The Western Cape Provincial Parliament’s Standing Committee on Local Government deliberated and adopted its report on the Adjusted Budget for Vote 14: Local Government as contained in the Western Cape Adjustment Appropriation Bill.
Members asked why R6m has surrendered to the Provincial Revenue Fund and would be reallocated for disaster management if it is now fire season and drought has been a problem for the Karoo and one needs to act swiftly. They asked if the extra money allocated for a forensic investigation was the reason the ANC did not accept the budget from the onset. They asked the extent to which the forensic investigation would be of value to fighting corruption as it is clear the extra money is due to pressure on forensic experts to deal swiftly with transgressions. Members asked if the province would be supported by national government in fire-fighting efforts as the Western Cape is entering the fire season. They remarked that the allocations are in the right direction as the Department has to be innovative and use technology to win war in advance or move swiftly when a disaster happens. They asked if the R6m surrender to the Provincial Revenue Fund was due to the Department’s inability to procure hydro-geologists on a full-time basis.
Western Cape Local Government MEC Anthony Bredell, in his introductory remarks, said the Department has developed a comprehensive election support strategy to ensure it is supporting and developing capacity in our municipalities efficiently. This includes the capacitation and training of new councillors. Now it wants to focus on ward committees and development of integrated development plans (IDPs) for the new planning cycle. There would be ongoing support and advice on legal interpretation and it is ready to support the councillors to deliver the best quality service to the people. The Western Cape is the best performing province in the country, and during this transition it commits to do more, especially seeing that 16 municipalities are governed through coalitions. More support from the department would be required to ensure service delivery and good governance is not neglected. The impact of Covid-19 on financial sustainability of municipalities is noted as it renders the municipalities unable to render sustainable and quality services to the people, both now and in the foreseeable future.
The Department in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation is designing a sustainability model for municipalities to identify alternative revenue streams as well as the basket and minimal levels of services municipalities should render to communities. Citizens cannot differentiate between the three spheres of government. It is important that while public participation is strengthened in municipalities, citizens are educated about local government to improve their perception of local government.
MEC Bredel gave an overview of budget adjustments. The budget allocated to the department for 2021/22 is R348m. During this adjustment process, it was adjusted down to R344m. Adjustments are necessary to ensure its responsibility of ensuring municipalities remain functional is met as well as supporting and building the capacity of municipalities. The original budget for Compensation of Employees (CoE) of R191m has been adjusted down by R6m which would be surrendered to the Provincial Revenue Fund to be reallocated for drought during the 2020-2022 MTEF. The original budget of R69m for Goods and Services has been adjusted to R60m. The shifted funds would support municipalities in the Joint District and Metro Approach (JDMA).
Mr P Marran (ANC) remarked the budget adjustments are no different from the main budget which the ANC did not support. He wondered why R6m has been set aside for disaster because December/January is a fire season, and drought has been a problem for the Karoo. The allocated R6m is a disappointment. One of the mayors along the Garden Route has shared with Members about the difficulties they are experiencing when it comes to the provision of water and agriculture services. To deliver a service on a R6m budget is a disappointment. He acknowledged the conditions for more allocations within the MTEF, but a disaster needs immediate assistance which cannot be delayed.
MEC Bredell replied that at national level the country is in serious financial trouble. R4.7billion is going to be cut at national level for all municipalities. It is a ripple effect. The Department does not have the luxury of funds to do everything it wants to do. There is a need to keep a close eye on disaster management.
Mr Graham Paulse, Head of Department: Local Government, stated the Department is getting money back in 2022/23 as per its agreement with Provincial Treasury. The Department does water risk assessments when it plans for drought. It uses data when it comes to water and drought initiatives to support municipalities in the province. That funding does not go to waste, given the fact that earmarked drought funding is ending. The Department has negotiated with Provincial Treasury for drought additional funding.
Mr A Van der Westhuizen (DA) said audio-visual equipment might seem like a luxury but when disaster strikes, you need a clear picture of what is happening. That is a highly warranted expenditure. He asked if the Department is satisfied that the team on the ground would be sufficiently covered by the audio-visual equipment. Would the province be supported by national government in fire-fighting efforts because we are entering the fire season. He is in full support of the R4m allocation for the ground water study. It is a fact that most of us are going to rely on ground water and he asked the extent the province would benefit from this resource in a sustainable manner.
