The Committee was told that the collapse in governance at Lekwa Municipality was giving the national Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs sleepless nights. They heard that the problems facing the municipality had started around 2016/17 financial year, when service providers wanted the municipality to be put under section 139. The problem was the failure to deliver basic services to the community, and this was affecting the big companies operating around Standerton.
The municipality had been put under section 137 of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA). An investigation had been carried out, and gaps were identified in terms of governance, compliance and non-attendance at council meetings. Strategic senior management positions had not been filled. Most people were in acting capacities.
The municipality indicated it was faced with structural challenges. The ageing infrastructure and inadequate infrastructure development were a result of the growing population. This was placing a strain on its limited funding. Technical water losses were estimated to be at 40% due to aged infrastructure and inadequate maintenance. Structural defects in the current Rooikoppen sewer system network were having a negative impact on the Vaal River system. The infrasructure failures were due to a lack of money for maintenance, lack of forward planning, and incorrect sewer designs and pipelines. The municipality had come up with short- and long-term measures to deal with the bulk water situation. Under-capacitation in the areas of water and electricity would be reviewed.
Despite the challenges, the municipality had improved its expenditure during the current financial year. In the past three financial years, it had invested R33.76 million in water infrastructure, R20.9 million in electricity infrastructure, and R60.3 million in sanitation infrastructure. This meant 90%, 87%, and 91% of households had access to piped water, sanitation, and electricity, respectively.
The Committee was updated on the challenges and interventions on the Rooikoppen sewer network and Standerton Waste Water Treatment Works (SWWTW). The municipality was finalising the refurbishment of the activated sludge system to minimise raw effluent flowing into the Vaal River system, and it would install alarm systems and electric fences to curb vandalism occurring in waste water treatment works and sewer pump stations.
Members asked what had been done about the shortage of critical skills; what the municipality was doing about the Standerton Ext 8 settlement where people did not have access to water, what it was doing with the dysfunctional fire department; why it was not prioritising the filling of strategic posts; and what the findings of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) reports were on anti-corruption, because millions of rands had been spent on protection services, a luxury car, catering and traveling, and contributions to funeral societies -- what were these costs attributed to if the municipality was struggling financially?
Lekwa Local Municipality
Ms Gugu Ntshangase, Municipal Manager. Lekwa Local Municipality, informed the Committee that Cogta was aware of the challenges facing the municipality, and it had been put under section 137 of the Municipal Finance Management Act(MFMA). An investigation had been carried out, and gaps were identified in terms of governance, compliance, and non-attendance of meetings. Strategic senior management positions had not been filled. Most people were in acting capacities.
The problems facing the municipality started around the 2016/17 financial year when service providers wanted the municipality to be put under section 139. The newspaper articles were about the failure to deliver basic services to the community. The lack of service delivery had an effect on the big companies in Standerton.
In the past three financial years, the municipality had invested R33.76 million in water infrastructure, R20.9 million in electricity infrastructure, and R60.3 million in sanitation infrastructure. This meant 90%, 87%, and 91% of households had access to piped water, sanitation and electricity, respectively. The municipality was faced with structural challenges. The ageing infrastructure and inadequate infrastructure development were a result of the growing population. This was placing a strain on the limited funding the municipality had. Technical water losses were estimated to be at 40% due to aged infrastructure and inadequate maintenance. Structural defects in the current Rooikoppen sewer system network were having a negative impact on the Vaal River system. Irrespective of the water challenges, work was being done to improve the situation.
Another challenge facing the municipality was the competing priorities between itself and Goldi Chickens regarding service delivery versus profit margins. The municipality had no contractual agreement with Goldi on water supply, but Goldi managed to access excess water to the disadvantage of the communities. This became a court battle, where Goldi was suing the municipality for R91.192m. The court order stated the two parties should find an amicable solution to the matter. The resolution of the municipality was to continue with water rationing to benefit the communities, and that Goldi had to apply for a water use licence. However, the legal battle between the municipality and Goldi had not stopped.
