Gauteng municipalities' failures laid bare as parliament comes to town
Cogta committee is conducting a week-long visit to assess the state of municipalities in Gauteng — and its findings are not heartening
There is a shortage of senior managers, municipal public accounts committees (MPACs) are dysfunctional, there are high water and electricity losses, and no investigation and consequence management into unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure in Gauteng municipalities.
These are among the many issues parliament's portfolio committee on co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) found on the first day of its visit to the province on Tuesday. The general picture of functionality, said committee chair Faith Muthambi, was “concerning”.
Auditor-general Kimi Makwetu, in a report released in July 2020, stated that irregular expenditure by Gauteng municipalities increased from R3.2bn to R4.6bn in the most recent financial year. Makwetu said in July that Gauteng municipalities have, in general, improved in their audit outcomes — but he flagged the collapse of the Tshwane council as having hurt the province's financial accounting.
The Cogta committee is conducting a week-long visit to assess the state of municipalities and the provision of services in Gauteng. Municipalities under the spotlight are the Tshwane and Ekurhuleni metros, and the Emfuleni local municipality.
Muthambi said: “The general picture of functionality of municipalities in the province is concerning and affects directly the ability of municipalities to provide quality services.”
Regarding the high vacancy rate, Muthambi and the committee found that four out of the 11 municipal manager positions are vacant.
“However, the high vacancy rate of supporting senior manager posts is [also] a concern. In Johannesburg there is a 42% vacancy rate, Sedibeng has 50%, Lesedi and West Rand are at 33%, and Merafong is at 42%,” she said.
Muthambi said this could be attributed to the lack of strategic direction and lack of financial prudence in those municipalities. A concern was that of the 11 municipalities, five municipal public accounts committees had not yet approved their 2019/20 annual plan.
“This undermines their critical oversight role and is reflected in the backlog in investigating unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful (UIFW) expenditure,” she said.
Another concern of the committee was that only 55% of municipalities are compliant in approving the oversight report, as per section 129 of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA).
“This undermines good governance and must be rectified immediately,” Muthambi said.
“High water and electricity losses are another concern. These put pressure on the cash flow balances and contribute to poor service delivery.”
She said it was unsustainable to have water losses of R1.39bn in Johannesburg, R1.05bn in Tshwane and just over R1bn in Ekurhuleni. She said the committee had urged municipalities to deal with customers who steal water, address inaccurate billing to increase payment, and fix ageing infrastructure.
She said councillors in eight municipalities owe their municipalities a combined R1,720,858 in unpaid municipal debt.
“Only Merafong has no councillors in arrears. This fosters a general culture of non-payment, as residents follow the example set by councillors,” she said.
Muthambi said government debt to municipalities required urgent attention from both the provincial and national governments if the culture of non-payment was to be overcome. According to Makwetu, Gauteng municipalities owe Eskom R3.3bn and the water board nearly R1bn.
Muthambi said the committee was concerned that in Gauteng 77% of unauthorised expenditure for the 2018/19 financial year and prior years is still to be addressed.
“It is unacceptable that in Johannesburg, unauthorised expenditure increased from R1.2bn in the 2014/15 financial year to R3.07bn in the 2018/19 financial year.”
The committee called for the urgent completion of the investigation and implementation of consequence management against those in the wrong, and for the recovery of money where possible.
The committee on Tuesday visited Hammanskraal and Nellmapius Ext 22 where residents told the committee they have not had electricity since 2016.