The Committee convened it a virtual meeting to be briefed by the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) on the status of interventions and forensic investigations in the province's municipalities. The Committee's focus was currently on those municipalities where provincial governments across the country had invoked section 106 of the Constitution.
The meeting did not take place as planned, however, after Members expressed their concern that the KZN document had been received only late the previous evening, and as a result they had not had time to go through it and prepare thoroughly for the meeting. The Chairperson said it was very concerning, because it was now the third or fourth time that the KZN COGTA had delayed sending documents, leading to the postponement of meetings. The submissions the Department was presenting were extremely important, because when section 106 was invoked, it was an indication that a particular municipality had a problem -- that there were allegations of fraud, corruption, nepotism, maladministration, and many other inefficiencies in a municipality.
The MEC for the KZN COGTA contended that the document had been sent to the Committee earlier than was being alleged, adding that his office had also received the invitation to the meeting very late. He asked the Chairperson to investigate in order to establish who was to blame for the delay. The Chairperson agreed, and committed to doing so. He also expressed his disappointment with the report, which he said was lacking the necessary detail, and did not give the Members sufficient information to enable them to do their oversight work. The Department was asked to provide a comprehensive report at the next meeting. The meeting was postponed to a later date.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson said one of the focus areas of the Committee was on the municipalities, especially those where provincial governments across the country had invoked section 106 of the Constitution. He had invited Mr Sipho Hlomuka, MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), to brief and update the Committee on the invocation of section 106 of the Municipal System Act. The Chairperson appreciated Mr Hlomuka’s presence, despite the meeting he attended earlier between the Minister and the MECs.
The Chairperson raised concern that this was the third, if not the fourth time, that the Committee had failed to convene a meeting because documents were not received on time. It was the same point that Mr E Mthethwa (ANC, KZN) had raised earlier, that the documents had been received late the previous night, at around 10pm. The Committee had previously pleaded with the Department to send the documents timeously to enable Members to go through them and prepare thoroughly for the meeting, because they had busy schedules. The submissions the Department were presenting were extremely important, because it invoked section 106 of the Municipal Systems Act. When this section was invoked, it was an indication that a particular municipality had a problem -- that there were allegations of fraud, corruption, nepotism, maladministration and many other inefficiencies in a municipality. As such, these required an investigation, so Members must receive the documents on time to prepare for this meeting.
Even though the meeting had been postponed several times, the documents had still been sent out late the previous night, around 9:45pm, after Members had had a very busy programme throughout the week. Some Members said they had managed to go through the documents only just before the meeting. The Chairperson asked the MEC to address this issue, because it was the third, if not the fourth, time that his Department had delayed sending out the documents on time, leading to the postponement of the meeting. Why were there still delays despite Members asking that the documents must be sent on time?
He also asked the MEC to address the fact that the reports the Committee had received dealt with two aspects. The first aspect was that they briefed the Committee on section 106, as per the Members' request, on those municipalities where section 106 had been invoked to investigate the matters related to financial and other related malpractices. The Committee had also received another document on municipalities that were under section 139 of the Constitution, where section 139 (1) (b) of the Municipality Systems Act (MSA) had been invoked. However, these documents were empty -- there was nothing about what the Department was doing about section 106 of the MSA. They were saying absolutely nothing. It should be stating that the Department was investigating, and a report had been composed and sent out to the municipalities for implementation, but it did not say so. What was the nature of the allegations? What were they investigating? How much was involved? Who was responsible and being investigated in this matter? What was the basis of the investigation? What were the findings of the report on the investigation? The reports did not address these questions and issues. Why was the Department giving such incomprehensive information on the municipalities that were placed under section 106? The Committee was not well informed on the situation with these municipalities. This was a meeting of Parliament which was very important to enable it to perform its oversight function on what was happening at the municipal level through the office of the MEC.
MEC Hlomuka said it was untrue that the report had been sent the previous night. The report had been sent on Tuesday 30 November at 12:03, and an official (whom he named) could confirm that, because he had been present when it was sent. The Department had no intention of undermining the Committee, because it understood what was at stake, as indicated by the Chairperson, and it had a responsibility to account to the Committee. The Department was always ready to give reports to the leadership, because they were readily available in the system and all that was needed was to update them to align with a specific meeting.
