There’s no doubt residents, businesses and institutions in Grahamstown want Cogta’s imminent intervention to work. But can it? Grocott’s Mail asks.
Earlier this month Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Zweli Mkhize introduced the high-powered team delegated to provide technical and managerial support and expertise to Makana Municipality. Last week Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s highly publicised response to parliamentary questions from DA Shadow Minister for Co-operative Governance Kevin Mileham confirmed National Treasury would be involved in managing the finances of Makana and 14 other municipalities in the Eastern Cape.
But after 22 months of Section 139 (1) (b) intervention in Makana, what’s different this time?
“My concern would be does our provincial government have the technocrats with capacity and skills to take over 15 municipalities?” local government researcher Lungile Penxa commented following last week’s announcement by Nene. “If they do, what stopped them from doing it before other than political interference?”
Nene responded last week to parliamentary questions from Mileham, naming 15 municipalities including Makana that had been targeted for intervention by National Treasury. Nene said municipalities were responsible for drafting financial recovery plans. Through Chapter 13 of the Municipal Finance Management Act, municipalities could request the National Treasury to draft the recovery plan in consultation with provincial treasury and the municipality.
Nene said they were working with Cogta in these interventions and his statement does not appear to contradict the interventions planned for Makana as indicated by Minister Mkhize’s advance team report.
Makana Municipality has a financial recovery plan drafted during former Section 139 (1) (b) administrator Pam Yako’s tenure. It is not clear whether this plan will be used in the current intervention.
Like civil society organisations, Penxa, who comments in his private capacity, expressed concern at Mkhize’s lifespan in office to effect the stability he was promising.
During his visit to Grahamstown, the Minister said a multi-stakeholder structure comprising national, provincial, local and Rhodes University representatives would be set up to develop a programme of action, as well as task teams for implementation and improving implementing capacity.
“As much as Dr Mkhize committed to oversee this programme of action, this is not work that can be completed in a few months,” Penxa said. “South African party politics have shown us that the lifespan of a Minister in power can be made very short, so we are still unsure of how long he will be the Minister of Cogta so that he can contribute in stabilising the struggling Municipalities like our Makana.
“We must also take into consideration that elections for 2019 are around the corner. The elections can also affect the outcome of this promised national intervention.
“The capacity building intervention needed in Makana Municipality should specifically focus on among other aspects, enhancing technical, operational and management expertise, supplemented by a sustainable skills development programme which should be rolled out to all the existing staff to improve their expertise and work ethic,” said Penxa. However, there were no time frames given for this intervention. “It is a wait-and-see game.”
In addition, a sustainable skills development programme could only work in an institution that had its full staff complement.
“A skill cannot be left in a vacant critical position.”
Penxa was also sceptical about the fact that Makana’s financial recovery plan, approved by Council mid-2015, had not been immediately implemented.
“Even other currently dysfunctional municipalities that have been put under administration have had financial recovery plans but forgot to implement them. Overall, our current Minister of Cogta is in touch with the municipal systematic problems. He is saying all the right things and we are positive that he can bring about the desired change.
“We look forward to the intervention under his leadership and we will support where we can,” Penxa said, speaking as a resident of Makana.
As it happened
In a Council meeting late last year, the DA’s Makana caucus withdrew a motion for the municipality to be put under full administration in terms of Section Section 139 (1)(c ), which would include dissolution of the Council. They did this on the basis of Mayor Nomhle Gaga’s assurance that Sarah Baartman District Municipality’s Manager Ted Pillay’s secondment to Makana had been requested.
In January a grouping of civil society organisations along with the DA protested the fact that the secondment hadn’t yet gone ahead. The Concerned Citizens Committee to Save Makana red-flagged what appeared to be a misleading statement in the 24 November announcement, and a demonstration outside the City Hall followed days after. Pillay was seconded in a resolution taken on 24 January, Sarah Baartman Mayor Eunice Kekana later clarified.
Commenting this week on Nene’s response, spokesperson for the DA in Makana Mlindi Nhanha said, “The DA has always been supported an intervention by both national and provincial governments, but we opted to give the Mayor a lifeline. She has clearly failed the residents of Makana. The announcement by the Minister of Finance is a breath of fresh air and a glimmer of hope.”
The ANC Subregion Head and Makana Chief Whip Mabhuti Matyumza said, “We feel strongly that the National Government has the full right to intervene on matters of Local Government – particularly when that sphere needs assistance and we welcome that.”
The Grahamstown Residents Association, part of the Concerned Citizens grouping that campaigned for the dissolution of Makana Muncipality under Section 139 (1) (c) said they were reluctant to comment yet as it was not clear exactly what help Makana was getting from Cogta.
“What we still don’t have is a ‘platform’ or even a regular government update to tell people what’s going on and allowing for engagement,” said GRA Secretary Tim Bull.
CAN COGTA FIX MAKANA’S BIG FIVE?
Cogta’s advance report says the municipality is marred with poor planning, implementation and monitoring of projects and this has lead the municipality to sit with huge backlogs around all sectoral infrastructure.
* Lack of, and/or inadequate maintenance of existing infrastructure leads to further deterioration of services. The municipality appoints service providers who are not capable of carrying out their contractual obligations.
* Municipality has little or no revenue collection, there is a high dependency on grant funding.
* Service delivery: The municipality has serious challenges on bulk water, sanitation and electricity. Bulk infrastructure provision which is at full capacity is hindering the development of required additional settlements. Little or no priority is given to infrastructure maintenance of existing infrastructure like roads and water and waste treatment plants. This has a negative effect to attracting investors and growing the economy in the area. In 2016/17, the municipality applied for a roll-over of R22 million and only R18 million of the funds were rolled over by the National Treasury. The 2017/18 funds were regazetted to Sarah Baartman DM. The municipality has reported 11 percent of the R24m allocation.
