Role of local government in combating spread of COVID-19 virus: SALGA briefing

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

28 April 2020
Chairperson: Acting: Mr B Hadebe (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Audio: Role of local government in combating spread of COVID-19 virus: SALGA briefing
Video: Meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs with SALGA                            Part 2

COVID-19: Regulations and Guidelines
Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002

The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) briefed the Committee on the actions which had been taken to assist local government to implement the COVID-19 disaster management directives, and highlighted a wide range of challenges faced by municipalities as a result of the pandemic’s economic impact.

A major concern was the projected reduction in revenue collection by the municipalities owing to job losses, reduced household incomes, and local authorities being unable to rent out their facilities or generate the normal level of revenue from areas such as traffic fines. At the same time, the lockdown required people with reduced incomes to stay at home, resulting in higher than normal water and electricity usage. Municipalities were heeding SALGA’s call not to disconnect residents who were unable to pay their electricity or water bills, but Eskom was not enthusiastic about its proposal that municipalities be granted a payment holiday because of their revenue collection challenges. R20 billion had been set aside by the Treasury in order to assist municipalities, but they would be able to tap into these funds only by July.

Committee Members stressed that oversight measures should be put in place in order to ensure these funds were managed correctly in order to prevent maladministration and corruption. They raised concerns over complaints that councillors were giving food parcels to their friends and colleagues, or keeping it for themselves, and urged that much stronger action must be taken against public representatives accused of stealing food from the poor. Other areas of concern were illegal evictions carried out by municipalities, and the poor supply of water to some communities. SALGA was asked to provide a list of the number of water tanks delivered, the number installed and those yet to be installed in all provinces -- and in the Northern Cape in particular, as it was a drought stricken area.

It was agreed that SALGA would respond to the questions and concerns raised by the Committee in writing by Thursday 30 April.


Meeting report

Local Government’s Response to COVID-19 Portfolio Committee: COGTA Presentation

Mr Mthobeli Kolisa, Chief Executive Officer (CEO): South African Local Government Association (SALGA), said that South Africa had been in an era of COVID-19 since 15 March, when President Cyril Ramaphosa had addressed the nation declaring a state of national disaster in the country. Three of the six directives promulgated involved other departments, and but three were related to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), as outlined in the regulatory prescript. Some regulations put in place due to COVID-19 had led to the postponing of major events, which also related to Parliament and many other institutions.

In terms of regulations related to SALGA’s core mandate of providing essential services to communities, municipalities had understood that they need to continue to provide electricity in a manner that does not allow for disruption in terms of the credit control measures. Regulation 318 pertains to quarantine facilities and shelters. Fifty-seven quarantine sites had been identified and 28 of these had already been activated, and 855 people had been placed in these facilities. There were 156 shelters for the homeless which had been operationalised and approximately 13 000 people had now been placed there.

Regarding local government provision of water and sanitation and tanks, SALGA had experienced challenges in some municipalities where some water tanks had not yet been installed, and we had worked with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to ensure that these municipalities would be assisted. In the area of communication and awareness of municipalities, and hygiene-related functions, SALGA’s leadership had already communicated its expectations through a communication issued to all municipalities on 28 March by SALGA’s president, Ms Thembi Nkadimeng. Visibility had been encouraged, and instructions issued on what needed to take place in the various disaster management centres.

Referring to municipal operations and governance, Mr Kolisa said there should be additional services offered to municipalities which were consistent with the level of the disease they were encountering. This meant the services offered needed to be consistent with the required levels of hygiene. He highlighted that the frequency of servicing some communities had been almost doubled, if not tripled. He pointed out that there was a need for extraordinary cleansing of public facilities, and support needed to be provided to quarantine sites. This included mitigation measures, the monitoring of social gatherings, as well as the frequent health inspections and availing certain facilities for the homeless.

Issues expected to be a major challenges arising from COVID-19 were job losses, reduced income and the reduction of revenue collection levels by municipalities, which would directly impact on their ability to meet their other obligations. In terms of the rental of municipal areas, some of these were situated in coastal areas and if facilities were not being utilised, this directly affected municipal revenue.

SALGA had projected that due to the general decay of the economic situation in South Africa, this would result in a general drop in payments to municipalities. It had projected a loss for water and sanitation, and had also factored into the estimation of revenue a reduction in revenue from businesses and schools. It would be challenging to collect outstanding debt from poor communities where there was major outstanding debt at present. A drastic reduction in the collection rate over the past three months was expected. Electricity collection levels would be very similar to the collection rate for water, and consumption in some areas would be particularly high, as people were at home.