The Chairperson interjected, indicating that the official responsible for the documents was in the meeting and should address the Committee on the matter. He asked him to explain why he had sent the documents at 9:45pm on Thursday, while the MEC said it was sent on Tuesday.
Mr Thembile Moses Manele, Committee Secretary, said he could provide evidence on the matter, based on a review of the email system. He said when he sent the correspondence to the Department in KZN, he had copied Mr F Holliday. The MEC said the evidence he had, had his name and that of Mr Holliday. They were preparing for the meeting and they had checked their emails, but they had not received the documents. The previous day, they had also sent an email to the Parliamentary Liaison Officer in KZN, asking about the document. The email system and evidence could confirm that they had received the document the previous day.
The Chairperson asked what the response of the PLO had been.
Mr Manele said he had forwarded the email from the office of Mr Holliday, indicating that the Committee was waiting for the document. There was proof that yesterday an email had been sent to the PLO in KZN.
The Chairperson said the MEC would agree with him that as politicians, they should not be misled by the officials. They should settle the issue by investigating what had happened. However, the bottom line was that Members had received the documents only around 9:45 the previous night. This should be investigated, so that when they did their jobs as politicians they were not caught in the blame game of officials. It should be investigated whether the blame lay with his officials or those of the MEC, in order to remedy the situation and avoid the blame game. Respected and trusted individuals must do their jobs properly in facilitating engagements of this nature.
MEC Hlomuka agreed with the Chairperson on his suggestion, and pointed out that he was not in a position to say who was correct, because his email indicated that the document was sent on Tuesday 30 November at 12:03. He would leave it to the Chairperson to decide on this matter and do an investigation. It was creating a wrong impression that the Department was not sending the documents on time. Sometimes invitations were received on the 24th, and the Department was told that the meeting would be on the 26th, which gave it only two days to prepare the report. The Department never complained, but complied. However, it was important to express frustration sometimes. He requested that the Department be given enough time to prepare and present to the Committee.
The Chairperson said he fully agreed with the MEC, and was committed to investigating the matter from both sides to establish what the problem was, and would deal with it accordingly. He indicated that even the meeting of 26 November was the second, if not the third time, that documents had been sent out late. The investigation would be done, and the findings would be shared with the Department.
MEC Hlomuka responded on the issue of the incomplete information at the disposal of the Committee, stating that in terms of section 106 of the Constitution, there were reports that had already been tabled to the municipalities. He was not aware that the Committee was looking for those reports, but they could be emailed to the Chairperson and the Members since they were already in the public domain. Once the reports were presented in the council, they were no longer private and could be shared with anyone. However, before they were given to anyone or institution for forensic investigation, they must be presented to the correct structure, and in this case it was the Council.
Information on the allegations and recommendation from the investigators could be presented to the Committee on request, except for those investigations that were in progress. In this case, only allegations were given but not the details, because once they had been asked by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) to provide details on the issues of Umkhanyakude district municipality and Nquthu local municipality, but had refused because the matter was still under investigation. They had later found that the information that was given to the Committee was now in the media and was being used by a politician for a campaign. They therefore had a responsibility to protect the image of the provincial government.
The Chairperson said he understood what the MEC had just said, but in terms of the provisions of section 106 of the Municipal Systems Act, once this was invoked, they must immediately inform the Provincial Legislature and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) within a prescribed period, which was about 14 days. When the investigation was concluded, the Committee and the Provincial Legislature must be informed. The Committee had not received any reports on the eight or nine municipalities where the Department invoked section 106. The Department was not doing the Committee a favour in this regard, as the law stipulates that the Department must provide the NCOP with those reports. The Committee did not have those reports, which was the first difficulty. The second difficulty was that even the briefing given by a certain director from the Department did not state what had happened. It just stated that section 106 had been invoked in this municipality and the conclusions or recommendations were being implemented, but there was nothing about the allegations, why the investigation was done, and the Department's findings. The Committee did not have all this information, even if it was in the public domain. Even if the Department says it was still completing some investigations, it needed to brief the Committee about the allegations on the specific municipality and how it had instituted an investigation, and the progress of that investigation. The fact that the Committee does not have that information was problematic.
