Northern Cape Provincial Government on its COVID-19 response plans; MEC on Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs on status of all municipalities under S139 in the province
20 August 2020
The Northern Cape Provincial Government (NCPG) presented its COVID-19 response plan covering: Provincial Command Council (PCC); Department of Health (DOH); Department of Education (DOE); Department of Cooperative Governance, Human Settlement and Traditional affairs (COGHSTA); Department of Social Development (DSD); and South African Social Security Agency (SASSA).
The ensuing discussion by the Committee included: Covid-19 testing output; availability of hospital beds, clinics, quarantine sites and Disaster Management Centre; misuse of Covid-19 procurement for private gain; request for full particulars of all personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement; availability of PPE; low expenditure of Covid-19 funding; non-spending on water and sanitation; resourcing of Covid-19 interventions at schools; non-operational schools due to water and sanitation challenges; electricity and transport issues in schools; social distancing in schools and provision of additional temporary classrooms; school closure after identification of a positive Covid-19 case; recruitment criteria for substitute teachers; Tshela Consulting training of educators; DOE volunteer recruitment and stipend; schooling nutrition and feeding schemes; food distribution for needy households; de-densification of informal settlements; high electricity tariffs in Sol Plaatje municipality; pit toilet project costs; unfinished projects; amalgamation of municipalities in Northern Cape and their challenges; provincial drought plan; disaster management plans and lack of a provinical disaster management centre; NCPG filling of vacant posts; COGHSTA disaster management unit; non-invitation to district command council meetings; Sol Plaatje Local Municipality Section 106 report; and underspending of Municipal Disaster Relief Grant.
COGHSTA briefed the Committee on the progress made in the Section 139(1)(c) intervention in Phokwane Local Municipality.
Committee members asked about Section 139(1)(c) of the Constitution; the situation leading to the intervention; late submission of annual financial statements; non-compliance with municipal reporting; failure to approve budgets; financial problems; delay in dissolving the Municipal Council; appointment of qualified personnel and consultants; exorbitant tariff increases due to poor revenue collection; support from departments; Eskom and Sedibeng Water; the Administrator's qualifications and suspected tender corruption involving a security company. Their disaster management plan as well as other requested reports and further responses required from COGHSTA would be submitted to the Committee in writing.
The Chairperson noted that the Northern Cape Premier, Dr Zamani Saul, was not present in the virtual meeting.
Mr Justice Bekebeke, NCPG Director-General, explained that the Premier had the link to the virtual meeting but would probably not log into the meeting as he had left an earlier meeting after feeling unwell. He was not sure how the Premier currently felt. Ms Nontobeko Vilakazi, Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Social Development was also the Acting MEC for Education.
The Chairperson asked who the Northern Cape delegation leader was in the Premier's absence.
Mr Bentley Vass, MEC: Cooperative Governance, NCPG, said he would stand in for the Premier.
The Chairperson said that the Committee joined with the NCPG and their province in mourning the loss of Mr Ntsikelelo MacCollen Jack, former Northern Cape MEC for Education, to Covid-19. The Committee conveyed their heartfelt condolences to the NCPG, his family, and friends. The Committee observed a moment of silence in his honour.
As seen from the presentations received from the NCPG, the Northern Cape had the fewest number of positive Covid-19 cases in the country. However, the concern of the Committee was that they were not certain whether the province had done enough testing – especially given its vast geographical size. The Northern Cape’s testing analysis as per its report indicated that as at 16 August 2020, the province had tested 5.5% of the population of 1.2 million people. This was approximately 60 000 people. The province needed to assist the Committee to understand if this level of testing was adequate. The Northern Cape was the only province to have recorded fewer than 100 Covid-19 deaths. At the same time, it was noted that the province had placed an order for 5 000 body bags to the value of R3.2 million. Fortunately the province had not yet received or paid for the order otherwise it would have been a seriously problem given the low mortality level. As the NCPG was aware, the topical issue in South Africa was the misuse of Covid-19 procurement for private gain. Citizens were demanding increased transparency in the awarding of these tenders.
The Committee appreciated that the presentation broke down the Covid-19 expenditure by department, as well as the cost of food parcel allocation by district. This was the first time this was seen in a provincial presentation. DOH had provided the spending allocations for additional staff, oxygen capacity for in-patients, additional in-patient structures, medical equipment, and quarantine isolation facilities. Likewise, Education provided expenditure figures for Covid-19 resourcing in schools. This was commendable. However, it was known that citizens were demanding a deeper level of transparency about the companies and individuals appointed to supply Covid-19 goods and services – including the number of awarded contracts and their value. This aspect did not appear clearly in the NCPG sectoral presentations. The Committee encouraged the NCPG to give this matter some serious scrutiny.
One of the key interventions to limit the spread of Covid-19 was the frequent washing of hands, which required the provision of water and sanitation. For the Committee, it was very concerning that the Northern Cape DOE had committed to spending R47 million for provision of water and sanitation at schools yet the presentation indicated that as at 31 July 2020, none of this money had been spent. This had immediate disruptive consequences as some School Governing Bodies (SGBs) had issued letters to parents requesting them not to send learners to school due to the sanitation challenges. It was observed in the media that some communities had protested against the phasing-in of learners with the main reason being the water challenges. The presentation even indicated that four schools were currently non-operational due to water and sanitation challenges. The Committee wanted to see the NCPG making drastic improvements on this. The Committee needed to get an assurance that the Northern Cape was equal to the task of Covid-19 issues. If time permitted, Mr Vass would brief the Committee on the state of intervention in Phokwane Local Municipality and address its serious audit challenges. The Committee appreciated the NCPG having joined the meeting in their numbers, and they saw that the NCPG did not have a problem with accounting to Parliament.
Northern Cape Covid-19 Response Plan
Mr Bentley Vass, MEC: Cooperative Governance , thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present. The Chairperson had raised a number of issues that had to be looked into as a province in its Covid-19 challenges with water, sanitation and the availability of PPE. The Northern Cape was committed to ensuring that it addressed all outstanding issues. Covid-19 was new to everyone, with no preparation in advance and swift action was needed to ensure lives were saved and people stayed healthy. The Northern Cape had a low number of Covid-19 cases. He agreed that looking at its population of 1.2 million people, it had tested only 60 000. A broad explanation would be given about where the Northern Cape was with its testing.
Provincial Command Council (PCC)
Mr Justice Bekebeke, NCPG Director-General, covered the responses from the PCC.
After the proclamation of the state of disaster, the Premier set up the PCC established under the leadership of the Premier. Technical teams were established to plan, implement and monitor those measures legislated and beyond, to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the people of the Province. These were: Provincial Joint Committee (Provjoints) with Co-Chairs being the South African Police Service Provincial Commissioner; State Security Agency and DOH Acting Head of Department. The five District Joint Operational Committees were led by the Executive Mayors of District Councils, which submit reports to the Provjoints and the Provincial Disaster Management Centre. The Provincial Disaster Management Centre submits daily Covid-19 reports to the National Disaster Management Centre through the Nerve Centre and the Situation Reporting System. A Municipal Manager Forum has also been established.
The big spenders for Northern Cape Covid-19 expenditure were DOH (R54 146 138) DOE (R24 866 356.59) and DSD (R1 323 042.50). Total expenditure was R91 310 182 excluding the DSD social relief fund. Total expenditure including social relief was R127 815 180. The DSD Social Relief was R36 504 998.35. Provincial food parcels was R14 895 000 Other expenditure was R176 886 and the rest was split amongst districts.
In response to the Chairperson asking about the Acting HOD for the Department of Health, Mr Bekebeke confirmed that there was an Acting HOD for DOH as the position had been vacated. The NCPG was in the process of advertising the position which would be filled as soon as the measures had been taken to fill the position.
The Chairperson asked how long the position had been vacant.
Mr Bekebeke said that the vacancy was going towards a second month.
The Chairperson explained that the Committee was interested because it could not afford to have vacant positions. The NCPG was to ensure that it met all its commitments.
Mr Bekebeke agreed with the Chairperson.
The Chairperson noted the COGTA Deputy Minister had asked to be excused from the meeting due to ill health.
Department of Health
Mr Maruping Lekwene, Acting HOD: DOH, NCPG, noted the 1.2 million people in the Northern Cape which had 6 203 positive Covid-19 cases per million as at 16 August 2020. On 19 August 2020, the Northern Cape was at 8341 positive Covid-19 cases, 100 deaths, and 4961 recoveries.
