Intervention in Mafikeng Municipality: briefing

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Meeting report

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE
8 November 2004
INTERVENTION IN MAFIKENG MUNICIPALITY: BRIEFING

Chairperson: Mr S Shiceka (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Mafikeng Mayor presentation
North West MEC presentation

SUMMARY
The Committee was briefed on the Section 139(1)(b) intervention into the Mafikeng Municipality as authorized by the North West provincial government. This intervention is scheduled to end in December although the provincial government stated wants this extended for a further three months. The opinions of the MEC and the Executive Mayor were provided and insights tendered on the nature of the current dispute between the Mayor and the provincial government. Personal accounts of the disruptions within the municipality were recounted. Members raised numerous concerns including the need for new mechanisms of dispute resolution, current status of the council, improved communication techniques, revitalised training programmes and strategy plans.

As an outcome of this meeting, the North West Member of the Executive Council committed to increased meetings between the interim manager and the Mayor and the Mayor and himself. A broad implementation plan would be devised as part of the review process. An official report would be submitted to the Committee after the provincial executive-council meeting next week. Monitoring would continue after the intervention had ended to consolidate the achievements.

MINUTES


The Chairperson emphasised the importance of the meeting in obtaining first-hand information from the parties involved in the Mafikeng dispute. The Committee was determined to assist in resolving the issue to the mutual benefit of all concerned
.

Mayor's briefing on Mafikeng municipality
The Mayor, Ms N Hlangwana, provided a report-back to the Committee on her impressions of the intervention carried out in terms of Section 139 (1) (b). The Mayor had been re-deployed by the ANC in May 2003 to address the problems of service delivery experienced within the Mafikeng municipality. Numerous weaknesses had been identified such as financial mismanagement and inefficient service delivery. The following initial steps were taken: expenditure had been reduced and the staff component had been scaled down. Workers had been employed by the previous administration on a contract basis and regulatory rules were being ignored. Posts had been closed and re-advertised. The Mayoral committee members had been reduced to five and over-excessive travel allowances had been curtailed. A new system of allowances had been introduced based on distances traveled. These identified issues had been impacting negatively on service delivery. Assistance was requested from the provincial government to improve the budget requirements including the establishment of electricity provision by the municipality to increase revenue. Intervention was implemented in September 2003 in consultation with the then-MEC to improve governance and empower the municipality. In March 2004 the MEC decided to maximise intervention and a sum of R30 million was promised to effect changes. To date only R1.9 million had been received.

A new MEC was appointed after the April elections and circumstances started to change. The executive power of the Mayor was removed and no decisions could be taken by the executive committee. Executive powers were given to the MEC who in turn delegated to an appointed interim municipal manager. Confusion was the immediate outcome and the Mayor felt ostracised from the day-to-day functioning of the municipality. Numerous attempts to contact the MEC to explain the situation were unsuccessful. The Mayoral committee appointed a manager to administer the locality but this was rescinded by the MEC. The MEC appointed an implementing agent to govern transformation and act as interim municipal manager. Proposed monthly meetings with the MEC never materialised and the Mayor did not interact with the implementing agent. The placement of new staff needed to occur in consultation with the South African Local Government Association. The budget needed to be altered to reduce the salary bill and the performance contracts of Directors needed to be finalised. The Mayor should play a role in this regard. The recommendation was that Section 139 (1) (b) be lifted and a stop order system be created for payment. Finance was needed to improve service delivery and the licence to distribute electricity should be restored.

Speaker of the Mafikeng Municipal Council
The Speaker of the Mafikeng Municipal Council stated that the intervention was agreed to in the interests of promoting co-operative governance and improving the overall efficacy of the administration. However, in effect, limited co-operation had been established and the acting manager was not interacting with the Mayor. Intervention had not resulted in much-needed funds being made available and the municipality was not empowered to improve delivery. The acting municipal manager should be reporting to the Mayor. However, the acting manager also serves as the implementing agent which was proving problematic.

The Chairperson stated that the Committee should capture all the salient issues in order to provide meaningful comment and advice. The lack of co-operation between the role-players was clearly evident. The Mayor was claiming that intervention had not addressed the key problems faced by the municipality. Achievements had been listed and challenges outlined. The Mayor wanted a return of power and additional finance. Section 139(1)(b) of the Constitution was being amended to facilitate more effective intervention.