For the 2020/21 financial year, SALGA had projected that the collection ratios would also decline in municipalities up until 30 June 2021. A major challenge was anticipated in respect of electricity, due to the electricity revenue being used to cross subsidise other non-revenue elements of municipal functions, such as cemeteries, community swimming pools and police stations. Money was not directly received from these areas, so the knock-on effect would cut across the value chain.

Regarding property rates, the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) did not make provision for special rebates in terms of the areas listed. SALGA anticipated a reduction of income in some of the coastal cities and the hospitality industry, and the knock-on effect across all municipalities would be significant. The projected financial loss to municipalities for July 2020 until 2021 was anticipated to be considerable in all respects. Events related revenue would also be lost, such as from stadiums, convention centres, and fines from traffic services.

Over the past six weeks, municipalities across all provinces had raised a number of issues with SALGA in respect of their limited resources and means to implement directives, and sites which had been identified to be lacking in certain resources and limited manpower to expand municipal services on a regular basis. There were also issues relating to deep cleaning and fumigation, as well as other facilities which would ordinarily not be included, such as water tankers, which had placed an extra burden on municipalities.

Mr Lance Joel, Chief Operations Officer (COO): SALGA, gave details of the challenges that municipalities faced in executing regulations pertaining to water tankers and ensuring that taxi ranks, stations and markets were serviced, when the reality was that three million people did not have access to water. Where there was access to water, there was a 63% rate of reliability, and those who did not have access to water resided in rural areas. The challenge was that COVID-19 had affected the supply and delivery of water and sanitation cross the country, but this had mostly affected the poor and vulnerable communities.

When a long-term solution was considered, the reality was that tanks were not cheap, and their running costs were currently estimated at R100 billion a month. This rate was particularly high in rural areas. The use of tanks placed a serious burden on municipalities through the logistical challenges, and a sense of expectation had been created which had proved to go far beyond COVID-19. He asserted that government would not be able to respond to these expectations. The water tanks had had a positive impact on access in vulnerable communities and areas that had not been serviced.

SALGA wanted to draw attention to the fact that there was a possibility that these services could be discontinued post COVID-19 due to the financial situation of the country. While water tankers were a short-term intervention, there was a need to consider what would happen post COVID-19, and provincial and national government would have to come together in order to shift the focus toward sustainable solutions. The long-term solutions were related to the diversification of water sources, such as through acid rain, desalination or tapping into ground water.

The next challenge involved credit control. SALGA had acknowledged that there would be a huge impact on the income level of communities, and one was currently seeing households which were unable to service their municipal accounts, which would ultimately lead to disconnection. Mr Joel pointed out that disconnections to water and electricity supplies would worsen the situation, and SALGA had approached municipalities to suspend its credit control measures. Several municipalities had responded positively, stating that they would not disconnect water and electricity supplies. SALGA would also engage with Eskom about this issue, requesting that it does not suspend any electricity supplies for the present phase of the lockdown. He commented that Eskom was not as forthcoming as the municipalities, and was not willing to come on board in relation to payment holidays. SALGA was hoping that Eskom would come on board and not worsen the current situation.

Regarding the fiscal response for the foreseeable nine to 12 months, the municipalities would have reduced collections, which required a “business unusual” approach. There were three areas which could assist municipalities in covering the COVID-19 costs which it would have to execute, such as the Disaster and Management Relief Fund and the reprioritisation of funding toward COVID-19. He said the challenges municipalities were faced with were related to the fact that the lockdown was currently in week five, and no municipality had benefited from the funding options said to be available, and were relying on their own resources to fund the obligations placed on them by the regulations. The third area of fiscal response was related to the R20 billion allocation, and SALGA had made a proposal in relation to the relief fund grant and the reprioritisation of funding. The challenge with this was that National Treasury had stated that the funding would be available only in the new financial year, for municipalities to utilise in July.

Referring to the complaints about councillors, he said SALGA had noted that there were two or three cases in the media around this issue, and a communication had been sent to municipalities which condemned this behaviour, and Speakers of municipal councils had been urged to act in accordance with the code of conduct. There had been 19 incidents of misconduct within municipalities that had been picked up across nine provinces, and these had involved 20 councillors. Action had been taken against these councillors in a particular municipality, and in some instances political parties had taken action against those contravening the code of conduct and regulations.