Mr Madoda Besani, Executive Manager: Technical Services: Lekwa Local Municipality, said that profitable local economic activities required efficient and functioning systems of water, sanitation, electricity, and roads infrastructural services. He provided a list of recommended priority projects and costs, so that there could be a continuous supply of water. The Department of Correctional Services, through the Department of Public Works, had made a pledge of R20m in order to assist with the improvement of water supply to the Correctional Services facility. The business community, through its Corporate Social Investment (CSI) programmes, had also pledged R10m to assist with the improvement of the Standerton water supply. From these two pledges made, a list of priority projects had been identified to be implemented.
The capacity of the Morgenzon Water Treatment Works was limited by the sedimentation tank, which could provide hydraulic capacity of 2.2MI/d. This was not going to meet the future water requirements of the water supply scheme. As a result, R4m had been budgeted for the 2019/20 financial year to refurbish and upgrade the bulk water supply system in Morgenzon. Another R4m had been set aside to install boreholes equipped with windmills in rural areas. This was expected to be finalised by June 2020.
Mr Besani said the Rooikoppen sewer system was experiencing overflowing manholes, persistent pipe blockages, sewage flows in the streets of Sakhile Ext 4, and pump stations that were not operating. The overflowing sewage was collecting in the nearby Vaal River, where it was an active pollutant. An assessment that was done on the Rooikoppen sewage system indicated pipe sizes were not adequate to accommodate volumes of sewage, pump stations were constantly being vandalised and not operating optimally, and there high volumes of plastic bags and foreign objects in the sewerage system. That was why the Department of Human Settlement (DHS) had allocated R20m to the municipality during the 2014/15 financial year. The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) had also allocated R70m during the 2015/16 financial period to address sewage spillages into the Vaal River system. The DWS handled all the processes. The construction of the two sewer pump stations in Rooikoppen would help alleviate the situation.
The construction of pump station number 1 was completed on 21 June 2019, while pump station number 2 was expected to be completed during December 2019. Awareness and education campaigns would be done to run concurrently with the reconstruction and refurbishment works of the Rooikoppen sewer network.
On the Standerton Waste Water Treatment Works (SWWTW), challenges were around cable theft and vandalism, the aged asbestos piping system, inadequate funding for upgrading and refurbishment, effluent into the waste water treatment works exceeding the design capacity, and a shortage of personnel. The municipality had submitted a request for funding to the DWS and for intervention through the provincial Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA). The upgrade of the SWWTW was requiring an estimated R250m. Moreover, the Department of Human Settlements had availed funding of R13m for installing two sewer pump stations in Standerton Extension 8. Additional funding of R19m was required to address the bulk sewer pipelines and challenges on house connections which resulted in sewage spillages. The DHS indicated it would be carrying out an assessment for Standerton Extension 8 in order to quantify the amount of work required to address infrastructural challenges.
Mr Besani said the municipality was finalising the refurbishment of the activated sludge system to minimise raw effluent getting into the Vaal River system, and would install alarm systems and electric fences to curb vandalism occurring in the waste water treatment works and sewer pump stations. The municipality was requiring intervention to the tune of R250m for the SWWTW and a further R1.5m for the development of the sewer master plan.
(Graphs and tables were shown to illustrate the storage capacities of Standerton and Morgenzon; recommended priority projects and costs; investments in water projects during 20116/17 and 2017/18 financial years; and investment in sanitation projects during 2016/17 and 2018/19 financial years)
Mr Peter Nyoni, Head of Department (HOD): CoGTA, Mpumalanga, said the infrasructure failures were due lack of money for maintenance, lack of forward planning, and incorrect sewer designs and pipelines. The municipality had come up with short- and long-term measures for the bulk water situation. Under-capacitation in water and electricity would be reviewed. Despite the challenges, the municipality had improved expenditure during the current financial year.
Mr Bongani Mtshali, Mpumalanga Provincial Manager: Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA), indicated MISA had been supporting the municipality for a long time -- since 2014. It had been providing technical support for three years to the Lekwa Local Municipality. The problem with Lekwa was the collapse in governance.
The Committee deliberated first on whether to allow the municipality to present or not, after it was told by the acting mayor that the executive mayor had refused to come to the Committee under the pretext of being sick and that the Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC), Technical Services, had also refused to come to the Committee meeting.
