Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency on operations and implementation of programmes

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

11 November 2014
Chairperson: Mr MR Mdakane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA) presented its report and stated that it was created to support and build technical capacity in local government for the improvement of municipal infrastructure provisioning, refurbishment and maintenance in accordance with section 7 (5) of the Public Service Act. Its mandate is to render technical advice and support so as to optimise municipal infrastructure provisioning and coordinate the development and implementation of programmes designed to strengthen the capacity of municipalities for planning, developing, operations and maintenance of their municipal infrastructure. Although its organogram provided for 178 positions, only 27 were filled with permanent staff and most of the work being done was performed by independent contractors. It has two major programmes were Municipal Technical Support, which provides technical/project management support to municipalities on infrastructure projects and ensures support through a model across districts, and the Sectoral Support and Coordination programme, which mobilises resources to address sectoral priorities, addresses strategic issues of the sectoral departments and monitors the quality of work done by service providers. There were also sub-programmes in relation to Artisan Development and Learnerships, Young Graduates, Experiential Learning and Internship, Technical Bursary, Technical Training, and mentoring of municipal officials to gain qualifications and professional registration.

MISA's main performance highlights were outlined, which included the improvement of water and sanitation in 24 district municipalities, training of 129 municipal officials on civil engineering, water, energy, sanitation, waste management and town planning, sending municipal officials to Japan for training on technical aspects. Officials had attended short courses on asset management, construction procurement and tender administration, 40 graduates were placed in municipalities as candidate technicians for exposure and ultimate registration as professionals, and 50 bursaries were awarded to support students in civil and electrical engineering, town planning and geographic information system. Boreholes had been resuscitated and there were attempts to resolve other water crises. MISA also faced some challenges, including the delay in filling the top management positions, which was ascribed to "political changes", low degree of absorption of technical professionals by municipalities, lack of functional intergovernmental structures, perennial governance problems and instability in municipalities that reduced the effective provision of technical support.

One of the issues that the Committee questioned was the high vacancy rate within MISA, which resulted to the hiring of 110 consultants. The members wondered why the positions had not been filled and what the cost analysis was of hiring these consultants, suggesting that they either be made permanent employees or be placed on fixed term contracts, and also asked if MISA had set deadlines for filling these posts. Some Members questioned the reasons for resignations, but this was not answered, and Members suggested that another meeting was needed, at which the executive should be present to answer to questions on policies. Other Members queried the low take-up of interns and graduates, and questions were asked specifically about the situation in Ntabankulu and Lande municipalities, calling for a written report on the latter. They asked if municipalities were being given assistance in line with requests and needs, and how MISA was assessing the progress of the projects' development, and also noted that monitoring and evaluation was being done internally. One Member made the point that municipalities were failing to spend properly and overall master plans were needed to help them.
 

Meeting report

Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA): Programme implementation and projects from inception to date.
Mr Siyabonga Dube, Project Manager, Acting Official with Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency, gave a brief overview of the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA or the Agency), noting that it was a Government Component within the Ministry for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA). It was established in terms of section 7(5) of the Public Service Act and the Presidential Proclamation No 29 of 2012 was gazetted on 11 May 2012.  The creation of MISA was aimed at creating a dedicated vehicle to support and build technical capacity in local government, for the improvement of municipal infrastructure provisioning, refurbishment and maintenance. It was operationally ring-fenced from the Department of Cooperative Governance, but linked to it for policy and programmes implementation purposes.

MISA was headed by an Accounting Officer, as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act. It had been allocated an operational budget of R820 million, with R262 million allocated for 2013/2014, and R294 million for the 2014/2015 financial years.

Its mandate was to render technical advice and support so as to optimise municipal infrastructure provisioning and coordinate the development and implementation of programmes designed to strengthen the capacity of municipalities for planning, developing, operations and maintenance of their municipal infrastructure.