Mr Van der Westhuizen asked if the extra money allocated to forensic investigation was the reason the ANC did not accept the budget from the onset. He asked about outgoing local councillors after the November elections. New councils have been formed and many actions of former councillors and councils might not be carried over to the new councils. He asked the extent to which these forensic investigations would be of value to fighting corruption efforts because it is clear the extra money is caused by pressure on forensic experts to deal swiftly with transgressions.
MEC Bredell replied that there were rumours last year the fire teams would not be funded by national department anymore. That put a damper on the contracts, training, and people within the system. This system is subsidised by national. The Department is trying to be ready for the fire season, but this is a red flag we must keep a close eye on.
Mr Paulse replied that the Department has been allocated R15m over three years for the forensic investigations. It is picking up trends in local government as a result of increasing fraud, corruption and maladministration. Investigations would continue on outgoing councils so that there could be an outcome and how it would be enforced. The code of conduct would cease seeing that the councillor is no longer a councillor, but criminal activities would be pursued and finalised by law enforcement. The Department is negotiating with the provincial Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and had discussions about signing an agreement of cooperation for additional capacity to deal with alleged corruption and maladministration.
A Department official added that communication is the biggest force multiplier they have in disaster management. The Department has got its own radio channel which makes it possible to speak with all their human resources on the ground. The Department has a mobile repeater system to talk back to the disaster centre when they are at a disaster site. The Department makes use of digital communication system, using audio-visual equipment. They are able to send maps, information and visual illustrations to commanders on the ground and they can send back information to the Department for decision-making and convey that information speedily to the HOD and MEC. The Western Cape is the only province that pays for its own wild-fire and Working on Fire programme (WoF), programme. The Department decided to go on a tender for the fire contract so as not to be reliant on the national contract. The funding for the ground teams and aircraft comes from national. Our concern was that if the national contract does not get renewed, it would be a problem for the department.
Mr Marius Du Randt, Western Cape Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, made it clear the skills of hydro-geologists are highly specialised and the Department hires consultants. Many municipalities depend on ground water. Since water is extracted out of the ground, it is important to ensure we get the right skills for the job to ensure the project is sustainable. The Department provides municipalities with technical guidance on specifications and better management of water resources.
Ms M Maseko (DA) remarked the allocations are in the right direction because the Department has to be innovative and use technology to win the war in advance or move swiftly when disaster is happening. Informal settlements are contributors to disaster and it appears there has not been any appetite from the Departments of Local Government and Human Settlements to upgrade these informal settlements and have early warning systems in place should a disaster happens like fire and land invasions. She asked why the Department does not have an allocation for asset registration for land-use planning to avoid land invasions.
MEC Bredell replied that it is difficult to deal with 1025 land invasions in Cape Town in one year. No government would be ready for that. The Department can plan, but it does not have enough resources. It has programmes in place like the Smoke Alarm Programme which has saved a lot of lives and it is done in partnership with the private sector. Thousands of people moved to the Western Cape during lockdown and this has put pressure on the services. The province needs, for example, 20.1 million litres of water per day to accommodate the new people. It is all about managing this resource because the Department does not make water. The Department is planning for the next 20 to 30 years for all the municipalities on how to maintain this infrastructure and build enough bulk infrastructure to reticulate water and look at the quality of this service. This is going to be a challenge because of population growth and migration of people.
Mr Paulse replied that the Department leads the management of land invasions in the province and works with other provincial and national departments, SALGA and municipalities in tackling these. The Department has a Priority Joint Committee on land invasions.
Mr Du Randt explained that the Department is spending much effort in developing modelling. They look at the risk in an informal settlement through the digital system to collect information. Then they map areas that would be flooded and that allows them to evacuate people, prepare sand-bagging, and give warnings to the people. Early warning systems are very much part of what they do to inform people and get them to safety. Over the last five years, the Department has procured 60 vehicles for fire-fighting and flood services that it provided to municipalities. Further, the Department is trying to bring the Smoke Alarm Programme to every single dwelling. Consequently, the death rate has come down to zero in areas where they have placed alarms.