The Chairperson commented that the invitation given to the Lekwa Municipality had been prompted by the five-page article that appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper, but the municipality had not responded to the story. The article pointed to a lack of infrastructure maintenance and money being diverted to other things. She asked the officials to be frank about what was going on in their municipality. It was not acceptable to the Committee to have a dysfunctional municipality.
She then asked an official from the national Department of COGTA what his experience had been with the MMC, Technical Services, of this municipality.
Mr Thomas Kolokoto, Director for B2B: COGTA, pointed out Lekwa was one of the dysfunctional municipalities in the Mpumalanga province. The municipality was riddled with governance issues where council meetings were not held as expected, and this was affecting matters of administration. There had been a delay in the filling of vacancies. The Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) had tried to intervene, but nothing had materialised. The municipality was giving the Department sleepless nights in terms of governance. For instance, the acting mayor who appeared before the Committee had been appointed a day before the Committee meeting. Certainly, the mayor was a delinquent when it came to attending meetings. He was not sure if the executive mayor was really sick.
Mr G Mpumza (ANC) said it was clear the MMC, Technical Services, was not obeying instructions from the executive mayor.
Mr K Ceza (EFF) remarked the bad attitude the Committee was getting from the municipality was stemming from it being dysfunctional. The Committee was not doing Lekwa Municipality a favour, but the officials of the municipality needed to understand they were employed accounting officers.
The Chairperson doubted if the presentation was a collective report of the mayoral committee, and wondered if it had been processed before the mayor got sick. She said it was clear to her the delegation knew nothing about the going-ons of the municipality and the whereabouts of the executive mayor. When the invitation was sent to the municipality, the acting mayor was not even informed of it.
Ms Makhosazana Khumalo, MMC: Community Services and Development & Planning: Lekwa Municipality, admitted they had not discussed the report before coming to the Committee.
Mr Mpumza wanted to know what action had been taken by the MEC about the delinquent mayor. He then asked the acting mayor if she came to the Committee as an honest person, or was just toeing the line.
Ms Khumalo said she was appearing before the Committee as an honest person.
Ms P Xaba-Ntshaba (ANC) advised the two municipality officials not to answer on matters they did not know about, because it appeared to her as if they knew nothing.
Mr Mpho Lekgoro, HOD: COGTA, said the Department had held engagements with the municipality. It was clear there had been no political oversight. In all the technical meetings with the officials of the municipality, the executive mayor was always absent.
Mr H Hoosen (DA) said it was important to find out about the medical condition of the executive mayor. The Committee would like to engage with her and the MMC, Technical Services. He suggested the Committee needed to engage with the real role players to understand the situation better. The two municipal officials would incriminate themselves if they engaged with the Committee.
Mr Lekgoro told the Committee section 106 had been instituted. An investigation was finalised and tabled before the municipal council. Many challenges were identified in the municipality. Procedurally, the report should have been discussed internally before reaching the hands of the Committee. Whether the executive mayor and MMC, Technical Services, were in the Committee was immaterial. He suggested the Committee should deal with the content of the report.
Ms T Khanyile (DA) commented the municipality was showing the highest level of disrespect. This was showing what it was doing to people on the ground. This was an insult to the ANC. She proposed engaging with the report, and putting time frames for follow-ups, because the municipality was known for not providing feedback. It had even done that to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA).
The Committee agreed unanimously to engage with the report.
Mr M Groenewald (FF+) wanted to know what had been done about the shortage of critical skills, and asked how it was possible for effluent waste water to be compliant with “Green Drop” status as indicated in the municipality’s annual report.
Ms Ntshangase said what they had done was the displacement of staff and realigned the organogram, because some people were in positions they were not qualified to be in. She also indicated the municipality did not have a laboratory for testing water. It was relying on the district municipality for water quality reports.
Ms Khanyile said municipalities should understand that Members of Parliament were not after policing them during constituency visits, but were there to find solutions to problems for the benefit of the communities served by the municipalities. She said the population figures of the municipality should be referred to as estimated figures, because there were communities that were not accounted for. These communities were not appearing in the municipal system because when people wanted proof of residence from the municipality, they system did not know them. The Kosmos Park and Goldi matters should be addressed speedily, because for the past four years these communities and correctional services facilities had not had access to water.
