Struggling South Africa municipalities on Thursday received marching orders from President Jacob Zuma during the second presidential local government summit in Midrand, Gauteng.
Zuma said municipalities must go back to basics and announced the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee to ensure faster service delivery and work with municipal and provincial government in this regard.
He stressed that local government is now “everybody’s business” and that South Africans must be put first in the way municipalities exercise their mandates.
Zuma said local government exists to serve the people of South Africa and municipalities that fail to improve in spite of support will be dealt with through constitutional powers and legislative mechanisms to ensure communities are being served better.
He said a lot of progress has been made in eradicating Apartheid backlogs and blamed service delivery protests on communities that see the progress and try to divert priorities to fast-track service delivery to their own community.
He said in some cases communities are being manipulated by aspiring politicians or businesses who try to influence tender processes.
Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, said his department conducted a review of all municipalities during the past six to eight weeks. The results show that a third is functioning very well, another third is functioning, but can do better and a third is dysfunctional.
During the review Gordhan travelled to many municipalities and found that half of them lack political and administrative stability. This undermines responsive governance, he said.
He said in well-functioning municipalities there are good relationships between politicians and officials and a clear understanding of their different roles. All structures function and meetings take place as they should.
“We have to show the people of South Africa, [that] municipalities are not a hopeless case,” Gordhan said, adding that municipalities are currently perceived as “a corrupt lot” and that has to be turned around.
Lifestyle audits will be employed to detect fraud and corruption in municipalities and civil action will be taken, including against private companies, to recover amounts lost through fraud and corruption.
He said government in general pays more than necessary for goods and services and that the 10% to 30% that municipalities pay to debt collectors to collect rates and taxes is too much. National Treasury will assist municipalities to get better value for money.
Gordhan will be turning the screws on several fronts and said letters will be going out to municipalities as well as provincial governments, to deal with staff who have been improperly appointed or do not meet the qualifications for the position they serve on.
He set four priorities for municipalities to “get back to basics” and improve service delivery:
1. Dysfunctional municipalities should start delivering “at the very least basic functions of local government.” The department will ensure this by enforcing policies and legislation, manage performance and accountability and ensure there are consequences for non-performance.
2. Municipalities that are functional but not doing well enough in critical areas will be supported to do better. The focus will be on building strong systems and processes and ensuring vacancies are filled with capable people whose performance is closely monitored. Municipal oversight will be improved through the creation of real-time monitoring systems.
3. Well-performing municipalities will be incentivised by giving them better flexibility and control over their resources and grants and encourage them to tackle more complex problems like transforming the special development and develop integrated communities.
4. There will be “targeted and vigorous response to fraud and corruption and close oversight over supply chain management”. Where things go wrong it will be dealt with decisively using tools like asset forfeiture and civil claims.