Department Budget briefing

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

02 June 2004
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

2 June 2004

Acting Chairperson:
Mr. Y Carrim (ANC)

Documents handed out
Department Strategic Plan
Department Budget Vote - National Treasury
Free Basic Services and Infrastructure

The Committee was briefed on Free Basic Services and Infrastructure, specifically on the slow rollout of free basic services. The Department blamed the slow progress on the following main problems:
· Lack of capacity and proper infrastructure within most municipalities
· Municipalities failed to supply free basic services due to incomplete lists of indigent beneficiaries
· Weaknesses in monitoring and evaluation
· Inadequate infrastructure development in a number of municipalities.
· Poor revenue collection

The Committee expressed concern at the slow rollout of free basic services, but welcomed the idea of Community Development Workers. The Committee had reservations about the criteria to be used for appointing these workers, but were unanimous that they would act as a bridge between the public service and the community. Members insisted that the Department should make every effort to establish and increase community awareness and participation in the Community Development Worker initiative.

Free Basic Services and Infrastructure

Mr Patrick Flusk, Deputy Director-General: Free Basic Services and Infrastructure, informed the Committee that the focus areas for his branch are:
· Addressing backlogs through infrastructure provision
· Enhanced service delivery through integration and co-ordination
· Enhanced access to basic services
· Full rollout of free basic services
· Enhanced public participation, and
· Strengthening the role of public private partnerships.

Mr Flusk reported that the free basic service milestones for the financial year 2003/04 were the completion of free basic electricity pilot projects. The other milestone was the Kwazulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces being helped to contract the free basic non-grid energy. There has also been a rollout of the free basic electricity by metros and bigger municipalities. There have been provincial workshops held between provinces and municipalities. This interaction with the help of the former minister played a major part in getting Eskom aboard the free basic electricity rollout programme. In addition to this a task team to implement and monitor the rollout of free basic services has been established.

Mr Flusk said that among the challenges his branch has had to grapple with is the need to put in place monitoring mechanisms and the difficulty in assessing ability to pay vis-à-vis the willingness to pay. There is a lack of indicators of success and that there is a need for linkages with other social grants. There is also a need for a metering and billing system to facilitate faster rollout of the free basic service programme. The Department is in the process of finalising the Municipal Service Partnerships regulations and guidelines. There is a need for further training on Municipal Service Partnerships as well as to conduct an impact assessment. The capacity of the human resources in the Chief Directorate is being reviewed.

Mr Flusk reported that the branch is running a programme on Public Participation and Empowerment whose objective is to facilitate communication between municipalities and communities. This programme supports the establishment of community development workers. It would ensure proper linkages between the Ward Committees and the Community Development Workers. The Programme would also ensure effective participation by communities in the decision-making machinery of the municipalities. The challenges the Department is faced with on this programme relate to intergovernmental communication and co-ordination. There is also a need for monitoring and evaluation. He reported that funding in three provinces, namely Western Cape, Free State and North West is still problematic. There is also need to ensure a buy-in by municipalities in order to achieve ownership.

Mr Swart (DA) wanted to know what role the ward communities and community development workers play in free basic service delivery.

Mr Flusk pointed out that while SALGA insisted these institutions existed, Members of Parliament disagreed. Community Development Workers are supposed to deepen democracy and ensure people participate in development matters. It is the structure the President had in mind when he called for measures to ensure speedy access to government delivery. These workers would be employed at the provincial level. Their mandate would be funded by the equitable share allocation.

Mr Smith (IFP) asked the Department to explain why there was no provision for performance monitoring and management structures to ensure accountability in these programmes.

Ms Xoliswa Sibeko (Department) explained that the Community Development Workers is a programme run by the Department and that the Department oversees its management.

Ms Mashiane (ANC) wanted to know why provinces should be involved in programmes that are undertaken by the Community Development Workers. What happened if provinces disregarded recommendations from Ward Committees, she asked.

Mr Nonkonyana (ANC) said that there is a national framework for traditional leaders to get involved in provincial programmes. He wanted to know what relationship Community Development Workers had with traditional leaders. The Chair agreed that the operation of Community Development Workers would require clarification in areas under traditional authorities.

Mr Flusk suggested that this programme should function within the Traditional Leadership functions and powers framework.

Ms Bhengu (ANC) noted that rural people are for the most part uneducated and unsophisticated. They are not in a position to understand complex project dynamics. She wanted to know the criteria used to select Community Development Workers.

