Follow-up meeting with South African Local Government Association

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

19 August 2014
Chairperson: Mr M Mdakane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) provided responses to questions posed by the Portfolio Committee, arising from a meeting held on 29 July 2014.

SALGA defined its core business as being a hub for research and human resource development to capacitate municipalities. Public participation and partnership with civil society was a priority. There were challenges of corruption, although SALGA felt that perceptions thereof were sometimes exaggerated. SALGA was concerned about building stability for the 2016 municipal elections. Leadership had to be strengthened to deal with labour issues. There were challenges related to zoning and town planning. Challenges of financial viability were related to the absence of tax bases in municipalities. Revenue collection systems had to be beefed up. There was cooperation with the Auditor-General about audit outcomes. An integrated framework had to guide urbanisation. Challenges of infrastructure maintenance were related to skills shortages. Eradication of the bucket toilet system remained a challenge. Copper theft had to be profiled by the justice system as a serious offence. Statistics had to be developed at ward level to measure performance.

During the discussions that followed, the Members expressed satisfaction with the briefing, but there was general disagreement with the notion that perceptions of corruption could be exaggerated. The Committee was of one mind that corruption was a reality. It had to be acknowledged and addressed. There were remarks and questions about a lack of political leadership; lack of oversight capacity and skills, and a lack of proper zoning and town planning. It was felt that eradication of the bucket system had to proceed from the local level. Energy issues had to be broadly understood at the local government level. There was the suggestion that scrapyards that sold stolen copper had to be closed down. There was concern about unions dragging their feet on wage agreements, with the 2016 municipal elections around the corner. Town planning academies were said to be out of touch with the realities of informal settlement. Recognition of a differentiated approach to collective bargaining was appreciated. Water loss caused concern. Small municipalities had to be creative with water supply, and skills were needed for that. Water infrastructure was ageing. A Member drew attention to a decline in infrastructure investment after 1976. More investment was needed.

On the adoption of minutes, the Committee Minutes of 24 June; 1 July; 8 July; 10 July, and 29 July were adopted without amendment or comment, except for the DA insisting that Committee recommendations should have been spelled out in detail in the minutes of 10 July.

Meeting report

SALGA responses to aspects raised by the Portfolio Committee during the meeting of 29 July
Mr Mpho Nawa, SALGA Executive Chairperson, told the Portfolio Committee that SALGA was not partisan, and represented all political parties. Funding was from the national government. SALGA provided specialised services of research and human resources development to capacitate municipalities. Public participation in local government was encouraged. Ward committees were not sufficient for public participation. Small municipalities also had to be accountable. There had to be support programmes for struggling municipalities.

Ms Nkele Ntingane, a Councillor representing SALGA, noted that SALGA partnered with civil society at the local level. That had resulted in the creation of a civic academy. Civil society expertise had to be drawn on. Violent service delivery protests called attention to issues around the separation of powers. The executive had to be held accountable, also with regard to corruption. People tended to exaggerate the corruption of Councillors, especially when their expectations were not being met. There had been an anti-corruption summit in the previous year. Officials were taken to court for selling government land. It was important to appoint skilled officials to minimise corruption. There was a need for consequences.

Mr Nawa noted that SALGA had to ensure that there were stable municipal elections. There was a Councillor induction programme to strengthen leadership before the 2016 elections. SALGA had to provide knowledge for leaders. Municipal models had to be revisited.

Ms Phila Xuza, Executive Director: Economic Development and Planning, explained that there were challenges related to zoning laws, town planning schemes and inspection. There was a limited availability of relevant skills at the municipal level. SALGA developed a professionalisation framework, especially for technical professionalisation. It was hoped that professionalisation at the senior management level would have a ripple effect that could address technical deficiencies in municipalities.

Mr Simphiwe Dzengwa, Executive Director: Municipal Finance, said that there were challenges of financial viability, as there was an absence of a tax base in many municipalities. There was a contradiction between a demand for services and a willingness to pay for them. Revenue collection services had to be beefed up. SARS would be engaged. Municipalities were not receiving enough from national. Local taxation had to be looked at. There were meetings with the Auditor-General to understand the causes of audit outcomes. SALGA would cooperate with the Treasury and CoGTA towards a municipal audit support programme. Auditors had to be trained about local government.