By 16 August the most screenings had been done in Pixley ka Seme, with 762 228 screenings, and the fewest screenings had been done in Namakwa with 390 648 screenings. Total screenings per 100 000 were: Frances Baard (7 260), John Taolo Gaetsewe (3 942), Namakwa (1 296), Pixley ka Seme (9 426), and ZF Mgcawu (3 267). Those bearing the brunt of Covid-19 were between the ages of 20-60 years old and 53% of the cases were female. Hospitalisations at 5 July 2020 indicated 12 private and public hospital beds occupied. By 19 July 2020 this increased to 31 hospitalisations, and jumped to 107 hospitalisations by 16 August 2020. The peak should be reached towards the end of September. The death analysis as at 16 August 2020 with a total of 94 deaths, with most deaths being in Frances Baard (59) with a fatality rate of 1.4%.
Co-morbidities associated with Covid-19 show diabetes present in 60% of the deaths; hypertension present in 37% of deaths; renal failure present in 16% of deaths; and cardiovascular present in 13% of deaths. There has been an increase in Covid-19 infections amongst staff with: nurse (101), ems personnel (8), pharmacists (6), medical officers (24), CHW (36), other (125), allied worker (10), and provincial offices (7) – amounting to a 317 Covid-19 cases. There has been an increase in new cases ranging from 19% to 57% amongst districts as at 16 August 2020. The hotspot districts above 200 cases per 100 000 people are: Frances Baard (213 cases); John Taolo Gaetsewe (252 cases); and Pixley ka Seme (254 cases).
The Northern Cape Department of Roads & Public Works has identified facilities for quarantine sites. The priority is to activate state-owned facilities before private facilities to maximise budget availability. Northern Cape DOH currently has 26 quarantine facilities ready for use, with a target of 1295 beds – of these, 12 facilities have been activated. A few quarantine sites are sponsored by the private sector for utilisation. The bed planning “National DOH Dr Crisp Model” has required the province to prepare 2076 general beds, 634 high care beds, and 27 intensive care beds. At the 85% bed capacity, the province has prepared 2 234 general and high care beds, and 64 intensive care beds. Additional beds under consideration include up to 1 257 general and high care beds, and 55 intensive care beds. Oxygen delivery systems (such as nasal prongs and Constant Positive Airway Pressure), should be available as required.
The National Covid-19 Epi Model Dashboard was developed by RSA COVID-19 Modelling Consortium to provide interactive projections of estimated COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths. The Northern Cape projected peak is by 20 September 2020 with around 20 000 active cases. The Northern Cape has provided beyond the projected hospital bed needs. The environmental health practitioners in Pixley ka Seme have been terminated due to budget constraints. The DOH and COGTA MECs will approach the Office of the Premier to resolve this.
Mid-Term Budget Reprioritisation: Provincial top up on equitable share is R396.8 million; HIV conditional grant is R100 million; Equitable share is R76.6 million; Shifted from other conditional grants is R51 million; and R6.2 million from the Disaster Relief Fund. PPE orders placed was R70 million while PPE received and paid for is R51.8 million. The 12 month contract nursing appointments cost R74 million.
Department of Education
Mr Thomas Van Staden, HOD: DOE, NCPG, presented on DOE resourcing of Covid-19 interventions, pressure points and service delivery limitations, partnerships, and readiness to receive learners on 24 August 2020.
The framework for curriculum recovery centres on extension of teaching and learning time and curriculum interventions. Grades 7 and 12 are expected to attend school every day. All schools are using revised Annual Teaching Plans. On-site support for teachers and learners include: extra-classes; spring camps; weekend lock-in sessions; e-learning solutions; provision of learning support materials through electronic and print medial; communities of practice working sessions for educators; teacher development activities; itinerant /lead teacher programme; and psycho-social support.
National School Nutrition Programme: total learners benefitting are 267 427 learners in the province. The total Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners being fed are 19 127 learners. The number being fed who are not back at school are 72 227 learners. The School Covid-19 Core Orientation Team (SCCOT) will be responsible for the orientation and monitoring of the utilization of masks by learners and all staff members at public ordinary and special schools. Life Orientation teachers, as part of the SCCOT will also assist with the monitoring of the use of masks by learners and staff. Screeners will assist with the periodic monitoring throughout the day. Teachers will be expected to do ground duty during breaks to monitor the use of masks by learners. Class and subject teachers will at all times monitor the utilization of masks in the classroom.
The resourcing of Covid-19 interventions as at 31 July 2020 was an expenditure of R83.3 million. A number of challenges in terms of water and sanitation has been exposed in schools, amounting to a total cost of R47 million which has not been spent yet. The average daily learner attendance for 11 – 14 August 2020 was 51.98% for Grade 7 and 77.16% for Grade 12 learners. Measures in place to curb school disruptions include: Regular engagement with stakeholders through the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign Programme. Corrective Maintenance of infrastructure challenges was conducted at 107 schools that were vandalized during the lockdown period of R5.9 million. All work on the vandalised schools is expected to be completed by 24 August 2020. Four schools were currently closed due to water and sanitation challenges, but this would be resolved or alternative arrangements will be found to allow for students to return to school.
The provincial summary of confirmed Covid-19 cases at schools as at 17 August 2020: 127 schools were affected, 144 educators tested positive, 194 learners tested positive, and 13 other staff tested positive. 1 110 teachers in the province have approved concession for co-morbidities. Substitute educators required due to the approved concessions will cost R228.6 million to provide 1 110 educators for six months. Mechanisms are in place to ensure that schools do not run out of Covid-19 essentials.
Department of Social Development
Ms Nontobeko Vilakazi, Northern Cape MEC for Social Development, outlined the situational analysis for food security in the province, strategy for the initial period of lockdown; household distribution per district to date; revised current strategy; partnerships; budget/expenditure; lessons learned/challenges experienced; shelters for the homeless; collaboration with municipalities on shelter challenges.
The Northern Cape has the second highest level of food insecurity in the country. According to the Stats SA General Household Survey 2018, approximately 47 626 households in the Northern Cape are experiencing hunger, which is the cohort targeted during the lockdown. However, addressing food insecurity has been insufficient due to budgetary constraints. The strategy during the initial Lockdown 5 included the suspension of cooked meals through funded Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) and the provision of food parcels to vulnerable households with no income. To date, 58 136 food parcels have been distributed to households, reaching an average total of 263 160 people.
SASSA introduced the comprehensive social relief of distress package to address hunger through increasing the pension and child grant allocations and introduction of the Covid-19 grant of R350. The revised current strategy to address hunger is primarily food provision through DSD funded NPOs. There are 143 Food Projects located in poverty pockets plus 14 Older Persons Service Centres in the province. The plan is to open mid-September and put in place Covid-19 safety protocols to feed 31 000 people five days a week during the Covid-19 period. However, an influx is expected. The Northern Cape is advocating for a voucher programme to replace food parcels. It will however maintain food parcels in areas where vouchers will not work. The value of the voucher or parcel is R600 on an application basis.
DSD reprioritised its budget within its existing allocation: Social Relief of Distress Budget increased by R36 million to cover costs for procurement of 37 853 food parcels. Cost Per Food Parcel was reduced because of budget constraints to R600. The DSD appointed 282 Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises throughout the Province. For the revised strategy, DSD received an additional R20 million from Provincial Treasury through Adjustment Budget Process.
Government is generally overwhelmed by the emergency food parcel distribution and not able to scale up fast enough to reach everyone needing food. There are challenges of supplier capacity to deliver the quantities required. There are time delays in delivering food on time. Provision of food parcels has raised concerns about dignity, has become expensive and is putting pressure on the Northern Cape DSD budget. Food parcel distribution has attracted community and political dynamics. There is a lack of integration and the risk of double-dipping. Engagements with National DSD are ongoing.
There were 12 shelters in the province housing 87 people and rendering various services. All the residents at these shelters have been re-unified with family members or were assisted to return to their homes in other provinces. There is currently no need for the shelters to be operational, but they can be re-opened.
Department of Cooperative Governance, Human Settlement & Traditional Affairs
Mr Bafedile Lenkoe, HOD: COGHSTA, NCPG, spoke to the Department's Covid-19 Interventions; Traditional Community Covid-19 Interventions; Municipal Covid-19 Interventions; storage tanks and water trucks; and Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) Expenditure.
Water and sanitation are pivotal during Covid-19. Tanks were allocated to the districts, of which most tanks stands are completed and in use. COGHSTA had spent R14 million of the budget on this. The Annual Performance Plan had to be reviewed and realigned. COGHSTA has the oversight responsibility for the Provincial Disaster Management Centre which has been done in all five districts. COGHSTA administered the Disaster Relief Grant where the DOH was allocated R6 million and it monitored the Municipal Disaster Relief Grant of R3.1 million. There was an outcry from municipalities that the Covid-19 budget was insufficient. South32 donated items to traditional leaders to combat the spread of Covid-19 amounting to R150 000.