Based on the point raised by Mr Mthethwa that the meeting would not yield any good results, the Chairperson proposed that the Members reflect and comment on the engagement that the Committee had just had with the MEC, and decide on the way forward.
Ms N Nkosi (ANC, Mpumalanga) said the Chairperson had stated the position very well when he said many things were not clear in this report. The issue of the late document was also concerning, as it did not give the Members time to look at it. She supported the decision of the Chairperson and MEC for an investigation to establish what had happened. She asked that the report be provided in the next meeting and that this meeting be referred back to allow the Committee to get all the information required from the report.
Ms C Visser (DA, North West) agreed that the Department should provide a conclusive report timeously. The provincial administration could not expect the Committee to give its best efforts and provide advice or take the best resolutions on the matter if things continued like this. She agreed with Ms Nkosi that the Committee needed an update on what was happening.
Mr S Zandamela (EFF, Mpumalanga) said the situation was very concerning, and something needed to be done about the matter. It should not be business as usual. It was very disappointing. The Committee should meet and discuss the matter further.
Ms B Bartlett (ANC, Northern Cape) agreed with the proposals made and said the reasons the MEC and his team had given were not sufficient. It was not the first time that this had happened, and every time it happened, the meetings had to be postponed due to their recklessness.
The Chairperson said the Committee agreed with the MEC that an investigation would have to be undertaken to establish who was to blame for forwarding the documents late to the Members. The bottom line was that the documents were received around 10 pm the previous night and there was not enough time to read them. It had to be investigated to avoid blaming the MEC for that.
However, the issue that the Members were raising was that this was the third or fourth time that the Committee was requesting the MEC and his to engage with the Members. It was a Friday afternoon and it was not busy in Parliament, but because the Members were keen to solve the problems of municipalities, they had availed themselves to engage with the issues. It was obligated by the imperatives of the Constitution to get a report and engage with that report. That was why he [the Chairperson] had attended the meeting on a Friday afternoon.
What was equally important was the fact that the report was not detailed. It was a five-page report that spoke to the issues of the investigation. What the Committee was saying was that a new date must be chosen before the recess, where the Department would be asked to provide a report detailing what had been investigated in the eight or nine municipalities, including the allegations and findings of the investigation -- and most importantly, what was being done to investigate and follow up on the recommendations suggested by the report. What had been the roles of the municipalities in the investigations? The Members were feeling disempowered because they lacked information, so they were asking for that information so that they could engage with the Department with an understanding that they had all the information at their disposal.
He said that on Tuesday, the Members were meeting the MEC of Gauteng Province for the same purpose. The Committee was now dealing with investigations into corruption, maladministration, nepotism, or any wrongdoing in the municipalities where provincial governments had invoked provision 106 of the Municipal Systems Act. The Committee was not yet dealing with Section 139 interventions, but was at the investigation stage in terms of section 106 -- the work that the Department does, how it follows up all the issues that need to be followed up, and how the corrupt were pursued to ensure that justice was done. It was to ensure that the people of those municipalities could recover the money that had been stolen, misappropriated, and not used according to the prescription of the law. The Committee had met with the MEC for Mpumalanga, and it was now in KZN, and next week it would be in Gauteng. It would complete the year with the Free State, because it needed to know what had happened and how the recommendations had been implemented. What consequence management had been applied in the case of those that were involved? This was important for the Committee, because municipalities were the weakest link of local government. They were creating a lot of problems. There was a crisis in the municipalities, and the Committee had the duty and legislative and statutory obligation to follow up on all of these issues. This was to ensure that all the guilty individuals were accountable for their actions and that the lost money was recovered.
The Chairperson concluded by saying the investigations would be conducted because this matter was serious. The Committee had been on the verge of subpoenaing the MEC to force him to appear before the Members, but now that he had explained, the matter would be investigated. However, the Committee still expected the MEC and his Department to provide a complete report that made sense and enabled Members to execute their oversight function.