Ms Lorette Tredoux, Executive Director: Governance, said that urbanisation had to be assisted by an integrated urban development framework. There had to be a review of Municipal Infrastructure Grants (MIGs), together with the Treasury. Municipalities had to assist each other with maintenance of infrastructure. There were challenges of skills shortages. Cost drivers of environmental management had to be studied. Metro municipalities had to help with skills shortages for electrification. There was benchmarking for water services management. SALGA cooperated with CoGTA and the Department of Human Settlements towards eradication of the bucket system.

Mr Nawa noted that copper theft had decreased. The municipalities and ESKOM suffered the most. The justice system had to help to profile it as a serious matter. Relevant legislation had to be developed.

Mr Xolile George, CEO, said that SALGA was a capable centre of knowledge and information. Ward level data was developed towards measurement of performance. Data was made easily accessible to local government. Statistics South Africa cooperated. All municipalities had to have data systems to measure performance.

The Chairperson remarked that SALGA had provided useful answers to questions previously posed by the Committee. Cooperativeness of government systems was a priority.

Mr B Bhanga (DA) remarked that the SALGA response was comprehensive. Discussions could be taken further. After more than 20 years of democracy in a developing country, local states and traditional leadership were still undeveloped institutionally. The same problems of 20 years before persisted. The problem was weak political leadership in municipalities. Local municipalities needed strategic leadership. He had seen strategic officials, responsible for oversight, who had no capacity and no skills. They could not participate in discussions. There was not only a lack of technical capacity. Strategic leadership was needed. People were burning schools wearing party regalia. As an activist he had been taught not to engage in destructive actions while wearing a party shirt. There were no consequences for negative actions. SALGA had to develop a guiding framework.

Mr Nawa responded that the problem was how to build capacity for leadership. SALGA would report in a next meeting about engagement towards that end. SALGA was engaging with CoGTA about leadership and administration.

Mr Bhanga remarked that problems of zoning could cause cities to collapse. It was not only a technical problem, but also a problem of monitoring. Local states were not focusing on the basics of zoning and planning. Key functions had to be attended to. Grading and performance had to be looked at. Municipalities wanted the power to develop housing, but it could lead to informal settlements in highly developed areas. When municipalities did not attend to zoning, cities became slums, as had happened in Johannesburg, where the inner city had not been monitored in terms of municipal by-laws.

Mr N Masondo (ANC) welcomed a comprehensive response from SALGA. The current document would be useful for future engagements. It had been stated that Water Affairs, CoGTA and Human Settlements would cooperate on eradication of the bucket system. But it was only local government who operated on the level where people actually lived. Local government had to identify the problem and say how to deal with it. Municipalities had to be encouraged to develop ideas, in engagement with local stakeholders.

Mr Masondo stated that energy questions had to be broadly understood at the local government level. The South African population had to be educated about the use of coal and nuclear energy. It would not do to let Europe drive issues of sustainable development. Europe was motivated to get people to buy into its own products. He was not against a green approach, but the country had to be mindful of the politics involved.

Mr Masondo said that there had been a failure to take action against cable theft. Stolen goods were sold in scrapyards. Those scrapyards could be targetted and closed down. Action could be taken by the book. Bureaucratic measures could be unleashed. A scrapyard dealer had been arrested in Johannesburg. The question was whether the scrapyard was still operational.

Mr Masondo said that with the 2016 local elections around the corner, the unions were still dragging their feet about wage agreements.

Mr Xolile responded that there was engagement with the unions for negotiations to start in November 2014, or at the latest in January 2015. Negotiations could be concluded by June or July 2015. Negotiations could be difficult. There were difficult labour negotiation environments at all levels. There was a majority union in the local government sector which posed an internal challenge. SALGA efforts would be aligned with the Department of Public Service and Administration. A strike in local government and public services could not be afforded.

Mr Masondo said high qualifications did not guarantee leadership. Local government had to match the private sector in producing as many leaders as possible. A doctorate did not make material difference on the ground.  

Mr Masondo remarked that corruption was not just a perception. It had to be acknowledged and addressed. SALGA had the anti-corruption summit which produced ideas. But the question was what was being done. There had to be a strong motivation to deal with corruption as a highly important matter.