Mr C Brink (DA) said that there had been a wave of anger across the country about corruption and flouting of regulations for Covid-19 PPE procurement. Will the Northern Cape consider what the Western Cape has done which is to commit to publishing all of the details of PPE procurement for public viewing? This would include publishing the suppliers, amounts, dates and quantities on the government website. Mention was made of R83 million that the Northern Cape procured for PPE. Slide 75 states that Northern Cape DOE appointed Tshela Consulting to orientate and train the SGB members in the revised Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for dealing with Covid-19 circumstances. How much did DOE pay Tshela Consulting for this service? Could the full particulars of all PPE procurement since March be published and made public?
Mr K Ceza (EFF) asked COGHSTA if there was a disinfection and de-densification of informal settlements. How much was this? None of this was mentioned by COGHSTA. Northern Cape DSD said that 47 600 people were experiencing hunger due to food insecurity even though the area was surrounded by farms. He did not understand this because it was often said that farmers in South African provided food. How were the donations received by DSD inculcated into the distribution of food for needy households? What was the criteria? Who was distributing the food? Phokwane Local Municipality built one pit toilet project of 49 pit toilets costing R9.5 million. How can 49 pit toilets have a R9.5 million budget? A pit toilet was something he could do on his own and finish with his bare hands, so he did not understand this.
How many unemployed substitute teachers have been absorbed by the DOE and what are their working conditions? What is the recruitment criteria for the province as there are 1 495 teachers with co-morbidities? The municipality said the water reservoir in Pampierstad is 90% done. However, when going there one finds this was a lie as it is 50% done. There were many other projects which were unfinished such as the stadium with a R11 million budget where a R3 million lawn was bought and left as an unfinished project. Does this not amount to fruitless and wasteful expenditure if companies leave the projects unfinished? What would the turnaround strategy be for the unfinished projects? The walls were not finished but there were 30 000 shacks for security guards guarding all municipal properties. The NCOP Select Committee reported that the Administrator for Phokwane Local Municipality, Mr Bamba Ndwandwe, does not have qualifications. Has the province implemented the Select Committee recommendations on what needed to be done about Mr Ndwandwe?
The Chairperson noted that this question should be reserved for the next presentation on the Phokwane Local Municipality Section 139 intervention.
Mr Ceza asked COGHSTA about Magareng municipality water provision and sanitation. The community had not had access to water for years. A memorandum was always submitted to the province but nothing was done. What was the position of the province on this? When is the province going to ensure that the water in Magareng municipality is addressed in a sustainable way?
Ms H Mkhaliphi (EFF) asked the Northern Cape DOE how many schools were not able to reopen at the end of June? Could a list of these schools per district be provided to the Committee as well as reasons why they did not reopen? On water provision to schools, some of the schools did not have access to water. Could the number of affected schools be shared with the Committee, as well as the contingency plans for these schools that could not reopen? As seen on the news, volunteers recruited by DOE were promised R3 500. However, there was an outcry that the volunteers had not received the promised amount. How was this resolved? How many volunteers were recruited to screen learners? Why has DOE failed to honour this? She referred to Sol Plaatje Municipality where the flats built in Lerato Park in 2006-2007 still did not have occupants. Why are the flats still not completed when the people of the Northern Cape are desperate for housing?
Ward 7 in Sol Plaatje Municipality was also recently on the news. They were warned by the independent councillor. There was an issue that those who were in leadership in the Northern Cape had built one house. The community of Ward 7 was up in arms. The ward councillor distanced himself from the building of the house because the people of ward 7 were asking why the community was not benefitting. When the Committee asks questions it is not for themselves, but for the people on the ground who do not have answers. No one from the municipality went and clarified the confusion in ward 7. As a result, the councillor was on the side of the community because he could not clarify the concern about one house built in the community.
She brought to the attention of Mr Vass that there was a long outstanding issue. The John Taolo Gaetsewe district was once under North West but it was integrated into the Northern Cape as well as the Mapinick (1:52:06) community. As a result, there are two groups of farmers there that do not know their status. No one seems to care about them. They were fighting amongst themselves as both groups believed that the area belonged to them and they were also fighting over stock. The farmers had been knocking on various department doors but the provincial government leadership was not giving them attention. The farmers were physically fighting over resources. What was being done about this long ongoing fight without solution? Many had died because of this.
Ms G Opperman (DA) said that during the pandemic, innovative ways had to be found to communicate with voters, residents and people on the ground. Earlier that day, she had posed a question on Facebook asking Northern Cape residents to note their concerns. She would ask questions on behalf of the residents of the Northern Cape which was the province she represented. In Mier municipality, all Covid-19 tenders went to family members of state employees. Could this allegation be investigated and the Committee furnished with the complete list of Covid-19 tenders in the Northern Cape, indicating the successful bidders and the value of each contract? A principal in Steinkopf had a great concern about education. The Steinkopf school hostel had been without electricity for some time now. As a result, only the Grade 12 learners within Steinkopf and not the those residing in the hostel could receive schooling. A complaint had been laid with the Human Rights Commission because there was no help from DOE. How could the DOE assist him? Schools were opening for Grade 9, 10, and 11 on 24 August and for Grade 8 the following week. The children of Rooiwal, Vioolsdrift, Goodhouse, Henkries in Namaqualand all had to travel to Steinkopf hostel. Currently, the children did not have transport and school was starting on Monday. How will DOE assist the learners coming from the poorest areas in Namaqualand to get to school so that they could attend school and stay in the hostel that was without electricity?
There was a safety concern for schools opening on 24 August due to overcrowding of learners and educators. Why has DOE spent zero of the money for the provision of additional temporary classrooms to address overcrowding? How much money was received for temporary classrooms? Why was not a cent spent? The residents of Homestead in Kimberley are saying there are heaps of waste opposite the DSD offices, even in the street, restricting the residents' access to their homes. What is the Sol Plaatje municipality going to do about this? On 11 August 2020, Kimberley and Sol Plaatje were in the news when Eskom issued a statement that Sol Plaatje municipality marked up 84% to the price Eskom sold electricity to the municipality. This made Sol Plaatje electricity the most expensive in the entire country. In a time when residents had lost their income due to Covid-19, what intervention would there be in Sol Plaatje municipality due to the high electricity tariffs? Were there enough beds for the 8 341 Covid-19 cases? Are quarantine sites ready? Was DOH prepared for the increase in cases? Was DOH satisfied with the level of testing in the province?
Ms Mkhaliphi referred to Ward 32, Platfontein, which was also a sad story that the ward councillor unfortunately did not care about. This was about the two San communities, Khwe and Xun. She had visited the one leader. The state of the house that the leader, in the form of a king, lived in was very bad and she had even taken a video. The king had told her that there was no Northern Cape leader speaking about the situation regardless of the fact that he was king of the tribe. His tribe was well-known in the area but the dignity of the tribe had to be dealt with. Why was the provincial leadership neglecting these people? Why were the tribes finding themselves living as pigs? When municipalities were visited, the Committee should go to this community. The boundary that separated the tribes was a school, and quite often there was some fighting even if not physical. The government did not take care of them.
Ms Mkhaliphi noted that the houses built in 2012 in Barkley West were still incomplete. The houses did not have sanitation or water. Some of the houses were still at foundation level since 2012. People wanted to move in but could not and there was no explanation from the Department of Housing. Mr Vass needed to explain this to the Committee because it seemed as if housing in the entire Northern Cape was being ignored despite the need for basic infrastructure.
The Chairperson asked Mr Vass to respond to her concern that 5.5% of the population had been tested. To what extent was he satisfied with this level of testing? Slide 59 indicated that before Covid-19, DOE contracted 224 operators to transport 24 544 learners. What happened to these contracts during lockdown and closure of schools? Are these operators still on the DOE payroll, given that fewer learners needed transportation? The same question could be asked about school nutrition and feeding schemes. Some suppliers were still providing food. Who was this food being supplied to because some grades were not going to school? Were children being given food and then sent home? What was the status quo? DOE appointed Tshela Consulting to orientate SGB and senior management on the Covid-19 SOP. How much did DOE pay this company? How many educators had been trained? Slide 117 outlined a highly convoluted process for a school closure if there was a positive Covid-19 case. Looking at this process, there was no value in closing the school as a substantial amount of time elapsed before the school obtained permission to close. The virus would spread while waiting for the permission. Thembelihle Local Municipality on slide 164 had spent 0% of the R9.4 million MIG budget allocation for the financial year ending June 2020 due to non-compliance with reporting requirements. Why is this the only municipality in the whole province that had not spent anything? What intervention and support measures are in place to assist this and similar municipalities to spend the MIG?