In order to achieve its mandate, MISA would undertake the following roles:
- Support to municipalities to conduct effective infrastructure planning to achieve sustainable service delivery
- Support and assistance to municipalities with the implementation of infrastructure projects as determined by the municipal Integrated Development Plans (IDPs)
- Support and assistance to municipalities with the operation and maintenance of municipal infrastructure~
- Building the capacity of municipalities to undertake effective planning, delivery, operations and management of municipal infrastructure
- Any other function that maybe deemed ancillary to those listed above.

Mr Dube noted that the MISA had 178 posts but only 27 were permanently filled, and in order to supplement its own employment capacity, MISA contracts individual contractors and professional service providers as needed. So far, it had contracted 100 consultants.

Mr Dube then set out the programmes of MISA, as follows:

Municipal Technical Support Programme – to ensure that MISA provides technical support to those municipalities that require assistance with technical aspects of infrastructure planning, implementation, operation and/or maintenance. Support provided is based on a needs assessment and agreement with municipalities. This buy-in from municipalities is essential for ownership and sustainability of support initiatives. 

Sectoral Support, Coordination and Grants ensures that resources from different departments and institutions are properly coordinated to address sectoral priorities towards eradication of service backlogs in water and sanitation, energy, solid waste management and roads and storm water. This programme also supports municipalities to ensure effective utilization of grants, especially the Municipal Infrastructure Grant.

Capacity Development Programme ensures that technical capacity is developed in local government for planning, delivering, operating and maintaining municipal infrastructure. Capacity development is implemented through various programmes, including apprenticeships, young professionals, experiential learning and rotating key municipal officials to the private sector and academia for exposure. Bursaries are made available for studies in built environment, especially engineering, to build a pipeline of future technical officials for municipalities. The programme also provides mentorship opportunities for technical officials in municipalities to meet the requirements for professional registration. Working in partnership with other public institutions, private sector companies, tertiary institutions and professional bodies forms an important part of MISA’s capacity development strategy.

Monitoring and Evaluation – This is a new programme in MISA which aims at gauging the impact of MISA in the municipalities by being able to track the progress of the projects. The evaluation process also allows it to assess the effectiveness and relevance of the projects. This enables MISA to assess the effectiveness, efficiency and relevance of current strategies towards achieving pre-determined objectives and is meant to improve practice, accountability, transparency and organisational learning.

MISA also provided sub programmes in Artisan Development and Learnership, Technical Bursary, Young Graduates. These essentially were a three-year internship programme which eventually leads to professional registration. There are currently 47 graduates in the programme for Technical Training, and that was ensuring that the municipal officials would be trained in the areas of sanitation, electricity, engineering, construction, roads, town planning and waste management. The main aim of this training was to ensure that the municipal officials up-scaled themselves and were registered to the professional bodies

Mr Dube cited some of the performance highlights, since inception:

- The OR Tambo District Municipality and Mahikeng Local Municipality were supported towards improving their spending
- There had been improvements to the delivery of water and sanitation in 24 district municipalities
- 129 municipal officials were trained on the technical training initiatives undertaken in civil engineering, water, energy, sanitation, waste management and town planning
- Municipal officials have been sent to Japan, where they are trained on technical aspects
- Officials have attended short courses on asset management, construction procurement and tender administration
- 40 graduates were placed in municipalities as candidate technicians for exposure and ultimate registration as professionals
- 50 bursaries were awarded to support students in civil and electrical engineering, town planning and geographic information systems courses
- The MISA programmes supported resuscitation of five  boreholes in Moses Kotane Local Municipality
- MISA supported the Makana District Municipality to resolve the water crisis
- A 3km gravel road was constructed in Mphame village
- Boreholes were erected in Greater Letaba Municipality to resolve the water crisis in Tlhotlhokwe and the neighbouring villages.

