The Department of Local Government appeared before the Standing Committee to discuss the adjusted budget. The original budget of R252.796 million had been adjusted budget upwards to R279.842 million. The additional funding was for unforeseen and unavoidable expenditure. This included a new earmarked allocation of R20 million, which was split up into R15 million for the Garden Route fires, and R5 million for fires in the city of Cape Town.
The Committee wanted to know why only R5 million had been allocated to Cape Town to assist the victims of the fires in the city areas. The Chairperson said that in the new year, the Members might have to take a trip to the affected areas. This would allow the Committee to see the impact of the fires, and the progress made at the time of the visit. It is very important to monitor how the Department was assisting -- not just to follow the money, but also to be able to share thoughts on the situation on the ground.
The Committee asked for an explanation for the R32 million additional appropriation to development and planning, and the R4.8 million decrease for local governance. Other questions were related to the R7.2 million roll-overs, the R1 million under-spending on staff turnover, and why the Department had spent only 38% on local governance, and 31% on development planning,.
Western Cape Adjustments Appropriation Bill
Mr Graham Paulse, Head of Department: Western Cape Local Government, said that the Department was going to present a summary of the budget’s additions and subtractions. In total, the adjustment to the budget amounted to about R27 million. Some of it was due to roll-overs, and some was the additional money that the Department had received for the recent fires on the Garden Route. He asked the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to take the Committee through it step by step.
Ms Bhavana Sewlall-Singh, CFO: Western Cape Local Government, said that the Department had an original budget of R252.796 million, and the adjusted budget was now R279.842 million. The Department had asked for provincial revenue retention, which had been added to the budget, and had been allocated to the firefighting budget.
Money unspent in the previous year had been R 6.7 million, which reflected as a saving. R500 000 had been received back from the provincial treasury, and that had been added to the various programmes. The first R500 000 had been related to the Dullah Omar Institute, and the Department had put that back into the project -- the commitment award that had already started but had not been not finished in the previous financial year.
There had been under-spending on aerial firefighting in the previous financial year, and the Department had asked for that revenue to be returned this year.
The new funding that had been received by the Department was for “unforeseen and unavoidable expenditure.” This was a new earmarked allocation of R 20 million, which was split up into R15 million for the Garden Route fires, and R5 million towards fires in the city of Cape Town.
Additional money had been allocated for the drought reserves. This included the R4.6 million for the appointment of a geo-hydrologist, and R1.5 million for use within the Beaufort West municipality.
The Department was surrendering 80% of chief executive officer (CEO) savings -- R4 240 000 -- to the provincial revenue fund. The remaining 20% percent had been shifted to goods and services.
The Department was also giving back the money on the community development worker (CDW) grant for this financial year, and deferring it for a return in the new financial year.
The Chairperson said that he was happy with what the Department had done. It was known that fires and drought had been affecting the province. The fact that the Department's heart and mind was in the right place, was much appreciated. The work that Parliament and the Department was doing showed that there was synergy. This was one area that the Department and Parliament had worked on well together.
Mr R Dyantyi (ANC) noticed that there had been an increase in additional appropriation of R 32 million to development and planning, and a decrease of R4.8 million for local governance. He asked the Department to elaborate on that, as well as for an explanation for the R7.2 million in roll-overs from the previous financial year.
He was curious as to how the R20 million for the fire intervention was divided. Knysna had mainly benefited from the R15 million, while and the city of Cape Town got R5 million. The curiosity was that Cape Town had been given R5 million because it had resources, but there were many informal settlements in Cape Town. He asked why there had been a priority for Knysna.
He was concerned about the R1 million under-spending on staff turnover. This pointed to a failure to fill vacancies. The R6 million in the reduced cost of employees could have provided many employment opportunities. However, because the Department had not filled posts, it had led to this under-spending of R1 million.
Regarding expenditure on local governance and development planning, the Department had spent only 38% and 31% respectively. He asked if that was correct. He also wanted an explanation for why the R7 million, moved from goods and services had been earmarked for initiatives for citizen centric and governance projects. What was the Department asking the Dullah Omar Institute to do for it?
Mr Paulse said that although Cape Town had adequate resources, the R5 million was to deal with the impact of the fires -- for Cape Town to help the victims of the fires and to deal with its own operational expenditure in relation to the fires. It was the same for the Garden Route district. This consisted of a number of municipalities, and was also for the expenditure for fighting the fires in terms and to assist with lessening some of the impact on victims.
For the aerial fighting alone, with the number of helicopters and so on and for the ground teams, there had been an excess expenditure of R8 million. The Garden Route municipalities had exhausted their own budgets. The Department had to assist those municipalities to deal with their own operational expenditure for dealing with the fires. It had also contacted other provinces to help with the fires. There were ongoing assessments around the impact of the fires. The Department was verifying the damage and the costs involved. The numbers were increasing, but there was a due diligence process conducted by the Department to see it was entirely correct.