The Chairperson noted that there was non-reporting on Covid-19 funding allocated through the disaster grants by National COGTA. On 6 May 2020 municipalities received a collective amount of R3.1 million. As of 19 August 2020, the collective provincial spending stood at R268 000. This was very concerning as the money was meant to contribute to the fight against Covid-19 by procuring PPE. Could this low level of spending be confirmed? How was this being remedied? When would municipalities reach 100% spending? The success of the Covid-19 response depended on the capacity of the provincial and municipal Disaster Management Centres. Was there a provincial Disaster Management Centre and how many staff were there and was this adequate? If not, what was being done to capacitate it and what were the timeframes? Linked to Covid-19, was the drought challenge. The Northern Cape was an arid province. Drought was the new normal that the province had to adapt to and build resilience amongst communities – especially farming communities. Was there a provincial drought plan to mitigate this, including a response plan by all sectors? If so, could this plan be submitted to the Committee by 26 August? The Committee requested practical plans taking into account the current drought. If not, what are the plans and timeframes to put a drought plan in place?
The Committee was told that the Northern Cape was the most compliant province when it came to disaster management. Is there a disaster management plan for the province in terms of section 39 of the Disaster Management Act? If so, could it be shared with the Committee? If not, when would it be developed and funded for implementation? Is there a provincial disaster management plan for DOH in terms of section 38 of that Act? If so, can it be shared with the Committee? If not, when will it be developed and funded? Section 38 was very prescriptive on health – it could not be an emergency response as the plan had to cover infrastructure, epidemics etc. COGTA's website on the National Disaster Management Centre had crafted policy guidelines for the development of such plans.
Mr Vass replied that the Northern Cape had nothing to hide about publishing PPE procurement information as they were a province of open governance. The Northern Cape was ready to submit this information, some of which was already submitted to the Minister. However, all the outstanding information on PPE procurement would be provided to the Committee as soon as possible.
Mr Van Staden replied that he did not have the full details on Tshela Consulting in front of him. The province would provide the Committee with a detailed breakdown in writing of the costing and number of participants that benefitted from the training. On the unemployed educators and how many substitute teachers were absorbed, there are just over 1 000 educators with co-morbidities. However, the province recruited about 1 195 unemployed educators for appointment as part of the strategy to replace the educators with co-morbidities. The educators that would be recruited in most of cases would be recruited under the same terms and conditions as permanent educators and substitutes. However, due to the high costs, the Department of Basic Education had devised a plan to hire education assistants who are youth that would assist educators working from home to maintain order in the classrooms and assist the learners with getting on with the lesson plans provided by the educators at home. Unemployed educators were also recruited through online databases and recruitment strategies that were rolled out in the different districts.
On how many schools had not reopened, there was also a full detailed list all schools closed per district that would be provided to the Committee. There were a number of reasons schools had not reopened on 8 June 2020. Some of the reasons were that, in the early days of the pandemic, there was an outbreak in the Pixley ka Seme district and 16 schools could not open for a week. The 16 schools had to go through a disinfection process, testing and recovering. There were also a number of schools that had infrastructure, water, and sanitation challenges. However, the schools that were closed did not remain closed for extended periods – possibly only staying closed for a week or two.
The province had addressed the problem of the screeners not paid the promised stipend. The number of screeners appointed for this period was 1 976. A norm was used according to the number of learners at a school needing to be screened, to determine how many screeners. The screeners were recruited through the SGBs and principals due to the short timeframe. There was never an advertisement for screeners so the advertisement found in newspapers was not authentic as neither national nor provincial department put it out. DOE never promised R3 500 and had started with a stipend of R2 500. The Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) advised DOE on the R2 500 stipend which all screeners in the province were currently being paid. Therefore, the matter had been addressed and screeners were being paid at an EPWP rate.
The Steinkopf hostel without electricity would be looked into. He would make a call to the district to find out what the problem was and intervene immediately if anything needed to be done before schools reopened on Monday. On overcrowding and the provision of temporary classrooms, when looking at possible overcrowding in the Northern Cape there was a problem – as would be seen in all provinces. However, models were proposed such as alternative days for school, platooning, and alternative week schooling to ensure that schools are not overcrowded. The curriculum had thus been adjusted to address the overcrowding problem by ensuring that learners were not all at school at the same time.
There was a court order for the feeding of learners. Throughout the lockdown, the province had been feeding learners who were not at school. The province had used radio jingles, flyers and community outreach programmes to ensure that the parents of learners were alerted to collect daily cooked meals at schools. Learners were not required to go to the school at which they were registered but were to go to the school nearest to their house to fetch a cooked meal every day. Alternatively, learners could register to fetch food parcels which was also distributed to learners through the schools.
On the process for the closure of schools, this process happened within a couple of hours. The process designed in the province was that all school principals, circuit managers, district directors, and health officials were on WhatsApp groups. When there was an outbreak or positive Covid-19 case, the school principal would immediately alert the WhatsApp group that included the circuit managers, district directors and health officials. There was also a protocol whereby if a response is not received within a specified timeframe, the principal could continue to introduce hygiene practices, dismiss the learners, and arrange for the cleaning of the school. There were formal agreements with DOH to ensure weekly meetings with all stakeholders so health and social distancing practices in schools could be addressed. He reiterated that about 16 schools had not reopened on 8 June 2020. The written report on this would be provided to the Committee.
The Chairperson requested it be provided by 25 August and Mr Van Staden confirmed this.
Mr Lekwene, DOH Acting HOD, confirmed that 69 000 people had been tested but more than 2 million people had been screened. The testing figure appeared very low, but it was not that bad given that province stood sixth in the country for testing based on its population. Its centres did not do random testing but test per case determination guidelines where for anyone to do testing, there had to be Covid-19 symptoms. This had reduced the high numbers for testing. There was also the matter of underreporting of the infection rate when testing was not done. However, the Northern Cape and other provinces strongly felt that the virus could not be hidden. If there were a high number of people testing positive, this would have been seen in the hospitals through people dying – which had not happened in the province. The statistics were thus quite good, but were not impressive compared to other provinces. The Northern Cape had 8 341 infections with 4 900+ recovered and 100 deceased.
There was a clear mandate from the Ministers of Health and Finance who directed provinces to list all PPE beneficiaries in the province along with their details. A template was provided on what information to provide. This was supposed to have been submitted two weeks prior, which the Northern Cape had done. The province was told that the report would be tabled in Parliament. The report had also been given to the Premier. The Premier had a meeting the previous week with all the political parties in the province. All those leaders in the province could have copies made available to them. Mr Vass was correct in saying that the Northern Cape had nothing to hide. Any information would be made available because the Northern Cape DOH knew that they needed to account adequately and properly. To date, no queries had been received. If there were a query about a PPE service provider, DOH would account. If there were follow ups in terms of investigations to be made, DOH would be willing to do this as there was nothing to hide.
Mr Lekwene reported that there were no PPE shortages within the province. There were just some areas where PPE was a bit poorly managed such as where PPE was present but not properly accessible to one or two workers. Attention was being paid to these areas given the vastness of the Northern Cape. To date no reports of misuse of PPE funds had been received or contested by parties. The report was ready to be made public to all political parties. In the previous week, the Northern Cape DOH was summoned by the provincial legislature's portfolio committee on health to give a proper account and report back on PPE and work being done around Covid-19. On the allegation about Namakwa and all the PPE tenders being given to one family, he was not sure if that was from DOH or from another department or a municipality which also procured some PPE. To date, there had been no query, report or incident received from Namakwa on PPE. It was known that this was a topical and highly contested matter, which is why DOH was vigilant and very cooperative with all stakeholders to give an account of the province.
The Acting HOD report was detailed on its modelling for beds based on national government requirements. The province was required to have 2 076 beds with 60 to 80 intensive care beds and 500 high care beds. The Northern Cape’s Covid-19 storm would be September 2020. The province was now approaching the eye of the storm and more than 3 000 beds had been prepared. The province had secured a number of pumps and nasal prong ventilation with low and high flow oxygen. The Northern Cape had taken lessons from other provinces on quarantine sites. The Western Cape had procured almost the entire International Convention Centre but most of the beds were not used, resulting in a lot of money being lost or not spent accordingly. In the Eastern Cape they had procured a Volkswagen building and to date had not even used one bed. Gauteng had procured the Nasrec Expo Centre with 4 300 beds but had only used a few beds, meaning that more months were spent preparing for the storm but the storm had not reached the levels modelled. The Northern Cape had just signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) with some owners, most of them being bed and breakfasts. The Northern Cape had therefore learned from the big provinces on how to spend and procure quarantine sites and beds effectively. The province was ready in the five districts and if there were a hotspot then it would be in a position to respond with beds with oxygen and quarantine sites.