Mr Dube noted that MISA has also encountered some challenges. Internally, there had been a delay in filling the top management positions, due to the change at the political level with the changes in positions of the Chief Executive Officer and  Deputy Director General. External challenges included the low degree of absorption of technical professionals by municipalities, the continuing lack of functional intergovernmental structures, and perennial governance problems and instability in municipalities that reduced the effective provision of technical support/

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked MISA for the presentation, welcomed Ms D Carter (Alt) (COPE) to her first meeting as a member of this Committee, and opened the floor for questions.

Mr N Masondo (ANC) noted that MISA needed to speed up the recruitment to fill the vacant positions and asked whether MISA had a possible timeline within which it wanted to do this.

Ms D Carter (COPE) stated that there were people who were qualified but had not taken up full employment with MISA but only did so on a consultancy basis, where the pay was higher. She asked why MISA had not put these people on a proper contractual basis or employed them on a full time basis.

Mr M Mapulane (ANC) thanked MISA for a good presentation, but noted that those present did not have decision-making capability, and it would be difficult to ask questions on matters where this was needed. In relation to the vacancies, he also wanted to know how MISA had 110 positions for consultancies and asked what the financial arrangements for the contractors were, and why there was no advertisement to attract candidates to fill the vacancies. He also asked  MISA to present the costs for the consultancies and the duration they were required to work.

Mr Dube confirmed that in respect of certain questions, he agreed with Mr Mapulane that the officials could not answer as these were matters to be responded to by the executive authority. However, he added that MISA had been audited and was only found to have fallen short on performance, which was due to the large vacancies in the organisation.

Mr Dube stated that the vacant positions had been advertised, but the process had been halted upon the political change. He confirmed that the consultants were individual contractors and were employed on a contractual basis, with fixed terms. They were, therefore, fully employed by MISA for the term of their contract. He said that insofar as the costs were concerned, MISA would ensure that it adhered to the rules and the Public Service Act, to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of cost.

Mr Masondo asked why MISA had not done anything to address the sanitation issue in Ntabankulu municipality.

Mr Dube noted that Ntabankulu was a mine town from which most of its inhabitants left, as soon as the mine was closed. A consultant had, however, been appointed and there was a process in place to address the situation.

Mr B Bhanga (ANC) asked MISA to report on any intervention, if any was done, on Lande Municipality where children were dying as they attempted to cross the river to go to school. In general, he wanted to know what the impact of MISA’s support in the municipalities had been.

Mr Dube agreed that the informal settlements were a challenge, particularly in urban areas. However, there was a document currently being discussed, about integrated urban planning and it would be implemented in due course.  He noted that MISA served on a task team of KwaZulu Natal to address the issue of the river to which Mr Bhanga referred.

Mr Bhanga interjected and asked MISA to present a written report to the Committee Secretary on the situation.

Ms N Mthembu (ANC) asked whether municipalities were being given assistance in line with their requests or their needs, and also asked what MISA had done so far to assess the progress on development of the projects.

Mr Dube noted that In Vhembe District, MISA had deployed artisans to support the municipality so that it would be able to operate and maintain the water treatment plans. On the model of support, there were some projects where MISA was doing a Direct Delivery Model, for example in the Western Cape.

Mr Bhanga wanted further details on the low degree of absorption of the people who had been trained. He asked if there were other underlying reasons for the resignation of persons at top management structure.

Mr Dube noted that the main reason there was a low degree of absorption was that there were no absorption and retention policies.

Mr K Mileham (DA) appreciated the work MISA had done so far. He was also interested in the reasons for resignation.

Mr Mileham noted that the monitoring and evaluation as presented was being done internally, and was not externally focused.

Mr AM Mudau (ANC) commended the presentation by MISA, but stated that municipalities were failing to utilise funds, hence  there was a need to create a master plan for these municipalities.

Mr Bhanga stated that MISA should be recalled  to address the concerns voiced by Mr Mapulane.

The Chairperson thanked MISA for the fruitful presentation, and Mr Dube expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to present.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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