North West provincial government briefing
Mr F Vilakazi (MEC-North West) stated that the Mafikeng municipality had experienced serious problems between 2001-2003. The response of the municipality had been poor and the previous MEC had approached the Executive-Council to initiate an intervention in terms of Section 139 (1) (b). A review in September 2003 revealed a non-functional administration with no accountability nor responsibility and an unstable political environment. The appointment of a new Speaker had intensified the problems. The intervention intended to improve service delivery, formulate a financial management plan and rectify staff inadequacies. Visits by the MEC to the municipal offices had revealed lack of discipline and poor comprehension of work requirements and limited activity. The functions of the Mayor had been removed and strategies developed to facilitate a turn-around involving an implementing agent. The Mayoral committee could deal with certain routine issues but important decisions had to be the prerogative of the MEC. The council was not working with SALGA to provide solutions. The provincial government had produced a report on the status of the intervention which would be discussed at the Executive-Council meeting next week.

A local attorney employed by the municipality dealt with 90% of all council cases which was an unusual arrangement and reduced ability to deal with cases in adequate time. Litigation was underway involving placement of staff. The lawyer did not receive written mandates to engage in cases which was irregular. The lawyer was advising the Mayor on reaction to Section139 (1) (b) and providing incorrect advice. The continued refusal of the Mayor to co-operate with the intervention was hampering the transformation process. The original amount of R30 million earmarked as part of the intervention could not be accessed by the council and used for normal municipal business such as the payment of electricity. Intervention was the correct path to follow and the provincial government was not prepared to end the intervention at this juncture. The political context had been stabilised but administration still required improvement. Developed policies must be implemented in a satisfactory manner. The existing management had not played a role in developing policy and therefore could not be relied upon to implement correctly. Time was needed to achieve objectives and stabilise further.

Removal now would result in the total collapse of the municipality. The Executive Council of the North West would debate the issues next week and a report would be submitted to the provincial legislature and the NCOP. The process had to be completed for the sake of local government in the North West. Interactions were occurring with the Mayor to inform of developments. The interim municipal manager was necessary to build capacity within the council and create one authority to control the process and avoid duplication.

The Chairperson asked for the opinion of SALGA with regard to the intervention.


SALGA comments
A SALGA representative stated that SALGA wanted to see issues such as the present Mafikeng matter resolved in a satisfactory manner without long-term negative consequences. Mafikeng had experienced municipal problems for some time and the present Mayor had been instructed to resolve these issues by the ANC. The context needs to be studied in a holistic manner, including all parties, to create a positive environment in which issues can be addressed. Issues around senior management need to be resolved to expedite the process. The NCOP, provincial government and municipality must reach a common understanding of the challenges and converge to produce effective solutions.

The Chairperson agreed that the NCOP had an important role to play in resolving this issue. A common agreement had to be forged out of common understanding and the Committee had to engage in follow-ups to evaluate progress. The Committee had failed to monitor correctly and provide support. The way forward had to be determined and comments were sought from Members to identify appropriate responses.

Discussion
Mr M Mzizi (IFP) noted that the positions of the Mayor and the MEC were diametrically opposed and SALGA also possessed some alternative views. The process had not been completed and continuation was imperative to ensure success. New mechanisms were necessary to achieve the objectives and the stipulated funds should be accessed on resolution of the dispute.

Mr A Moseki (ANC) stated that a business plan was needed to identify an appropriate strategy and assist the Committee in monitoring progress. Clarity was sought on the state of debts and the response of provincial government in meeting debts. He asked whether the suspended municipal manager continued to receive a salary. The level of morale of the council appeared low and ideas were needed to address this.

Ms P Hollander (ANC) highlighted the lack of communication within the municipality and suggested a plan be devised to rectify the impasse. The delegation of the Mayor's power to the acting municipal manager was questioned.

Mr Z Ntuli (ANC) asked for clarity on the intended initial intervention period and whether intervention had achieved its objectives. The stabilisation of the administration should have occurred and reasons for the continuous failure were needed. A team effort was required to achieve success.

Mr Rudolf (North West legislature) noted an assumption on the part of the provincial government that the council contained insufficient capacity. Training programmes in the North West should be addressing shortfalls as the staff had the potential to deliver. A task team was needed that would oversee intervention and report quarterly to the NCOP and the R30 million should be utilised to assist.

Mr D Worth (DA) asked whether the municipality was solvent or not and whether a current financial statement could be provided to the Committee.