Ms Xoliswa explained that the criteria for selection are broad-based. One has to live in the community, should be ready to serve, capable and trusted by members of the community. They must show potential to be good communicators. They should be knowledgeable about client participation. They should be known as reliable and responsible people. They should have experience of volunteerism or other community based experience in respect of imparting people skills.

Ms Nene (ANC) asked the Department to make copies of the criteria available to members. It is good to have something official she said. She contended that the criterion used in communities was never the official one as councillors often took a selfish course of action.

The Chair agreed that the community should be supplied with the selection criteria. It is important to know how many Community Development Workers government intended employing. It is also important to understand the kind of skills that were necessary as entry or middle-level skills would suggest limited salaries and would therefore fall within the Expanded Public Works Programme.

Ms Xoliswa agreed with the Chair that the target groups are low skilled people. Mr Flusk explained that the initial targeted number is in the region of 2840 that should be in place by end of the financial year.

The Chair said the idea is novel and welcome since it tends to act as a bridge between public servants and the community. It is understandable that the idea is still at its early stage of development but members would monitor its progress.

Ms Nene expressed concern that there is a huge commotion about Ward Committees when in reality there is nothing like that. Some people who have been masquerading as ward development workers have since changed roles to become councillors. She expressed fear that this new development would only add to the existing confusion.

Mr Rampele (UDM) called on members to be more optimistic since these structures are only now being established. Members have an obligation as part of their oversight role to develop the structure to ensure delivery of services at this crucial level. The biggest challenge the Department faces is ensuring that these developments are effectively and timeously communicated to the people. For the most part people on the ground do not know of the existence of these structures.

The Chair agreed with Mr Rampele that it would be ill-advised to hold the process back especially as it has been commissioned by the highest office in the land. Besides, the need for Ward Committees has been discussed in the Committee before. When all is said and done, however, the Department should take members' concerns aboard.

Mr Flusk noted that most issues members had raised were political. The Department would look to the political authority to give leadership in this instance.

Mr Solo urged the Department to take the Committee aboard this programme at an early stage. This would help members create the necessary awareness and assist them to answer queries that come with new projects. The Chair concurred with Mr Solo that it is of critical importance to put the Committee in the picture right at the conception of the programmes. The Committee shares a common desire with the Department to deliver quality services to the people.

Ms Mashiane decried the chaos in the supply of free basic water and electricity that has resulted in the poor being billed while those who can afford get free services. The Chair wondered whether there are ways and means for the community to help the Department sort out this problem. Mr Solo expressed frustration at the lack of proper information from council offices. It is not uncommon to find different billing systems in the same municipality. He wondered why the Department seemed unaware of these burning issues. Mr Smith noted that several metros appeared before the Committee and explained that they apply the means test in deciding who should access the free basic services. It is important for the Committee to know the exact backlog in the billing system so as to determine the kind of intervention needed.

Mr Flusk said the Department would approach the Committee to seek help with funding. The Department hopes to do more work around the thorny issue of indigent policy. He pointed out that municipalities fail to supply free basic services because some people are not on the list of indigent beneficiaries. There are also weaknesses in the area of monitoring and evaluation. The Department would endeavour to furnish communities with quarterly reports. The actual rollout programme for free basic services was launched in July 2002. It was not expected that everybody would have been covered by this time. The Department would work closely with its branches to help enhance revenue collection in the municipalities. There are a large number of people in municipalities without infrastructure development. This situation hampers progress on free basic service delivery.

Ms Gabi Gumbi-Masilela, Department Chief Director: Infrastructure and Development Planning, noted that the biggest problem afflicting municipalities is the inability to identify the indigent and non-indigent. Even when such identification is eventuality made it is often difficult to get the non-indigent to pay for services. The President announced provision of free water services in 2001 but many poor municipalities are unable to meet this challenge. As a result there are different levels of provision within the municipal structures. She admitted that it is a nightmare to roll out free basic services in an environment fraught with lack of technical maintenance services, chaotic billing systems and poor record keeping. She reported that the Department is in the process of trying to establish a less onerous process of identifying the indigent. There is also a need to streamline the relationship between Eskom and the Municipality. The local community should also assist the Department to communicate the fact that priority for the rollout of free basic services should be given to the poor.

The Chair noted that stakeholders should appreciate the fact that these programmes came about suddenly in a sea of poverty and that it is expected that there would be teething problems. The Department is clearly faced with enormous challenges in this respect. The Chair regretted, however, that two years later, the unevenness in community development is still very pronounced. He reiterated the fact that the Committee would significantly change its style of interaction with the Department. More time would be spent on physical inspection of projects as it was important, he said, to move away from this question and answer type session.

The Meeting was adjourned.


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