Businesses within the province had really come to the party. The province had received more the R120 million’s worth of health equipment which would help the province to flatten the curve and that come in handy post-Covid-19. These business had to be thanked. Some mines had built hospitals for the province, allowing an increase in beds for Covid-19. The province was busy implementing baseline screening of staff to ensure the number of fatalities amongst staff is reduced. From April this year, all patients admitted to facilities in the province were tested for Covid-19 to provide proper intervention. The province had also procured just less than R90 million’s worth of health equipment to ensure that hospitals, clinics, and community health centres are staffed to readily respond. Most clinics would be used as an intermediary response to patients. If patients became sicker there would then be referrals to hospitals for high and intensive care facilities.
MEC Vilakazi replied that the 47 626 households targeted were based on the 2018 General Household Survey from Stats SA where research had shown that number was experiencing hunger. Within the research there were variables on which food insecurity was based. It was correct that despite agriculture being a key economic sector in the province, these households were spread throughout the province and did not necessarily benefit as poor households from these agricultural sources. The province was challenged with unemployment and poverty. The criteria used for the 47 626 households was the DSD database of no-income families who were not even in receipt of a social grant. These families in distress were targeted and DSD also worked closely with municipalities and took households from the indigent list. This was where the close relationship between DSD and municipalities came from. The food was physically distributed by DSD officials only at household level. DSD entered the wards and worked closely with ward councillors on the identification of households. There were no major problem in the province.
Mr Vass replied that a number of concerns had been raised about COGHSTA. The Northern Cape government could safely say that services were rendered to the entire community of the Northern Cape irrespective of political party association. A concern was raised that some communities had been neglected, but this was not correct. The Northern Cape was a province of serious unemployment and poverty, so the NCPG had to ensure communities received the necessary support. The Northern Cape did not have a disaster centre. He lobbied the Committee to assist COGHSTA with the necessary support for a disaster centre in the Northern Cape because the province was at risk.
Mr Lenkoe, HOD: COGHSTA, gave background about the Nkandla informal settlement in Phokwane Municipality saying that there were no basic services there. Interim services had to be installed as the area was declared a hotspot which covered 500 households. The deliverables that were expected for the 500 families included a bottom slab, bottom structure, top structure, accessories, excavation, rehabilitation of the site etc. These were interim services so R9.8 million had been budgeted to cover the 500 households. The completion certificate was awaited so that it could report to Parliament. On Magareng, there was a challenge with the budget allocation for water treatment in its operations and maintenance budget. The Department of Water and Sanitation was assisting Magareng. It was a two year project to fix the water treatment plant at a cost of R91 million. For this financial year R46 million had been allocated, and the rest would be received throughout the year so that the project can be completed. During Covid-19, 130 tanks had been delivered, 4 water trucks were supplying water to the Magareng community and the South African National Defence Force also came in handy with the package plan they had for purifying water.
On Lerato Park, there had been a challenge as the company owner that had constructed the first phase had passed on and it was part of the deceased’s estate. Business rescue had followed but it did not help and the court ultimately issued a liquidation process. This process had to be entertained until there was no option left but to terminate the contract and a new contractor could be appointed. The new contractor was on site and the work would be finished soon so the management company could be started through the Sol Plaatje municipality – it was to be remembered that COGHSTA was coming in as a developer. On Ward 7 and the independent councillor, this was an arrangement of Sol Plaatje municipality but COGHSTA would get to the bottom of it and get the details about the one house that was built or supposed to be built.
On the farmers, this would be looked at in consultation with the Department of Agriculture. On the high electricity tariff, there was an article based on the report tabled by the Eskom CEO where Sol Plaatje had the highest tariff in the country. The Mayor was also looking into this report to see if it was correct. COGHSTA would come back to the Committee with a detailed report on this. COGHSTA was working closely with the Platfontein community and ward councillor. COGHSTA had requested the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) to conduct an assessment of those houses in terms of workmanship and if there were up to standard.
From a social point of view, departments were getting in assistance to ensure that communities were assisted. The recognition of a traditional leader still fell under the jurisdiction of the Minister who had to appoint a commission to investigate in terms of the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Act of 2019 that had been implemented. The commission had to come in and identify who the actual heir to the throne was. COGHSTA could not just allocate resources to the king or chief of the area. However, COGHSTA was in consultation with the National Khoisan Council and worked closely with them even at a provincial level.
The Barkley West zone had a contractor appointed by the municipality as the appointment function was allocated to it. The contractor left the site without any notice. COGHSTA ended up engaging with the council to ensure that the contractor was terminated. A new contractor was appointed based on the NHBRC assessment report to complete those few houses that were half-built.
In terms of the zero expenditure in Thembelihle, according to the municipality the contractors were on site and projects were running well. However, the main thing was the system issue in terms of reporting because the national system posed challenges when capturing. COGHSTA was hoping that the discussion with National COGTA would resolve the system reporting challenge because invoices were piling up and work done by the contractor had to be paid. The R3.1 million now standing at R268 000 would be followed up. There were regular meetings with the municipal managers every Tuesday. Reports would be requested from the municipal managers, in consultation with National Treasury, in terms of their expenditure and based on what they were supposed to be reporting to National Treasury about spending during Covid-19. A consolidated report would be requested on this.
The Northern Cape was experiencing the most severe drought since the 1960s. This has affected the Namakwa area and western part of the Northern Cape. Hence, 10% of the MIG would go towards the drought to ensure boreholes are rehabilitated and potable water provided to communities. Through the gesture of the Minister of Water and Sanitation during January, R300 million was allocated to the province. An agent had been appointed and contractors were on site to assist and deal with the drought, especially in Pixley ka Seme, Namakwa and John Taolo Gaetsewe Districts. The agricultural drought was where the need was in terms of food provision. R35 million had been received based on the assessment reports done provincially and verified and validated by the National Disaster Management Centre. There was a drought mitigation plan for risk reduction to the farming community. There were reports on how this money would be spent and fairly distributed to farmers. The Phokwane water treatment plant or reservoir was a MIG project and not part of Water and Sanitation. This was being looked into because the contractor had left the site without having linked the reservoir and water treatment plant. Hence, some areas around Pampierstad had challenges with low water pressure so water do not reach households.
Further questions and response
The Chairperson addressed COGHSTA on the information that their provincial centre had very few staff members. Could this number be shared given the Northern Cape’s disaster-prone nature?
Mr Lenkoe replied that there were seven staff led by a deputy director, with two assistant directors.
The Chairperson asked if COGHSTA had committed to doing something about this.
Mr Lenkoe confirmed that COGHSTA was looking into this through National Treasury because most of the posts were there but they were not funded. Hence, COGHSTA pleaded with the Committee about filling the vacancies in this unit. The National Disaster Management Centre was aware of this and different options were being looked at to provide assistance. In some provinces one would find the post level of a provincial disaster manager at a director level and in the big four provinces at chief director level.
The Chairperson noted that this was how the Northern Cape had decided to organise their structures. So the Committee was saying it was a matter of concern and needed to be looked at. The Northern Cape had to prioritise disaster management as the province was prone to disasters.
Ms Opperman said that Mr Lekwene had tried to answer her question but she thought he had misunderstood her. Her question was about tender corruption but she did not say from which department this was. A resident from Mier municipality said that most of the Covid19 tenders in her municipality went to family members of state employees. Could the Committee be furnished with the complete list of all Covid-19 tenders, with the successful bidders and value of each contract?
On the Provincial Command Council, Mr Vass had reached out to lobby the Committee for assistance and support. The Chairperson had already reached out to Mr Vass, the Premier, and district municipality on 23 April 2020 – which was four months ago. The Chairperson had sent a letter telling them that the Portfolio Committee had resolved to deploy Committee Members to the district command council meetings as observers. As custodians of the Disaster Management Act, the Committee was mandated to oversee the response to the pandemic and not rely on second-hand information. Consequently, as a Northern Cape representative on this Committee, her name had been forwarded to Mr Vass by the Chairperson. No response had been received from Mr Vass or the Premier. A response had been received from the Municipal Manager of Namakwa who informed the Committee that she was not needed there as there was a National Assembly MP present. That MP was not a member of the Portfolio Committee. Was this a ploy to prevent her from fulfilling her constitutional and legislated oversight mandate? If not, why have no invitations been forthcoming?
There was a R30 million tender by DOE for Grade 12 camps in Namaqualand. This was supposed to be in Kleinzee but had been postponed again. When would this commence? Is the DOE aware that purchases had already been made for this camp and now there will not be any camps for Grade 12? In 2012, when she was a ward councillor in Hantam municipality, COGHSTA promised to build 247 houses in Calvinia. When will the houses be built? Is it true that 500 additional houses will be built in Calvinia?