Mr Paulse said there was a recruitment process to fill the vacant posts. In practice, the recruitment and selection process take some time to finish. The Department had decided to use the savings to fund the unfunded posts within the organisation.
Ms Sewlall-Singh referred to the rollover of R7.2 million, and said this money had gone to local governance and development and planning. This was because the commitment had been an earmarked allocation for those programmes in the previous financial year. The Department had to put the rollovers back into those programmes, because that was where they had been allocated.
The R500 000 for the Dullah Omar Institute was for an assessment framework for provincial intervention.
The R6.7 million for aerial firefighting was the under-spending from the previous year's fires.
The reason why the Department had removed R1 million from municipal performance, monitoring, reporting and evaluation, was because the director post had been vacant from the beginning of the financial year. It was now going to be filled in January. The Department also had a Deputy Director post that had been vacant in that same unit that became filled only in October.
Ms Sewlall-Singh said that with 38% spent on local governance, the Department was on track. A lot of money that was going to be in there was for transfers, and that was only going to happen now. However, everything was on track for full spending.
Ms Eda Barnard, Chief Director: Municipal Performance Monitoring and Support, Western Cape Local Government, said that the Department had appointed the University of Western Cape -- specifically the Dullah Omar Institute -- at the end of the last financial year to assist the Department primarily to conduct research into how interventions were handled across the country, but also in the Western Cape. The Institute helped the Department to prepare a checklist on how it could move forward in terms of what it could and could not do. The work had been completed and the document was already with the Department. It was a very rich document detailing what was happening across the country around interventions, and would guide the Department going forward.
Mr Dyantyi said he was interested that the Department would share the lessons that had come from the document, but it would depend on the provinces that it was interested in studying.
He said that the application section 139 to support struggling municipalities was because of two things. Firstly, it was because nothing had been done on the matter until that point. There was therefore no need to be excited about applying section 139, because Parliament would ask why it had got to that point. Secondly, section 139 was a necessary intervention, in addition to everything else that had been done. He said he was interested in the terms of reference that had been included.
He asked for an explanation of the R4.8 million that had been given up in terms of the cost of employment (COE). What had the Department given up?
He was interested in the “earmarking” approach. It was the beginning of the fire season, and the Department would know through its own work and research that on an annual basis, the bulk of the challenges were in the metro. In the metro, it was a certain section that community that was mostly affect, and it was not clear if the Department was indicating that the R5 million was adequate.
Mr Paulse said he would respond to the questions on the interventions framework. The document was ready, and the Minister was going to make it available to the Committee.
Regarding the R4.8 million on the COE saving, that had been done on the premise that the post was vacant. The Department does an assessment of the recruiting process on a monthly basis. For every month that a post is not filled, it generates savings. There are budget meetings within the Department where the Department assesses the recruitment process. Given its experience on recruitment and the selection process, it could predict how long it would take for a particular post to be filled. It could use that money, knowing that it was generating a saving. The Department gives that money up because it can be used differently somewhere else. The Department gets the money back in another form from the Provincial Treasury.
Mr Colin Deiner, Chief Director: Disaster Management and Fire Rescue Services, Western Cape Local Government, referred to the planning and preparation done prior to a season, and said that the Department worked on an average amount of operations that could be carried out, and then budgeted according to that. It was a very unpredictable process.
The problem with the southern Cape fire was that it came outside of the fire season. Normally the fire season starts on the first of December, so the aircraft were not available, which meant that the Department had to get them from other parts of the country. The Department would also rely on considerable assistance from the South African National Defence Force. The fire had lasted for 34 days, during which the Department had to work with 680 personnel who had to be fed, supported and could not be kept in the firing line all the time. There was a large management component around this, and that was where a lot of the cost went to.
The problem the Department faced was the poor maintenance of the forests. Teams could not be put into the forests, so the Department had to use more aircraft.
Mr Deiner said that last year, the Department had declared disasters in the city after the fire, and the disaster declaration had been done. The cost to assist people affected by the fires had been astronomical because the Department had to move and support the people. A problem was that when the Department applied for disaster funding, it had to make sure that its integrity stayed in place, so the R5 million was to assist the city with taking care of everyone who had been affected by the fires. Going through a disaster declaration process was really very difficult if the city was declaring disasters for informal settlements.
The Department's support for municipalities during the fires is not for the actual firefighting activities. The support that the Department gives is for training and equipment.
The Chairperson said that in the new year, the Committee might have to take a trip to the affected areas. This would allow the Standing Committee to see the impact and the progress made at the time of the visit. It was very important to just look at how the Department was assisting -- not to follow the money, but also to be able to share thoughts on the situation on the ground.
Mr Dyantyi said the Department of Local Government was going to be the Department that parliament was going to look up to during this season to help the most vulnerable. This was a season that was supposed to be a joyous season, but it brought so much pain to those that had no money. The Department must be on its toes, regardless of the season. However, the Committee did appreciate the work that the Department had been doing.
The meeting was adjourned.
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