Regarding the Solidarity Fund, SALGA had recommended that councils consider certain matters and engage with municipal staff and councillors so that before any reductions could be made in terms of the necessary legislation, there should be consent from all parties involved. The National Esecutive Committee (NEC) had not taken any decisions which forced municipalities to implement certain things. The NEC had recommended that councillors, officials and SALGA staff should contribute to the fund, and had provided information on how councillors, senior managers and bargaining council employees should make this pledge. It had been recommended that the use of the fund should benefit those within municipalities and local areas, and that every municipality should establish its own Solidarity Fund. Terms of reference had been developed for the fund to make it transparent and accountable. This funding would also be used to attract contributions from businesses and other stakeholders within that particular municipality. He stressed that SALGA was aware that it could not dictate to municipalities what to do.


Ms H Mkhaliphi (EFF) asked for arrangements to be made for the Committee to have another opportunity to engage with SALGA. She asked for clarity on evictions, as the regulations were clear that no evictions should take place during the lockdown, but had noted that this was happening in Cape Town and Johannesburg. She asked why SALGA had not addressed the issue of evictions. She asked about the R354 million referred to in the presentation, and wanted to know if the money was already available and whether the municipality was using the money to combat COVID-19, or if it was simply planning to use this money. She said many municipalities we using specific councillors to distribute food, and no clarity had been given on this issue. She referred to credit control and disconnections of water and electricity, and asked for feedback on this as she had heard of many cases across South Africa where this had already taken place. She had already engaged the mayor of Polokwane to intervene in a case. She wanted to know how the Disaster Management Act was related to municipalities. What was SALGA’s plan to prevent the looting of funds in municipalities which were aimed at combating COVID19.

Ms P Xaba-Ntshaba (ANC) asked about an area in the Eastern Cape where people collected water from rivers and did not have access to electricity and basic services. Service delivery was simply a dream to these people. She referred to a man from Pinetown in Kwazulu-Natal, Thulani Cele, who had appeared on television the previous day and was sleeping in a bush, and asked why the municipality in this area had not intervened. She pointed out that government could not expect people to obey lockdown regulations when they did not even have access to basic service delivery. She asked what SALGA’s role was in monitoring the Jojo tankers and where they were placed. She asserted that in some instances tanks arrived at their intended destination, but were either left without water or got stolen.

Mr K Ceza (EFF) commended SALGA for its presentation to the Committee. He referred to an issue in Mkhondo, in Mpumalanga, which he described as disheartening, as farm owners were evicting people. He commented that government should consider rehabilitation programmes for the homeless even after the COVID-19 pandemic ended, as he believed they needed to have a sustainable programme in order to effect a change in their lives. He asked which measures SALGA had taken in order to ensure a sustainable water infrastructure. What measures would be put in place in order to ensure that funding for municipalities was well-protected against corruption?

Mr I Groenewald (FF+) proposed that SALGA respond to the Committee’s questions in writing by Thursday, 30 April. He referred to the disconnections of electricity which had already taken place in some areas, and the Govan Mbeki municipality which had implemented load shedding. He asked what interventions had been made by SALGA, and what they would do about this in future. He referred to gatherings, and asked if there were mechanisms that could be put in place in order to receive comments and public participation on the budget plans. Regarding councils having meetings on digital platforms, he said SALGA must ensure they applied the same rules of order, otherwise the meetings would be unlawful. He asked what SALGA meant when it said water tankers had been installed, because there was a situation in Maquassi Hills where water tankers were left without the correct fittings and were poorly connected, and the community had had to arrange this at their own cost in order to prevent the water from running out of the tankers. He asked SALGA to begin engaging on revenue enhancement, as he felt it would be a great discussion point for input from the Portfolio Committee as well. He referred to councillors who breached the code of conduct, and wanted to know if these cases had been referred to the respective municipalities, as they had disciplinary or ethics committees.

Ms G Opperman (DA) referred to the distribution of water tankers, and said she found the reliability of figures from the Northern Cape to be questionable. She had done a telephonic survey of the Northern Cape during the morning, and pointed out that it had been declared a drought-stricken province in August last year. 837 water tanks had been allocated, of which only 668 had been received and only 379 installed. She asked for a breakdown of the towns where installations had taken place and wanted to know where the 289 tankers were that had not yet been installed. She pointed out that the Kamiesberg municipality did not have water to fill its tanks. She said water needed to be tested first, and pointed out that health inspectors who had been sent from Gauteng to test the water had now been placed in quarantine in Kamiesberg, which meant there was no water. In Rietfontein, two tanks had been delivered, but were not in use as there was no water tanker to fill them. Fire trucks were sometimes supplying water in areas that did not have access to tanks. She stressed that the Northern Cape was in a dire situation, and asked for a current update on what was happening there.

