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The Provincial Week is one of the key mechanisms the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) initiated in order to enhance oversight over provincial and local governments, and directly engage with local communities on the challenges of service delivery.

It also provides an opportunity for the NCOP and the provincial legislatures to jointly engage with citizens on the challenges they experience, and provide an opportunity to receive reports from government departments and municipalities on progress made regarding service delivery.

This year’s Provincial Week is held under the theme: “Building Sustainable, Responsive and People-Centred Municipalities”, and as part of the preparations, the NCOP held a preparatory workshop where the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), the Auditor-General, the Statistician-General, and the South African Local Government Association (Salga) made presentations on the state and performance of municipalities in the country.

Delivering the opening remarks in the preparatory workshop, the NCOP Chairperson Mr Amos Masondo said the Provincial Week was one of the key mechanisms of the NCOP to solicit provincial interests and ensure that delegates to the NCOP keep abreast of developments, as well as service delivery challenges facing their provinces.

The Provincial Week includes joint oversight visits with the respective provincial legislatures to projects and sites to monitor the delivery of services to communities, as well as public hearings and meetings in order to interact with communities to get first-hand information on the delivery of services.

“It is not by accident that we have chosen to conduct this year’s Provincial Week under the theme: “Building Sustainable, Responsive and People-Centred Municipalities”. We are aware of the challenges that face this important sphere of our government,” said Mr Masondo.

He continued to list the challenges facing municipalities in the country, which include the lack of accountability and good governance; capacity of finance and budget units; lack of effective support to local government to enable municipalities to deliver services; customer value and satisfaction as required in terms of section 154 of the Constitution; inappropriate intervention and the lack of cooperative governance as required by Chapter 3 of the Constitution. 

“We have, through the engagements we have had since the beginning of the sixth Parliament, emphasised the role of oversight in the work of the NCOP. We have thus committed ourselves to pursue what we term outcomes-based oversight. This suggests that we must focus our activities on achieving results,” said the NCOP Chairperson.

Mr Masondo also reiterated the statement he made when he was elected Chairperson of the NCOP on the establishment of the sixth Parliament, that: “The time for speeches and empty promises is over. It is also evident that as Parliament we have made good policies and passed good laws in the 25 years of our democracy. What we have not done that well, however, as the legislative sector, has been to ensure the systematic implementation of these laws and policies to the benefit of our people.

“The imperative of the NCOP’s involvement in local government,” he added, “through this integrated oversight exercise, is so that we can contribute to integrated development. As such, there must be alignment among the different spheres of government with regard to our policy choices and implementation.”

The Provincial Week provides a forum for the exchange and sharing of ideas around service delivery issues and challenges facing the provinces in fulfilling their roles; and creates an opportunity for the NCOP and the provinces to work together in seeking solutions and developing new ways to address the challenges facing local government, and ensuring that the local government sphere responds adequately to the mandate of delivering services to communities.

In a presentation on the topic “State of Local Government in South Africa and Intervention to Assist Municipalities”, the Deputy Minister of CoGTA, Mr Parks Tau, outlined the gains and challenges experienced by municipalities, as well as government interventions to address them.

Billions owed to Eskom by municipalities, struggles to eliminate the bucket toilet system as well as the high number of section 139 interventions were among the biggest challenges facing the local sphere of government across country.

The Deputy Minister said in the past two financial years, there has been an increase in the number of municipalities placed under administration in terms of section 139 of the Constitution.

Currently, 40 municipalities across the country in all nine provinces are under intervention, with North West and KwaZulu-Natal with the highest number of 14 and 10 municipalities, respectively. There are also five interventions in Mpumalanga, three in Free State, two in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Gauteng, and one in Northern Cape and Western Cape.

“Section 139 interventions have been evaluated and a number of challenges or reasons for the failures of interventions have been identified. This is partly due to interventions starting too late. In many cases this was a result of provinces not identifying the factors requiring a provincial intervention in a timely manner, and not responding appropriately once the crisis is recognised.

“The dissolution of a municipal council and the appointment of an administrator usually faced local resistance and political counter-mobilisation. In several cases, the national government has been compelled to intervene as a result of court orders,” said Mr Tau.

Mr Tau told the NCOP delegates that resorting to section 139 is symptomatic of an underlying breakdown in the systems of inter-governmental cooperation.

“Given the responsibility of national and provincial governments to support local government in the exercise of its functions, the responsibility for the failure of local government to deliver a service or perform a key function is a shared one. Oversight, monitoring and support by the province needs to be strengthened, before section 139 is invoked,” he said.

Taking part in the workshop, the Statistician-General, Mr Risenga Maluleke, reported that over the period of 2016 to 2017, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces were the only provinces that reported zero in the provision of bucket toilets. The North West and Western Cape provinces reported an increase over the period of 2017 to 2018, and all other provinces showed a decrease in the provision of bucket toilets, except for Mpumalanga which reported no changes.

“As long as we continue to have informal settlements, the eradication of bucket toilet will remain a tall order,” said the Statistician-General.

Also the Auditor-General, Mr Kimi Makwetu, made a presentation in the workshop, where he told the delegates to the NCOP that 48 municipalities were identified to be requiring special intervention from national and provincial role players to improve their audit outcomes.

He said the worst performing municipalities in each province were selected based on their history over three years of disclaimed or adverse audit opinions, or a poor financial health assessment or unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

“Irregular expenditure remains high, with irregular expenditure of previous years not properly dealt with through investigation, and followed by condonement, recovery or write-off of the previous expenditure,” Mr Makwetu reported.

He said the top five contributors to the accumulated irregular expenditure (which constitute 32 percent of R71, 107 billion) which also did not investigate all instances of the prior year’s irregular expenditure were: Nelson Mandela Bay metro, OR Tambo District Municipality, City of Matlosana, City of Johannesburg, and Mogalakwena Local Municipality

The total outstanding debt of R18.28 billion owed to Eskom by municipalities and R9.05 billion owed to water boards, impacted on the financial health of municipalities.

The Auditor-General also raised concerns about deteriorating accountability in local government, late submission of financial statements, poor quality of financial statements, as well as escalating material non-compliance with key legislation in financial and performance management.

By Sakhile Mokoena
13 September 2019