To DOH, two of the quarantine facilities were in her constituency, being Williston and Loeriesfontein. Who came out to do the physical verification of the quarantine facilities for their suitability? What amount was spent on Covid-19 regiments for each of these facilities? Loubos in the Mier municipality does not have a clinic, meaning that residents have to pay R1 200 to travel to the nearest health facility in Rietfontein. How will the Loubos residents be assisted to get the necessary health assistance and combat Covid-19? She had visited Brandvlei the previous day, where the clinic staff did not have PPE. However, DOH is saying there is enough PPE but that it just is not managed well. Was DOH aware Brandvlei clinic did not have PPE?
Mr Lekwene, DOH Acting HOD, apologised for not having responded to her entire question about Namakwa. If the Mier resident was saying that all PPE tenders were corrupt throughout the whole province, it was not an accurate statement for a Mier resident to speak for the whole province. There was a PPE report which accounted for PPE provided throughout the province. However, other departments had also done some work on Covid-19 preparations in the province. DOH had a consolidated report which could be made available to the Committee, as this was public knowledge and not classified information. He was not in a position to respond adequately to what had transpired in Mier in particular, given the vastness of the province.
DOH had provided a budget for quarantine sites to be identified. However, the Department of Public Works (DPW) had the core mandate and was given the responsibility to refurbish all quarantine sites in the province. There were a number of queries and complaints directed to the province, that some of the work DPW had done was not satisfactory or in some instances no work had been done. DOH had proactively requested a meeting with the DPW MEC and his team. They have agreed to meet to discuss the list of concerns DOH has about preparing the facilities as quarantine sites. This report could be furnished to the Committee after DOH had engaged with DPW. DOH did not do the actual work but just provided the budget and DPW was supposed to have done the work.
On there being no clinic in Loubos, DOH did not have clinics in all the communities due to the vastness of the Northern Cape. However, where there was no clinic there was a community health centre. All of the community health centres were not up and running or in good condition, as some of them had constraints. He would follow up on this matter with Loubos to get to the gist of the matter and establish what the actual problem was. A report on this could also be submitted to the Committee, which would reach Ms Opperman.
On Brandvlei clinic staff not having PPE, at times it was not that the staff did not have PPE but it became a contested matter because not all staff got the same PPE, which was dependant on the area of work they worked in. Some of the staff were working at the gate and did not need full PPE gear. Where there was contestation, DOH tried to engage and retrain workers through the occupational health and safety committees throughout the sector so there was a common understanding about PPE. He reiterated that there were no shortage of PPE in the province. For now the province had procured enough PPE, which had reached all the districts. There could be a challenge on actual distribution to smaller towns, knowing that the province was very vast, with lots of rural towns far from each other, with roads sometimes of poor quality. He was not making an excuse, but these challenges at times impeded on the work DOH wanted to implement.
On transparency, Mr Lekwene emphasised that if there were specific matters about PPE this had to be raised and brought to the attention of DOH so they could follow it up and account properly. Where there is just a broad accusation about PPE it made it difficult to properly respond and account for such incidents in the province. DOH was ready to account for all Covid-19 work.
The Chairperson said that DOH was to submit to the Committee its disaster management plan in terms of section 38 of the Disaster Management Act. Earlier she had also referred to the guidelines that the National Disaster Management Centre had given to assist province with regard to the disaster response management plans and how to develop the infrastructures. For DOH, the plan had to cover the issues of epidemics, infrastructure, emergency medical services etc. as per section 38. This might not be the first pandemic the Northern Cape deals with moving forward, as there could be others. Could DOH comment on this or indicate when this would be done if it was not there. This matter was part of the Committee’s responsibility and the Northern Cape was present in the meeting as the Committee had oversight over the Disaster Management Act. Is DOH able to comment on their response plan? If it is not there, is DOH able to commit their intention to start to develop a response plan?
Mr Lekwene said that he was not in the position to adequately respond to the Committee at present. He asked that DOH be given time to provide a written report on section 38 of the Disaster Management Act to provide a proper account. DOH would be able to give a written submission to the Committee on this as well as the items raised by Ms Opperman on health matters in specific areas. It would be fair to furnish the Committee with report so that matters were not left out.
The Chairperson liked the commitment from Mr Lekwene and would await his feedback. Could this be done by no later than 25 August? He was to check what was in place and tell the Committee how they intended to address matters not in place. This was a legislative requirement that needed to be complied with. The underspending of the Municipal Disaster Relief Grant of R3.1 million was money allocated by COGTA’s National Disaster Management Centre, not from National Treasury directly to COGHSTA. The underspending was creating an audit query for COGTA as it could not submit reports and account to National Treasury according to the reporting timeframe. More so, the Committee was concerned as the money was meant to assist the provincial response to Covid-19. Communities might not be receiving much needed Covid-19 support the money was meant for. Could Mr Lenkoe commit and submit the municipal reports by the end of the week to both the Committee and National COGTA?
Mr Vass responded to Ms Opperman’s question about invitations to the district meetings. He thought that Ms Opperman was attending the meetings. He would raise this with the district to ensure that she received an invitation to the meetings. The entire country was sitting with economic and financial challenges which meant that there were serious cuts in COGHSTA’s budget. On the housing project in Calvinia, COGHSTA was currently busy with the planning and design phase so that services could be started in the area. When COGHSTA rendered services as a department it was serious. COGHSTA had built a number of houses in Loeriesfontein which was in the same municipality. COGHSTA was committed to ensuring that services were brought to the Calvinia community in Hantam.
Mr Lenkoe confirmed that a follow up would be made. Money was indeed disbursed through COGTA’s National Disaster Management Centre to all the municipalities. A detailed report would be provided on expenditure. COGHSTA had asked that municipalities spend the money for Covid-19 purposes as soon as possible so there could be an upward trend in expenditure.
The Chairperson said this matter could be discussed for some time, but there were time constraints. The COGHSTA presentation on Phokwane should be made . The Committee was mindful that Phokwane was placed in administration in terms of section 139(3) of the Constitution. She commended COGHSTA for the bold decision taken in March 2020. It was now August 2020. The stipulated 90-day period for holding a by-election to elect a new council had elapsed. The by-election could not take place due to lockdown. When presented with its report in May, what prompted the Committee to call COGHSTA was what had triggered the intervention in Phokwane included the failure by council to support the administrator and implement the intervention invoked on 8 April 2019. At one point, the Committee was briefed that the municipality had two speakers and two mayors. This made it impossible to hold ordinary council meetings in terms of section 18(2) of the Municipal Structures Act and fulfil its executive obligation in terms of the Constitution. An update was expected from Mr Vass and Mr Ndwandwe on the progress of the intervention, as well as a progress report from the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent technical official seconded to the municipality to assist with assessment, service and infrastructure delivery capacity. The Office of the Auditor-General informed the Committee that it had completed and signed off the municipality’s audit for the financial year ending 2018 only on 7 March 2020. This meant that the 2018/19 financial statements were not even done and the 2018/19 audit would only be ready by 31 October 2020. The Committee would appreciate an explanation on this non-compliance with municipality reporting laws.
Members had been complaining that the meeting had been going on for some time but she believed that the Committee would be failing in its responsibilities and duties if the Committee was not briefed on this matter.
Phokwane Local Municipality Section 139 Intervention: progress report
Mr Vass said Phokwane Local Municipality was placed under intervention in terms of Section 139(1)(c) of the Constitution. The presentation dealt with governance; municipal administration; financial management; service delivery; Covid-19 interventions; and recommendations. The Phokwane intervention team was doing a good job and managed to turn around the service delivery of the municipality which was currently rendering services to the community. Part of the intervention was to prevent having two municipal speakers and two municipal mayors in one municipality. There were serious challenges in the involvement of the community in processes of council. The Provincial Executive Council adopted the budget of the municipal council because there was no budget.
Mr Lenkoe presented on financial management non-compliance; financial recovery plan; dissolution; medium term revenue and expenditure framework; proposed tariff increases; and recommendations.
COGHSTA had recommended to provincial cabinet a dissolution of the municipal council which was seized by two speakers and two mayors fighting for resources. The intervention had taken place. The major challenge at the municipality has been the vehement resistance to the intervention through disruptions and unlawful council decisions; total disregard of the Administration team; persistent lack of political leadership and oversight due to infighting by councillors supporting one or other councillor; and litigious court challenges for the positions of speaker and mayor. This caused serious financial implications for the Administration team and community as there was no budget approval. The cabinet had to assist with this including the subsequent adjustment budget.
During the January 2020 Mid-Year Budget & Performance Assessment Review it was reported that the Municipal Council had not been functional during the period under review due to litigation and reports and the adjustments budget had not been considered and approved by the Municipal Council. Revenue was coming in slowly and creditors were not serviced. The Section 71 reports reflected a danger as revenue was not coming in as it used to so other options had to be looked at. The financial recovery plan managed expenditure. The Administrator completed the cost containment policy; moratorium notice to council and staff on selected non-core activities / expenditure; and review and cancellation of unnecessary acting allowances, limiting it to bare necessity. There is a dispute with Sedibeng Water due to no value for money – COGHSTA is currently paying the current account for potable water only. There is a R78m debt to Eskom. A proposed payment plan is pending approval by Eskom.