Mr C Brink (DA) said he would submit his questions in writing, and supported the proposal for a written response from SALGA. He was concerned that he did not see the effect of the second ministerial directive issued on 30 March being discussed in the presentation by SALGA. He said only one structure could have municipal governance and oversight meetings at present, and this structure was the disaster management centre. If this was correct, there was no information being submitted to councillors from these centres, which created a risk in terms of emergencies and created a gap for corruption and maladministration to take place. He asked SALGA to comment on the lockdown approach that the government would take, and asked it to assess whether or not this should be amended in order to encourage councils to have online meetings in order to fulfil their oversight functions. He referred to the Solidarity Fund, and asked SALGA to be mindful of the fact that certain political parties had already committed to their councillors making contributions to the National Solidarity Fund. He said the DA councillors would be submitting R1.5 million to this fund, and cautioned that these funds should be monitored in order to ensure that they were administered correctly. He referred to food vouchers, and said the general trend was to encourage vouchers, coupons and direct cash payments to the needy, as opposed to food parcels.

Mr H Hoosen (DA) commented on Ms Opperman’s earlier remarks, and said he had also seen incorrect figures on tankers distributed in other provinces. He asked what contribution SALGA was making to the Solidarity Fund. He referred to food parcels, and said SALGA’s report which reflected 19 incidents was incorrect -- a simple cursory glance at social media would show that there were many more complaints about this issue, where councillors were giving food parcels to their friends, colleagues or keeping it for themselves. He urged SALGA to take the matter of food councillors seriously, and said much stronger action must be taken against the public representatives accused of stealing food from the poor. He did not support Eskom giving municipalities a payment holiday, and suggested that national government step in to assist municipalities to fulfil their financial obligations to Eskom. He referred to the R20 billion contributed to municipalities for relief measures, and said the regulations required expenditure to be reported to the next council meeting. He was concerned that mayors and municipal managers were taking such decisions, and pointed out that there was no oversight and accountability. He asked that SALGA and/or COGTA report back on how this money was used.

Mr G Mpumza (ANC) said the distribution and installation of water tanks was very slow, and defeated the purpose of providing them to communities. SALGA should begin to think of innovative measures which could be used by municipalities to speed up this process. The poor should not be affected by disconnections of electricity by Eskom, and SALGA should intervene regarding credit control measures during the lockdown. He asked what SALGA would suggest to municipalities in terms of their bylaws in respect of funerals, to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Ms F Muthambi (ANC) referred to water services, and said she had attended a district command council, and had found that other service providers had been appointed who had battled to install tanks. She asked if SALGA could raise this issue when it attended the National Command Council. She said councillors in violation of the code of conduct were not dealt with consistently. She referred to reports of councillors selling hand sanitisers to foreign-owned shops, but no action had been taken against them. Municipalities were condoning such behaviour. She asked SALGA to follow up on this. She referred to the Solidarity Fund, and said there were political parties who had directed their councillors to contribute. She asked what role councillors played in assisting in the fight against COVID-19, as in some municipalities it was business as usual.

Ms M Tlou (ANC) asked about water tanks in Tshwane and Shoshanguve, and said she did not understand what criteria had been used to distribute these water tanks, as they were not being used. She pointed out that Hammanskraal had been experiencing issues with access to water for a very long time. She asked SALGA about their views on pension fund relief for employees. What were the urgent recommendations that they would enforce in addressing challenges in municipalities that were under financial distress? She asked about the lack of transparent criteria in the selection of beneficiaries for food parcels. People in some areas, such as Mamelodi and Shoshanguve, did not know who to approach regarding the receipt of food parcels. What measures would municipalities introduce in order to ensure that they collected as much revenue as possible?

Mr Ceza said municipalities had excluded wards that should have benefited from the donation of food parcels for reasons of political expedience. It was clear that political interference was prevalent in the issue of food parcel distributions. What immediate action would be taken to deal with this?

Ms Thembi Nkadimeng, SALGA President, said donations were not made by municipalities, but rather by the Gift of the Givers organisation. She said the Speaker had advised that a case should be opened with the South African Police Service (SAPS) about this type of interference.

She said that she would like to go ahead with the recommendation made by Committee Members to respond to questions in writing by Thursday 30 April. She assured the Committee that the issues related to councillors would be looked into.

The Committee agreed to receive a written response from SALGA on Thursday.

The meeting was adjourned.

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