MEC Hlomuka responded that he would not allow anyone to judge him. Members had spoken of the fourth time that the meeting had been postponed as if it was the fault of his Department. That was not true. The Chairperson must investigate the matter, because he could not be crucified for something he did not know about. He said that on 24 November, an official from the Committee had sent an email inviting the Department to attend a meeting on 26 November, and in the same email he had said if the time was not sufficient, it could be postponed. The email read, “Please can you confirm the receipt of this email regarding the meeting with COGTA. If the time is not convenient on Friday, Mr Holliday has indicated that the meeting can be shifted to afternoon.” It says sent on the 24th, and the meeting was on the 26th. Now the Department was being blamed for postponing meetings, which was not fair.
The Chairperson interjected, pointing out that the matter had been concluded.
MEC Hlomuka replied that the Members had raised the matter after a conclusion was made, accusing his Department of recklessness.
The Chairperson reminded the MEC that he had corrected that accusation, stating that the MEC and his office should not be blamed until the investigation had been concluded. He made it clear that what had happened had to be checked with dates, because the information at his disposal indicated that the postponement that happened on 26 November was the third. He had never said the MEC was reckless. The fact that the information he had contradicted what the MEC had, called for an investigation.
MEC Hlomuka apologised to the Chairperson, and explained that he had to respond because Members had raised the issue when it had already been closed. He respected that the Chairperson was still chairing the meeting. He also apologised for not providing the required information, because they had not been told that they must give details, hence the report had given only a summary. The Department had no problem with giving details, so it would give a detailed report on all the municipalities that were investigated in terms of section 106 at the next meeting. It would include details on the allegations, the recommendations, and what the law says after the reports were finalised and presented to the council. It would detail the role of the provincial government and the council.
He said the Department had not given details, but only a summary, because the invitation had not indicated that details should be given. He took responsibility for the mistake, and apologised for the postponement which could have been caused by that. He reminded the Committee that it had once indicated that the Department had a proven record of providing comprehensive reports.
The next day, the Department would update the Provincial Executive Council on the status of Nquthu and Umkhanyakude. In Nquthu, the NCOP had failed to meet the deadline of 180 days. They had never responded to the letter that was sent, which puts the Department in a dilemma, because the status was not known. This meant that now the Department was not complying with the legislation.
The Chairperson thanked the MEC for providing good leadership by admitting and taking responsibility for where mistakes were made, and where things were wrong. The Committee needed to be furnished with detailed information, and that should not be regarded as a favour to the Committee -- it had to be given detailed information across the board to enable it to do its work.
On the other issues that had been raised, the Committee had visited several municipalities and KZN had been one province that had been cordial in cooperating with the NCOP whenever information was requested and invitations were sent to attend meetings with the Committee. Whenever the NCOP visited, the Department had given support and assistance to facilitate its work. This was greatly appreciated, but the Committee would not shy away from pointing out that things were not going well.
On the issue of Nquthu and Umkhanyakude, he admitted that the NCOP had not complied with the 180 days of the Constitution, where it was required to make a decision. He apologised for failing to have a meeting in Nquthu and indicated that the Committee wanted to do everything within its power to conduct oversight and listen to all the stakeholders who were present. However, because of being late due to problems beyond its control, the Committee had failed to do so. It had wanted to follow up on the matter to ensure that it was finalised before the elections. Now that the elections were over and there was a new municipality, the Committee would allow the provincial COGTA to reflect on what had happened and take its own decisions on how it should proceed. The new municipality in Nquthu must be allowed to function so that it can deliver on the objectives of local government.
In closing, the Chairperson thanked the Members and apologised for the situation which had been beyond their control. He said that as the busiest Committee in the NCOP among clusters such as the Executive Undertakings and Petitions, Security and Justice, it was doing its best under the circumstance to hold people accountable, and ensure that it does its job. It accepts that there were problems that needed to be solved and followed up. He suggested that in due course, before the recess, the Committee engage the Department and finish its task. Next year there was a big task to complete all the work. Parliament would be requested to allow the Committee to visit Mpumalanga at the beginning of the year to finalise important outstanding matters.
It was only through holding everybody accountable and ensuring that the system of local government was improved that the Committee’s work could have a positive impact. The meeting would be rescheduled for another day
The meeting was adjourned
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