On 12 March 2020 the Provincial Executive Council resolved in terms of section 139(1)(c) of the Constitution to dissolve the Municipal Council. The Minister, the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature (NCPL) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) were informed. The Council was dissolved and there were clear terms of reference for an Administrator that was supposed to be appointed. The dissolution takes effect 14 days from the date of receipt of the notice by the NCOP. On 15 March 2020 the Minister declared a National Disaster. Hard lockdown was implemented from 27 March 2020 which provided further impact. The NCOP acknowledged receipt of the notice. Consequently, the Premier announced the dissolution of the Municipal Council on 19 May 2020 in the Government Gazette setting out the powers and functions of the Administrator.
During the hard lockdown from 27 March to 6 May 2020 municipal councils were prohibited from holding meetings and passing the budget. On 20 May 2020 the COGHSTA MEC informed the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Minister, NCOP and the NCPL. The IEC applied for the postponement of the by-election and on 19 June 2020 the Electoral Court granted an order authorising the holding of the by-election for the entire council of the Phokwane Local Municipality. The Provincial Executive must approve a temporary budget and revenue-raising measures for 2020/21. As an interim measure, on 1 July 2020, the Administrator requested the MEC of Finance to approve the withdrawal of funds from the municipality’s bank accounts for utilisation. Approval was granted. On 29 July 2020 the Provincial Executive approved a temporary budget / revenue-raising measures for the 2020/21. Tariff increases are related to costs.
Institutional challenges include: persistent budget & operating deficit (2014/15-2019/20); negative audit opinion; property rates not linked to rate & general account; property rates levy compliance issues; trading services tariffs not cost reflective; lack of systematic revenue & debt collection; lack of infrastructure replacement programme & funding; and lack of operation and management programmes/funding gap. Before intervention, revenue collection was 43%. Revenue collection dropped in March to May 2020 to 24% due to Covid-19. In June 2020, revenue collection picked up to 97% of monthly billing. Cash flow improved significantly due to cost/expenditure management. The electricity debt is increasing with the interest linked to the debt. A payment plan was agreed to with Vaalharts Water and Eskom is considering the proposed payment plan. In terms of property rates, the Administrator needed to ensure a breakeven is reached. Cabinet approved the revenue and budget which was outlined.
In terms of expenditure, there needed to be an element of compliance in the remuneration of councillors and Phokwane must not just employ people but must render services.
Mr Vass said the COGHSTA report explain the situation at Phokwane Municipality. They were convinced they would turn around Phokwane Municipality for the better, with the support of the relevant departments.
The Chairperson asked if Members wanted to ask questions now or submit questions in writing.
Mr I Groenewald (FF+) proposed that Members ask their questions and COGHSTA respond in writing. However, if there was a clarity question then COGHSTA could quickly answer now.
Ms Mkhaliphi seconded the proposal.
Mr Ceza said that the Auditor-General reported poor audit outcomes due to key officials lacking appropriate competencies. What actions and incentives has the province taken to attract qualified personnel to rural municipalities to avoid the perpetuation of the state of rurality of municipalities? What central role did the Provincial Treasury and COGHSTA play in the appointment of consultants across the 26 local municipalities and 5 districts? What impact did the appointments have on audit outcomes, daily discipline, and effective internal controls to prevent and detect corruption? Could the Committee have clarity on the Sol Plaatje Local Municipality Section 106 report which has been on hold about the Municipal Manager and CEO? What action has COGHSTA taken to implement the NCOP recommendations? Considering the shacks in Phokwane, how many shacks were built for security guards for all municipality properties? Did this exercise not constitute unnecessary expenditure as some of these shacks had not lasted longer than a month and cost R30 000 each? He reiterated his question about Nkandla informal settlement and the 49 pit toilets in Phokwane.
In response to Mr Groenewald asking if Phokwane municipality was dissolved only in March or April 2020, Mr Ndwandwe confirmed the decision was taken in March 2020.
Ms Mkhaliphi said the presentation alluded to there being two mayor and two speakers. If this was not addressed, solutions and proper interventions would not be found. This was a political matter. The MEC was appointed in terms of deployment and political affiliation to a certain ruling party. It had been a norm that when there was a certain municipality put under administration, the Committee would only get an explanation about what had happened in terms of the governance. What had happened to the first mayor and speaker? What was heard on the ground was that they were charged for failing to reinstate the Municipal Manager that was fired by the Municipal Council. So, there was an instruction from a political office in the province to say that the particular Municipal Manager that was fired was to be reinstated. Horatius Modiakgotla and Sentse Kalman were also taken into the ruling party. The ruling party announced Sissy Mothibi and Gcaleka Molola as the mayor and speaker. Subsequent to this there were two people by the name of Crocket Adams and Kgomotsego Mokale, with a clear direction from the ruling party to say that the two people would become the speaker and mayor. The two comrades contested the position and voted into the municipality. This was a very confusing situation which she sought clarity on, as it contributed to the demise of the municipality. As a result, the decision was made to put the municipality under administration. If COGHSTA would not tell the Committee the truth about what happened, the section 139 intervention would not help.
She was happy that Vaalharts Water was mentioned She asked about what was heard on the ground that the institution was run by white people who were victimising the workers and calling them baboons. Did COGHSTA get these reports about Vaalharts Water? This was unacceptable and action needed to be taken if this were the case.
There were rumours that needed to be confirmed that Mr Ndwandwe was fired from Gauteng Province under Premier Mbhazima Shilowa’s leadership. That was a long time ago and concerned fraudulent qualifications. Mr Ndwandwe had been taken by COGHSTA to be an administrator in various municipalities. Mr Ndwandwe was present and should verify this or COGHSTA could provide clarification on his qualifications as covered by the media. Under Mr Ndwandwe’s leadership there were also a rumour she wanted him to confirm. The rumour concerned a security company working in Phokwane municipality where he was the Administrator. The rumour was that before he arrived, the security company was paid R6 million, but currently the company was being paid R27 million. Could this be verified as true or false? The Administrator was there to intervene and sort out the dysfunctionality of the municipality, which included fighting corruption and ensuring the municipality functioned well. If this was true, the Committee needed an explanation as it meant that wrongdoings were not being corrected but the Administrator was repeating what was happening previously. One of the municipality’s struggles was revenue which meant every resource available to the municipality had to be well cared for.
Mr Groenewald asked the Administrator when the 2019/20 budget was approved. Was the budget approved by the province executive or council?
Mr Bamba Ndwandwe, Administrator of Phokwane Municipality, replied that two main budgets had been approved by the NCPG. The first budget approved by the NCPG in July 2019 was on condition that the Municipal Council would approve the final budget by September 2019 – which had happened albeit with other challenges. The provincial executive council approved the adjustments budget in March 2020 as a result of the failure of council to reach a decision. The second main budget approved by the NCPG was in July 2020.
Mr Groenewald noted that section 25 of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) refers to where a municipal council fails to approve the budget before the start of the budget year, which started 1 July 2019. Section 25(3) says that if a municipality has not approved an annual budget, including revenue-raising measures by the first day of the budget year, the mayor must immediately comply with section 55. Did the mayor comply? Section 55 says that if a municipality has not approved an annual budget by the first day of the budget year or if the municipality encounters a serious financial problem referred to in section 136, the mayor of the municipality must immediately report the matter to the MEC for Local Government and may recommend to the MEC a provincial intervention in terms of section 139 of the Constitution.
The Chairperson reminded Mr Groenewald that there would not be any dialogue and his questions would be answered collectively with the others.
Mr Groenewald continued that section 136 states that if the MEC for Local Government in a province becomes aware that there is a serious financial problem in a municipality, the MEC must promptly consult the mayor of the municipality to determine the facts. Had this been done? The MEC for Local Government must assess the seriousness of the situation and the municipality’s response to the situation and determine if the situation justifies or requires a Section 139 intervention. Had this been done? Section 136 further states that if the financial problem is due to failure by the municipality to comply with an executive obligation and the conditions for an intervention are met, the provincial executive must promptly decide whether to intervene in the municipality. If the provincial executive decides to intervene, section 137 of the MFMA applies.
Section 136(3) of the MFMA says that if the municipality has failed to approve a budget or revenue-raising measures necessary to give effect to the budget, result in the conditions for an intervention being met, the provincial executive must intervene in the municipality in accordance with section 26. Section 26 of the MFMA says that if by the start of the budget year a municipal council has not approved an annual budget or revenue-raising measures to give effect to the budget, the provincial executive must intervene in the municipality in terms of section 139(4) of the Constitution by taking any appropriate steps to ensure that the budget is approved, including dissolving the council. Why was the council not dissolved when it did not approve the budget? Section 139(4) of the Constitution says that if a municipality cannot or does not fulfil an obligation to approve a budget, the provincial executive must intervene to ensure the budget is approved, including dissolving the Municipal Council. Why has this not been done? The MFMA and Constitution clearly state that when a budget has not been approved on the first day of the next financial year, such council must be dissolved.