The Chairperson asked for clarity on the movement of funding for joint districts from programme 2 to programme 3;. He asked if the R6m allocation was a result of the department’s inability to procure for services of geologists and hydro-geologists on a full-time basis.
MEC Bredell stated it is not the inability of the Department to procure the services of hydro-geologists. Most of these skills are highly professional skills and in high demand in the private sector. They do not have an appetite to take up a year’s contract. It is the same with engineers. If we want to attract these skills, we cannot offer them a one-year contract.
Mr Paulse noted the allocation is moved from programme 1 to programme 2, not from 2 to 3.
Ms Eda Barnard, Chief Director for Municipal Performance Monitoring & Support: Western Cape Department of Local Government, explained the allocated R6m will support senior dedicated engineers to drive the Department’s drought response in municipalities. They are working in all the districts where there are running projects. The Department has a team of hydro-geologists and engineers assisting the Department and municipalities. The R6m is for drought engineers, and hydro-geologists are paid from another grant. The Department tried three different times to try attract suitable engineers for a one year contract; however, this makes it difficult to attract them because no one will resign from a job for a one year contract. With the three attempts they could not find any engineers. The Department even approached Public Works for former employees, but with no success. So, it had to surrender the money because of this difficulty. In the meantime, the Department has already started appointing two people who are making big progress. The Department has also tried to drop the levels to the junior positions to attract technicians, technologists and qualified unregistered engineers just to alleviate the problem.
Mr Marran said the responses from the Department trigger more questions. He asked if it is by choice the Western Cape is the only province that pays for its own Working on Fire (WoF) and Wildfire programme. How had the Department responded to the rumours about stoppages of wildfire support from the national department and was there official communication about that?
He asked how had the Chairperson reached the conclusion the Department was unable to appoint hydro-geologists with the R6m and why could it not be used for drought initiatives now instead of surrendering it to Provincial Treasury.
Mr Marran said he is for the forensic investigations. The ANC does not support the budget because in the last couple of years, they have seen the MEC and Department officials arresting those in municipalities where the DA is not in control. The investigations should rather respond to rumours where there are allegations of maladministration in municipalities.
MEC Bredell replied that they do not get rumours in formal writing about firefighting. The national department goes out to tender and if the contract does not get renewed, everybody starts to talk. The Department is busy arranging a meeting with COGTA because the Committee will say the Department is irresponsible if it does not mention it to the Committee which has an oversight role. When January 2022 comes and there is nothing in place, we are all going to run around and we cannot play with this because there are people’s lives at stake.
Mr Van der Westhuizen asked if the forensic unit is coping with backlogs seeing that more allocations have been made.
MEC Bredell replied that forensic investigations are a complex area. People put allegations to the Department and that has to be proven in a court of law. There is no political agenda here. The Department acts on whistleblowing and investigates the whistleblowers to get facts, and then handover this over to the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). These two bodies – Hawks and NPA – need to be capacitated. There is a pipeline you need to put evidence before the court. The SIU acted in George, Beaufort West and Cederberg just to ensure we get a better government.
MEC Bredell said that the 16 local government coalitions would take more effort from the Department to work with. The Department has an oversight role which is going to put a strain on this Committee as well because coalitions are difficult to manage. This is what democracy has put on the table. We have to deal with the facts and be ready as a department to give advice and legal assistance according to the framework within which the Department operates.
Committee Report on Western Cape Department of Local Government 2021/22 Adjusted Budget
The Chairperson tabled the Committee Report.
Mr Van der Westhuizen proposed the Committee support the budget vote. Ms Maseko seconded.
Ms Makamba-Botya (EFF) expressed a minority view not to support the vote.
Mr Marran expressed a minority view from the ANC not to support the vote.
The Committee Report was adopted.
The Committee resolved the Department should provide a detailed report on disaster cases dealt with during the annual financial year; and that the National Department should support the Wildfire programme.
Committee Annual Report
The Chairperson took the committee through the document, page by page.
Ms Maseko proposed the acceptance of the report. Ms Makamba-Botya seconded.
The Committee Annual Report was adopted.
The Committee adopted the minutes 14 September 2021.
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