lives of the people of the area are being affected negatively as a result of lack of both political will and administrative inclination to serve the people of the area.

“The situation requires a re-imagined approach to reverse the effects years of an ineffective municipality,” said committee chairperson Faith Muthambi.

At the heart of the challenges is the lack of consequence management, which is critical in rooting out malfeasance, she said.

There is high non-compliance, especially within the procurement unit, due to a complete collapse in controls and lack of effective oversight by the council.

“The non-existent consequence management is unacceptable, given the increasing unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful (UIFW) expenditure year-on-year.”

The 2018/19 year-end balance of irregular expenditure was R1.1 billion as a result of non-compliance with supply-chain management (SCM) regulations and the Municipal Finance Management Act, in respect of competitive bidding and quotations.

“What is even more concerning is the information that consequence management is being hampered by internal divisions, with one manager being suspended for only two days and then the suspension was overturned,” Muthambi said.

There is also dereliction of duty on the part of council, as they abandoned their oversight role, said Muthambi.

She said that the committee is concerned that the Municipal Public Accounts Committee has not investigated the irregular expenditure incurred during the 2018/19 financial year, nor has it held senior managers accountable for the ballooning UIFW expenditure.

The regression in audit opinion also highlights the lack of commitment to good governance and serving the people.

“It is unacceptable that the municipality has no plans to remedy the 81 matters of emphasis highlighted by the auditor-general for the 2018/19 financial year.

“The committee also believes that the development of the financial recovery plan has beard no fruits with no tangible improvement on the municipality’s finances. Furthermore, the municipality incurred a deficit of R586 million for the year, which will continue to put pressure on cash flow.”

No water, electricity and sewage in the streets

Parliament also warned that unreliable power and water supply will negatively affect the municipality’s ability to collect rates and taxes, which will further worsen the municipality’s financial situation.

“It is unacceptable that sewage spillage and water leaks are the norm in the municipality. This will deter any investor from investing into the municipality, thereby undermining any intention to stimulate job creation,” it said.

The committee also noted several instances where goods and services were procured without inviting competitive bids and following correct tender processes.

“Laws and regulations are there for a reason and can’t be adhered only when people feel like it,” said Muthambi. “This way of doing things exposes the municipality to high levels of risk that cannot be tolerated.”

Muthambi said that the committee is also concerned about the inability of the municipality to procure equipment for its staff members, thus endangering the lives of its workers.

“We have learned with sadness that an employee passed away at the municipality’s wastewater treatment works because of lack of equipment that resulted in the employee drowning.

“It is also alleged that the employee was alone at the plant while he was supposed to be working with someone. It is even more concerning that there has been no report on the incident served before council. This presents a picture of an uncaring employer.”

Business willing to help

Muthambi said that the business community has shown a desire to assist the municipality, but that this help has largely been wasted.

The willingness of the business community to assist the municipality is commendable, but the municipality’s lack of willingness to harness the financial and other expertise of the business sector is both astounding and regrettable., she said.

“National government has made repeated calls for public-private partnerships to resolve the many social and economic challenges facing the country, yet the municipality refuses positive private sector proposals.

“The committee has urged the municipality to reconsider its hostile posture against business and so improve the living conditions of its residents.”

Read: New rules will allow South Africa’s municipalities to spend more without needing tenders

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Is this the worst-run municipality in South Africa?