Mr K Mokoena (ANC) expressed sympathy for the Mayor and MEC and remarked that the dispute should not be allowed to continue. The intervention was not intended to dismiss existing officials but contribute to enhanced service delivery. The Mayor had to be included in the process and co-operate with the decisions reached. The tensions currently prevailing had to be removed.

Ms Hlangwana stated that she had no intention of not working in partnership with the MEC but felt uncomfortable due to the lack of certainty over her role and position. The MEC did not want to communicate and seemed intent on marginalising the Mayor. The intervention was originally intended for 180 days and confusion reigned over the timeframe. Council Directors should sign performance contracts and the debt collection process was improving. The provincial government had to restore payment to the municipality and the debt reduced. Staff litigation should be resolved and new members appointed. The acting municipal manager should report to the Mayor to improve administration. The previous manager had been suspended for one year and the case had to be resolved.

The Chairperson stated that a working relationship should be cultivated between the Mayor and MEC and elected leaders should provide an example.

Ms Hlangwana stated that the desired working relationship was one of debate and discussion rather than instruction from the top. Responses were sought from the MEC on certain issues and should be provided. The MEC tended to operate in a dictatorial fashion.

The Speaker stated that the councillors wanted the return of the suspended manager. The council operated in a satisfactory manner and issues were debated. New mechanisms had been developed such as a reporting system and other administrative requirements to improve delivery. Training was needed to increase capacity of the council.

Mr Vilakazi replied that the issue of the acting manager versus the implementing agent had been debated at length but a decision had to be taken to initiate intervention. Section 139 would not have been in effect if powers had been returned to the Mayor. Section 139 could be reversed once stabilisation had occurred. Numerous problems remained that had to be rectified before removal could occur. The acting municipal manager was in the municipality on a daily basis and communication should take place. The intervention was scheduled to end in December but might continue for a further three months. The intervention was not time-bound in the beginning and reviews had taken place. The culture had to change within the municipality which required time. The views of the Mayor were considered but decisions had to be made and the implementing agent was necessary to ensure control. Communication with the Mayor would be improved but implementation of Section 139 was critical and an agent was crucial. SALGA was involved in devising appropriate strategies and the matter would be approached in an objective way. The priority of the MEC was to ensure a successful intervention.

The Chairperson stated that another session was necessary to properly address all the issues and receive briefings on the strategy devised. The Mayor had to provide plans for continuing with the intervention once the provincial government had withdrawn. Apparently no plans currently existed.

Ms Hlangwana responded that no discussion had occurred regarding the involvement of SALGA and this was an example of marginalisation.

The Chairperson suggested that communication strategies be considered to reduce lack of information. Intervention meant that the existing executive had to step aside and allow the provincial authorities to make decisions. The council would remain but fall under the interim manager and the MEC. The challenge was to allow the Mayor to remain involved while not reverting to normal authority. The views of the Mayor could be adopted or ignored. This remained the prerogative of the MEC who had to clearly state the operating system to all concerned.

Mr Moseki recommended a meeting between the MEC and the acting manager and the council to reduce potential for conflict. The meeting should occur on a regular basis. A meeting between the Mayor and the acting manager should take place weekly to ensure understanding of the process and promote service delivery.

Mr Mokoena proposed that the Mayor and municipal manager meet on a regular basis but meetings between the MEC and the Mayor would be unrealistic. The acting manager should keep the Mayor informed of developments.

Mr Mzizi asserted that the role of the acting manager in assuming total power was incorrect and contributed to the dilemma. Co-operation should have been encouraged and discussion cultivated. The position of the Mayor relative to the process had to be improved.

The Chairperson suggested that the MEC work with the Mayor to remove tensions and regular meetings between the implementing agent and Mayor should occur.

Mr Moseki recommended that the Committee receive regular reporting on the intervention until concluded.

The Chairperson stated that a business plan was required outlining the remainder of the implementation plan and the remaining tasks and timeframes. A report should explain how interaction between the parties would occur

The SALGA representative stated that the report should explain the role to be played by the Mayor and council in the remaining process. The co-operation of the Mayor would enhance the intervention and ensure success.

The Chairperson concurred that the support of the council was critical to increase the chance of the objectives being achieved.

Mr Vilakazi committed to increased meetings between the interim manager and the Mayor and the Mayor and himself. A broad implementation plan would be devised as part of the review process. An official report would be submitted to the Committee after the provincial executive-council meeting next week. Monitoring would continue after the intervention had ended to consolidate the achievements.

The meeting was adjourned.

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