She then asked about the time the municipality last conducted a land audit. She also wanted to find out how much had been spent on the Rooikoppen project to address sewer challenges. What was the municipality doing about the Standerton Ext 8 settlement, because it had been raised in the council many times? People were not having access to water, and conditions were humiliating because people had to relive themselves in the bushes. The municipality was building houses, but there was no water to flush the toilets. Also, the municipality had a fire department that was not working and not benefiting a single community. There were many instances of houses that caught fire, but people could do nothing because there was no water and functioning fire department.
She remarked she was partly happy the Public Administration Leadership and Management Academy (Palama) was included under Priority 1, because she had been called by community members because there was no water available during the day. Water was available only after 12 midnight until 4 a.m. every day. This had happened for the past seven years. Lastly, she wanted clarity on Priority 3, because that was the area where the Standerton Hospital was located.
Ms Ntshangase replied the municipality was relying on Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) for population figures. She reported the Rooikoppen project had been run by the Department of Water and Sanitation during 2017/18. A lot of investment had gone into the project. Unfortunately, work was not even near to completion. The municipality was trying to engage the DWS to find possible solutions.
Mr Lekgoro added that Rooikoppen was a new project, not a product of apartheid. However, it was a project badly done. When a project was shoddy, so many things came to the fore. Aspersions had been cast. The Department got the courage to assist and make use of MISA, but whatever intervention was going to be brought, the municipality had to embrace or accept it, and deal with the consequences.
Ms Ntshangase indicated a land audit had been done in prior years. Gaps were identified. The municipality had to write to Treasury to delay the evaluation because of the gaps that were spotted.
Standerton Extension 8 settlement was a matter that was handled by the Department of Human Settlements (DHS), but the municipality was doing a catch-up exercise by ensuring the 500 housing units were electrified and water installed. There was an intervention and engagement happening with the provincial DHS. The municipality had also requested to participate with Treasury with regard to buying two engines for the fire department. The municipality had procured for two fire engines, but while it was waiting for the finalisation of the paperwork for the delivery of the two engines, it had decided to hire two engines in the meantime. The municipality’s fire trucks had kept on breaking down, and it had been advised to discontinue using them. Part of the personal protective equipment (PPE) had been delivered in terms of the attire that would be needed for the fire personnel and chemicals.
Mr Bongani Mtshali, Mpumalanga Provincial Manager: MISA, explained that Priority 3 was based on the hydraulic model that had been put there. The two reservoirs were leaking badly. One reservoir was very old. The second one had serious leaks and needed to be sealed. The alternative was to build a new pressure tower. That would provide water to the central business district (CBD) area and surrounding suburbs. The high lift tower would ensure a better supply to the CBD and provide a sustainable pressure.
Ms Xaba-Ntshinga wondered what the officials were getting paid for, when there were so many problems in the municipality and a lack of service delivery. That was why the executive mayor was sick and the MMC, Technical Services, had refused to attend the Committee meeting. The officials were presenting a document they did not know. She could not understand why an executive mayor could allow such a report be presented to Parliament. The municipality was ignoring people. The officials were supposed to open a case against the mayor for failing to deliver services to the people. Paying people for doing nothing was a criminal offence.
Mr Mpumza observed the report was indicating the municipality was in the intensive care unit (ICU) or in front of the grave. The governance structure of the municipality was not working. He wanted to know from the Department if section 106 would see the light of the day in this municipality. He asked why the municipality was not prioritising the filling of strategic posts. What was going to be done to the three rural wards that were struggling to have access to water? He then enquired about the point at which the municipality was put under mandatory section 139.
Mr Lekgoro said that all was not lost. In respect of section 106 intervention, the report would be tabled to the municipality to ensure the interventions were implemented. Almost 70% of the municipalities had the same problem as Lekwa Municipality. The Department would come into the space to assist because it had compiled district profiles. The municipalities that were facing the same challenges as Lekwa were not doing well in revenue collection. As a result, the Department had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) on project management. These municipalities would be priority projects.
He commented on the dire state of the municipality. The province had been asked to intervene and apply section 139 (a), (b), and (c). The national Department could apply section 139 (7) only if the province failed to intervene. What was problematic were the processes. The mandatory intervention came as a result of pressure from national Department that the province had to intervene.