Mr K Mileham (DA) remarked that corruption was only talked about, but nothing was being done. SALGA had to make a strong proposition to local government. Corruption was not a perception, it was a reality. One only had to look at Auditor-General findings about unauthorised expenditure. The procurement process had to be opened up. Bidding processes had to be more transparent.

Mr M Mathloko (EFF) agreed that corruption was not just a perception. Corruption was usually associated with stealing State money. But even failing to attend meetings was corruption.

Mr Nawa responded that unauthorised expenditure was not stealing. It was rather non-compliance. The question was whether that justified being called corruption. Corruption clearly meant different things to different people. He wondered if Mr Masondo would agree that there were North and South definitions of corruption.

Mr N Khubisa (NFP) likewise felt that fraud and corruption was a reality, not a perception. The AG had indicated that in some provinces projects had been given to friends and family. People had to be arrested and dealt with.

Mr Masondo remarked that he endorsed the Civic Academy. Lobbying was a specialised area. It had to be pursued relentlessly.

Mr Masondo remarked that the revitalisation of incomes had to be linked to the New Development Plan. Government had to avoid building future ghettoes. There had to be good housing. He cited the example of a professor in town planning who was training people as if they were going to work in the suburbs of New York. The professor had never been to an informal settlement. When dealing with informal settlements, what was learned at school could be irrelevant. SALGA had to make people relevant.

Mr Mileham said that he welcomed a differentiated approach to collective bargaining.                                                                                                                    

Mr George replied that a differentiated approach had to recognise differences in the revenue and cost bases among municipalities. Unions were demanding increases in the sector, but some municipalities could not afford increases. SALGA would attend to the matter, and look into possibilities of smaller pay increases in some areas. A system had to be designed with CoGTA, to deal with increases for senior managers and Councillors.

Mr Mileham asked what SALGA was doing to address issues of infrastructure, rapid unplanned growth and zoning. There were areas where building rights had been granted, and houses had been connected to treatment facilities for sewage. It had caused overloading of pipes, which had burst.

Mr Mileham felt that there was much concern with sustainable energy and the use of biogas, but municipalities first had to deal with problems of water, sanitation, housing and basic services. Thabazimbi owed Magalies for water, but there was 50 percent water loss for which no revenue could be obtained. He commended municipal benchmarking for water. He cautioned against duplication between SALGA and CoGTA as regarded research and data collection.

Mr Mileham referred to the comment that Auditor-General officials had to be trained to recognise local government initiatives. He cautioned that the AG had a very definite role, which could possibly not be extended in that way.

Mr Mileham said that he agreed with Mr Masondo about cable theft. There had to be prosecution. The copper unit had successfully closed down agencies that dealt in stolen copper in Cape Town.

Mr Khubisa noted that the big municipalities were creative in getting water, but elsewhere skills had to be developed to obtain it.                                      

Mr M Mapulane (ANC) remarked that simplistic solutions about water were not adequate. There was a problem of ageing infrastructure.

Mr Mapulane referred to a Times report that outlined how the Apartheid government had spent more on security and less on infrastructure, after 1976. Investment in infrastructure declined. The Infrastructure Development Programme had to invest more in water and electricity.

Mr Mapulane referred to audit outcomes. There had been marginal improvement. But SALGA and CoGTA had to provide more support for audit outcomes, and had to address systemic problems in municipalities.

Mr Nawa responded that there had been progress over the preceding 15 years with regard to audit outcomes. The AG reported that 50 percent of municipalities had received unqualified audit opinions.

Ms Ntingane said that she appreciated Committee assistance towards eradication of the bucket system. The problem was that water was a scarce resource in South Africa. Solutions to the bucket system problem usually only considered the alternative of a water borne system. Other systems had not been considered. There were problems with alternatives to the bucket system in informal settlements.

Mr Nawa concluded that SALGA appreciated the opportunity to render account. SALGA would return to the Portfolio Committee about issues highlighted.

The Chairperson concluded that leakage of water was a big problem. The lack of investment in infrastructure since 1976 had to be looked into. There were water and sanitation challenges. A cooperative system of government had to be discussed. There had to be uniformity of planning..

Adoption of Committee minutes
Committee minutes of 24 June; 1 July; 8 July; 10 July and 29 July were adopted without comment, except for the DA insisting that the minutes of 10 July should have included a detailed account of Committee recommendations.

The meeting was adjourned.

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