The municipality has been overburdened with the responsibility of transporting water to farms. Other challenges include; regular water cuts, no planned maintenance, average of approximately 200 leaks need attention. Taps in townships are broken or vandalised. Some infrastructure projects are on hold, especially projects involving DWS counter funding approach to municipal infrastructure development and maintenance. Due to DWS’s failure to fulfil its commitment, some municipal projects are forced to be put on hold.
* The municipality is currently faced with a huge pothole crisis. The paved road network does not conform to the minimum accepted norms. Roads in black and coloured areas are in a horrendous state.
* The municipality is currently faced with replacement costs of the paved road network amounting to approximately R1.2 billion.
Sewerage spillages due to the ageing infrastructure that requires replacement.
Prevalent bucket system: 150 in formal areas; 300 in informal areas
Mayfield and Belmont are [under-] capacitated.
* Overhead feeder lines not performing.
* No infrastructural master plan.
* Notified demand is 20MVA; the municipality is using 23-24 MVA.
The advance team did not comment in its report on waste management. However, in his reply during the 4 May stakeholder engagement, Dr Zweli Mkhize said, “What we want is simple: we want proper cleaning, and we want no dumping. We’re not bringing a bag of billions of rands: Makana must get the basics right – sort out the current situation.”
WHAT THE MINISTER SAID IN MARCH
In his 20 March statement announcing Cogta’s planned interventions to support municipalities in distress, Minister of Co-operative Governance Dr Zweli Mkhize presented a broad picture of the state of local government across South Africa. He said:
* Seven percent of the country’s municipalities are classified as well-functioning
* About 31% of the municipalities are reasonably functional
* Thirty one percent are almost dysfunctional
* The remaining 31% are dysfunctional.
“The ability of municipalities to plan, deliver, operate and maintain infrastructure is dependent to a greater extent, on the capacity of officials to execute their responsibilities. The technical nature of the responsibilities demands requisite levels of expertise and skills, mainly in the field of civil engineering,” Mkhize said in March.
“The current situation in municipalities indicates that there is limited in-house experience for managing infrastructure projects, handling tender documents and meaningfully interacting with contractors. There is also limited scheduled maintenance of infrastructure taking place.”
What Cogta said was wrong with governance in Makana
An advance team from Cogta prepared a report ahead of Mkhize’s visit title ‘Ministerial Visit to Eastern Cape: Advance Team Report’. They described the following as the root causes of Makana’s governance problems:
* The structure of the municipality is bloated.
* The municipality has 700 employees.
* High salary wage bill.
* 30 Managers
* Some Sections are under-staffed and other sections overstaffed
* Poor Supervision
* Low staff Morale
Makana Local Municipality has six Senior Manager positions: Municipal Manager, Chief Financial Officer and Directors: Corporate Services, Technical & Infrastructure, Local Economic Development and Community & Social Services. The position of the Municipal Manager and Director: Community and Social Services are currently vacant. The position of Municipal Manager has been vacant since 1 April 2014 and that of a Director: Community & Social Services has been vacant since 31 October 2014.
What the advance team said would be done to fix Makana
The Municipal Council will appoint the Municipal Manager at the next Council Meeting scheduled for June 2018 and will consider the appointment of Director: Community & Social Services at its next meeting.
Technical capacity in Makana
The Minister said technical interventions would be implemented in Makana Municipality via the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency and Provincial Treasury would provide financial planning. The advance report said the intervention would:
• Assist the municipality by deploying engineering skills and advisory capacity to address immediate basic services, such as roads, water pressure management, water and electricity losses; .
• Assist the municipality review its infrastructure master plan (long-term planning);
• Engage the Minister of Water and Sanitation in an effort to get DWS to fulfil its promises to the municipality on counter-funding projects;
• Assist the municipality develop a budget accordingly for maintenance and repairs, as well as develop and asset management plan;
• Ensure the municipality installs boreholes, especially in farming areas, and acquires resources such as vehicles, water tankers and engineers;
• Ensure the municipality develops concrete plans on water conservation and demand management;
• Ensure the District plays a more critical role in supporting the municipality on technical and procurement issues.
• National Cogta’s MIG (municipal infrastructure grant) unit to liaise with the National Treasury to support the municipality with the projects reprioritisation and projects preparation for 2018/19;
• Utilise offers and partnership with business and Rhodes University in the delivery of services and skills development.
What other municipalities are being targeted?
According to the Cogta advance team’s report, the 10 Eastern Cape Province priority municipalities are King Sabata Dalindyebo (Mthatha/Mqanduli), Makana (Grahamstown), Walter Sisulu (Gariep/ Maletswai), Mnquma (Butterworth), Enoch Mgijima (Queenstown), Port St Johns (Port St Johns), Amahlathi (Stutterheim), Joe Gqabi (Aliwal North), Mbizana (Bizana) and Matatiele (Matatiele).
This month, in response to parliamentary questions by DA Shadow Minister Kevin Mileham, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene also named Ngqushwa (Peddie), Ndlambe (Port Alfred), Emalahleni (Dordrecht), Intsika Yethu (Cala), Great Kei (Kei Mouth), Dr Beyers Naude (Graaff-Reinet), Sakhisizwe (Elliot), Komga, Inxuba Yethemba (Cradock), as well as Chris Hani and Amathole District Municipalities.