Ms Ntshangase said the process of filling the vacancies would be sent to the Committee. The municipality had to re-advertise the posts of chief financial officer (CFO) and Corporate Services Director/Manager. The hands of the municipality were being tied on the appointment of sections 56 and 57 because the council had got a final say on these appointments. She also indicated boreholes were the alternatives for the moment, while the municipality was looking at installing running water taps.
Mr Ceza wanted to know what the findings of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) reports were on anti-corruption. Millions of rands were spent on VIP protection, a BMW car was bought for R700 000, catering and travelling accounted for R900 000, and funeral societies were paid to the tune of R40 000. He wanted to know what these costs were attributed to, if the municipality was struggling financially.
Ms Ntshangase said a report on this matter would be sent to the Committee. She gave an assurance that everything was done according to supply chain management (SCM) prescripts. How the story was reported in the media was different from what was actually done.
Mr Hoosen commented it was not the municipality that was dysfunctional, but the people who ran the municipality that were dysfunctional. It was better to get rid of dysfunctional people. He wanted to establish what the municipal manager had done to turn the situation around, and enquired if the municipal manager was aware of any specific cases of people, officials or politicians who were directly involved in tender fraud, corruption or any irregularities since she had been in office.
Ms Ntshangase reported the plans had been made through an assessment of the municipality of what could be done. The province, fortunately, had done the same exercise. The collapse in controls had been identified. The municipality had started buying vehicles through Treasury, because it was using a rented fleet for refuse collection and technical services. The municipality had managed to control the creditors’ bill that had far exceeded Treasury regulations, and had been able to monitor the day-to-day running of the institution.
She pointed out there had been no cases of corruption or fraud she was aware of, but there was a case that was being handled by the disciplinary committee which had to do with licensing. Two officials had been suspended already. Her office had investigated irregular expenditure dating back to 2012, and this exercise had been completed during November. The municipality would then decide how consequence management was going to be done. At the same time, it had to ensure the structure of the finance department was reviewed first. Most irregular expenditure was coming from non-compliance with SCM prescripts.
Ms D Direko (ANC) observed there was no political stability within the municipality and it was technically bankrupt. It appeared there were no consequence management and recovery plans in place, and nothing had been stated about assistance that was being given to businesses affected by water shortages and cuts. She wanted to know how the SIU was dealing with the challenges within the municipality.
Mr Manyedi Nkashe, Chief Director: Anti-Corruption and Good Governance: COGTA, said the forensic report had been given to the municipality, but there had been no proclamation from the municipality.
Ms M Tlou (ANC) said the implementing agency was taking advantage of the municipality. The implementing agency had been employed for the project design of sewers, but it had not accounted for the work. That was fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
Mr Mtshali explained they had written a report to their CEO for the meaningful support that needed to be given to Lekwa. The previous minister had visited the area and resolutions were made. Some of the resolutions had been implemented. Consequently, the Rooikoppen sewer pump station had been completed. The first phase of the second pump station was done already. In addition, they had entered into agreements with businesses like Goldi regarding water shortages and cuts. Water valves for Goldi got opened at 5am until 3pm, and thereafter they got opened for the communities. The high lying areas would at times not have water because there was no water pressure. The community had been consulted on this matter. MISA had engaged with the local COGTA regarding the water issue. The water pressure for the hospital was very low, and that was why mobile water tanks had been provided. The supply was just intermittent, not that there was no water.
Ms Khanyile wanted to know what was causing the delay in the building of the mall in the municipal area, because the municipality had approved the application process from the developer. The building of the mall was going to alleviate the high unemployment rate in the area.
Ms Ntshangase said the municipality’s engagement with the developers had passed the tribunal stage. Currently, the developers had presented a document with a budget, but the municipality was not in a position to commit to the R19m bulk infrastructure that was needed due to budget constraints. Discussions with the developers were still on-going on the matter. She pointed out boreholes were sustainable if one had a good aquifer and water quality. She added that the master plan had been prioritised for the current financial year, but had been delayed due to financial constraints.
Mr Besani assured the Committee the budget indicated in the presentation had been discussed with MISA. MISA had agreed to help the municipality with the master plan. It was also hoped some of the pledges from the local businesses would help in realising some of the envisaged projects.
The meeting was adjourned.
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