Many South African municipalities – especially in rural areas – will never be able to raise the revenue they require to function, Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Obed Bapela admitted in Parliament on Thursday.
Bapela took part in an oral question and answer session in the National Assembly to Cabinet’s economic and social cluster, which was attended by only one Cabinet member, namely Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
All other Ministers preferred to send their deputies.
Bapela’s reference to the sustainability of municipalities arose from a question regarding the impact of Covid 19 on municipal finances.
Bapela said that consumer debt to municipalities had increased by 20.4% in the last six months of last year. Whereas in June last year the monies owed to municipalities had been R193 billion, by December last year it had reached around R230 billion.
According to Bapela, it needs to be accepted that many municipalities, especially in rural areas, have never been able to and will never be able to collect enough revenue to be sustainable due to local poverty, hunger, unemployment and lack of opportunities.
The deputy minister believes the answer lies in a new funding model currently being negotiated by the government. In the meantime, as has been announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, a top-up amount of R20 billion was budgeted for municipalities to deal with Covid 19 related challenges.
DA MP Cilliers Brink tried to raise specific municipal failings in the JB Marks Municipality (Potchefstroom) and Lekwa Municipality (Standerton) with Bapela, but the deputy minister would not be drawn. The same fate befell FF Plus MP Michal Groenewald regarding the Kgetlengrivier Municipality in Koster, North West.
Earlier, prodded on the long-delayed issue of lifestyle audits for Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Minister in the Presidency Thembi Siweya kicked the can down the road again, almost three years after such was announced by Ramaphosa as head of state.
Whereas the former Minister in the Presidency, the late Jackson Mthembu, had given the undertaking that the lifestyle audits would be implemented by 31 March this year, Siweya blamed Covid 19 and the untimely death of Mthembu in delaying it by a further full year to 31 March next year.
When DA MP Solly Malatsi pointed out that Western Cape Premier Alan Winde completed the whole exercise from announcement to final implementation within nine months because he had the political will to do so, Siweya said it was only one province and that the Presidency took care not to make any mistakes it would later have to correct.
Regarding the plight of presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko, who is facing allegations linked to corruption, Siweya said her disciplinary hearing was supposed to take place on February 24 but the Presidency has agreed to postpone it to March 25 in light of the death of Diko’s husband.
Reacting to a question from DA MP Dr Mimmy Gondwe, Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration Sindisiwe Chikunga said two employees of the Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS) were dismissed and a further five had resigned after corruption to the extent of R300 million had been uncovered.
Chikunga also said that the latest figures regarding the number of public servants suspected of and thus investigated about doing business with the state had declined from 1 539 last year to a current figure of 484 people.
The deputy minister asked anyone with information about such alleged malfeasance to come forward, even as she admitted under questioning by Freedom Front Plus MP Heloise Denner and ACDP leader Rev. Kenneth Meshoe that Government believed itself powerless to act against civil servants who resign when they face disciplinary charges.
Chikunga refused to be drawn on the vexed issue of union demands and negotiations on the public service wage bill, saying that such negotiations should be limited to the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), and not Parliament.