Slide 30 stated that tariff increases were approved. Did the province also approve the revenue-raising measures and by-laws that give effect to debt collection? COGHSTA was currently doing debt collection but if the council did not approve the budget, which is usually accompanied by by-laws, then what by-laws were currently allowing revenue to be collected? The presentation said proper consultation was followed when the budget was raised. Is this true? The province had raised some of the tariffs by almost 80%. This was the highest in the whole country. How could industrial property rates be raised by almost 80%? Was there proper consultation?
Slide 41 states COGHSTA had to raise rates and taxes for the budget to break even. However, the province was punishing those people that were actually paying their accounts, by raising the total amount by almost 50% so the revenue could be collected. What is the municipality and province doing to strengthen the collection rate of the municipality so that those who were actually paying were not punished?
The Chairperson commended the MEC for the bold step he had taken in putting the municipality under section 139 intervention. This was a bold move because it was seen elsewhere that MECs were reluctant to do what he had done even though the situations were horrible. In the Phokwane area there were a lot of mines but they were buying water and electricity in bulk from Eskom and Sedibeng Water and in so doing this erode the financial capability of the municipality. Whereas businesses located within the municipality were using the municipality’s infrastructure such as roads. Sedibeng Water was providing to all the big mines; it had a water pipe network on the municipal ground but they were not paying for the space and usage of the land. At the same time, Eskom did not pay for any servitude there either. Eskom was an entity of the Department of Public Enterprise and Sedibeng Water was an entity of the Department of Human Settlements, Water, and Sanitation. This provided reason to pull support from these departments to support municipalities such as Phokwane, as one of Phokwane’s financial difficulties centred around this.
Mr Ndwandwe dealt with the questions related to himself. In 1999 he had resigned from Gauteng Province because he had pursued greener pastures. It was true that after his resignation he picked up in newspapers that there were questions about his curriculum vitae. His CV remained the same today as it had been in 1993. At the time the MEC in Gauteng was Mr Trevor Fowler who could confirm that he had resigned because of greener pastures.
On the security company appointed in Phokwane, the fact was that there was a security company in existence in Phokwane. The contract had expired so there were two choices: either security services would be insourced or another security company would be appointed. Another company was appointed. At the time when this company was appointed, which was unknown to him, there were some complaints that one of the directors of the company was a Ndwandwe. He did not know this Ndwandwe and he did not think that this Ndwandwe knew him either. He was not related. The company had gone through the normal tender process and all he had done was to sign an appointment letter as recommended at the end. The cost of the service was not the same. This was obvious given the previous contract was concluded two years earlier. The fact was that roughly R500 000 per month was being paid for this contract, which would come to approximately R6 million a year. Therefore, the bill was roughly still the same.
In terms of his experience, this was his fifth assignment as an Administrator. The record spoke for itself in that he had taken over municipalities that received audit disclaimers and taken them to the unqualified audit zone, while one had even gone to the clean audit zone. In Phokwane he was on track despite the of infrastructure and maintenance challenges. However, he was trying to turn things around. The revenue collection results was a first in Phokwane. The Covid-19 response, for example, was despite the revenue stream being lower than the cost of services. The expenditure was prioritised in such a way that a saving of R20 million was made in nine months. This was a first for Phokwane which in the past had not only overspent the budget but had grazed into the conditional grant.
Mr Lenkoe replied that the filling of vacancies was a matter of urgency in the province. It had been raised in the Premier's Inter-Governmental Forum, urging all municipalities to ensure that posts got filled. There was a high vacancy rate, so the MEC sent out directives informing municipalities to fill the posts. It was almost the last year of the current municipal council term before local government elections. The MEC was still urging this point in discussions with districts he had visited. He emphasised this as where there was a low expenditure there was a correlation with a high vacancy rate so all positions needed to be filled.
On consultants, municipalities did these appointments based on the assessment of the Auditor-General. It was agreed that these consultants were not adding value because some of them were appointed just a day before submitting the Annual Financial Statements on 31 August. This was then used as a reason for failure to submit because the consultant was appointed late. COHGSTA was now adding that if a consultant gets appointed, they needed to add value but also ensure that the five districts shared these services. Local municipalities had to ensure they saved money where possible by utilising the shared services in their district so that some of the revenue could be used for other reasons.
There was an existing MOU between COGHSTA and Provincial Treasury. Provincial Treasury dealt with the finances and COGHSTA dealt with governance matters. COGHSTA was also in consultation with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), going out to municipalities and conducting operational business, and assisting where possible.
There was a Section 106 report on the investigation into irregularities at Sol Plaatje Municipality. The MEC had tabled the report in the council. However the report had been interdicted and the matter was before the court. COGHSTA was still waiting for a date for the court hearing and would take it from there. The NCOP recommendations were being looked at. This was why Mr Ndwandwe was present. Whatever Mr Ndwandwe did in addition to his terms of reference, he ensured that all concerns raised in the NCOP report found expression in his planning processes. On the shacks and 49 pit toilets in Nkandla, based on the records this was for 500 households that had to receive the alternative system in terms of sanitation. A contractor was appointed to install 500 pit toilets based on the bill of quantity given to the contractor as their scope of work to deliver the bottom slab, bottom structure, top structure, accessories, excavation, and make sure that there are interim services because there were no services at all. This had to be ensured as part of the Covid-19 response as all departments had a plan on how they responded to the challenges of Nkandla. On COGHSTA’s side, they had delivered 15 water tanks on top of what had been given by the Department of Water and Sanitation, so that people could have access to potable water. However, COGHSTA would get to the bottom of the issue about the 49 pit toilets.
On the executive power for dissolution, COGHSTA did not want to go straight to dissolution. COGHSTA wanted to ensure it gave the council an opportunity. Hence, section 139(1)(b) whereby an Administrator came in to assist partially. The presentation alluded to the challenges which left the MECs for Treasury and COGHSTA no option but to pursue dissolution. Despite having to ultimately dissolve the council, there was at least evidence showing that Phokwane municipality requested intervention and assistance through the previous council. The Provincial Cabinet did not just make the decision on its own as there was intervention requested by the previous council.
In his presentation he had spoken to the issue of by-laws with clear terms of reference insofar as the Administrator was concerned. Eskom was an issue. The Premier had chaired a meeting that morning, where the new CEO of Sedibeng Water introduced himself and the new board chairperson. A virtual meeting was held to find out how COGHSTA could assist because Sedibeng Water was servicing the North West, Free State and Northern Cape. The majority of the clients were within the Northern Cape and there was obviously an interest to assist them. Therefore, measures had been put in place and resolutions taken. COGHSTA would be making a follow up and the Committee could be given a progress report on all the creditors. COGHSTA would wait to see if there were reports and would also follow up with the Public Participation Unit to check if there were reports.
Mr Vass clarified that COGHSTA had taken the decision based on the governance and administrative challenges in the municipality, such as the failure of council to fulfil its executive function. One of the critical issues was uninterrupted provision of water services in the community, and the provision of effective oversight posed a challenge. COGHSTA did not just take the decision to dissolve the municipality as there were processes, and the municipality had been given ample time to respond and correct issues before drastic steps were taken.
On political infighting, for now the political processes would be dealt with by the organisations organising the political process. This was not the correct platform for COGHSTA to respond to the political infighting that was there. On people calling people baboons, this matter would be investigated and COGHSTA would ensure to respond to the Committee. He requested that COGHSTA be allowed to go back and respond to the matters in writing as soon as possible.
The Chairperson asked how many amalgamated municipalities were in the province.
Mr Lenkoe confirmed that two municipalities were incorporated to form one. Mier on the borders of Namibia and Botswana had been amalgamated into the Dawid Kruiper municipality. It was one of the biggest municipalities in the country.
The Chairperson asked if the challenges of Dawid Kruiper could be shared with the Committee as it was one of the biggest municipalities. Could the challenges that came from the amalgamation be shared? COGHSTA should respond to the questions raised and share how the amalgamated municipality performed. Is the amalgamation scheme working? What kind of support had been received from SALGA, National COGTA and National Treasury? They had learned that two municipalities would be merged but the budget would not be increased. This creates a burden for the amalgamated municipality and the people suffered. She appreciated everyone's attendance. It was an unholy hour, but for the cause and love of their people everyone was still present. The engagement had been robust and fruitful. The Committee would reconvene the following day.
The meeting was adjourned.