The active interest in the wellbeing of KZN municipalities on the part of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) is most welcome, even if the committee’s conclusion that our support to these municipalities does not inspire confidence is very unfair and unfortunate. The observations run in the face of various support initiatives that our department has implemented in line with our mandate of supporting and monitoring local government institutions.
The provincial Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), which I lead, made due representations to the committee, at very a short notice, with regards to several municipalities in distress and with reference to specific issues that had been identified by SCOPA in writing. In this regard documented information in terms of our support and our monitoring role in municipalities that were identified by SCOPA was elaboratory presented. It was our expectation that the engagements with SCOPA were to be in line with what they required of us to prepare and regrettably that was partly not the case.
SCOPA’s main concern is about COGTA’s alleged slow turnaround time in resolving some of the challenges that cripple our municipalities. In our defence, it is important to consider that despite our best efforts we are often constrained by municipalities’ status as an independent sphere of government which we should respect at all material times. It is our belief that this legal principle will also be appreciated by SCOPA.
It is also untrue that COGTA has shown ignorance of various curative legislative prescripts offered by the Constitution and the Municipal Systems Act to remedy some of the challenges faced by KZN’s municipalities. On the contrary, every one of our interventions has been strictly informed (and limited) by law. We have no appetite to act outside the law even at times of difficulty unlike in the previous dispensation where the doctrine of the supremacy of parliament was the case. After 1994 that situation changed and the supreme law of the Republic is the constitution. In all that we do we are guided by the supremacy of the constitution and we confine our activities in terms of the law and not at the whims of other functionaries.
Several of SCOPA’s observations are incorrect. While it is true that political instability has led to a state of uncertainty in uMkhanyakude District, for example, it is not true that its council last met in March 2020. Records will show that the council met thereafter and managed to even approve an annual budget before 30 June 2020.
It is true that the council has not considered reports on investigations into the municipality’s unauthorised, irregular, wasteful and fruitless expenditure, but COGTA has certainly done its homework by providing extensive technical support in this regard directly to uMkhanyakude’s Municipal Public Accounts Committee.
SCOPA has resolved that this council must convene within the next 14 days to catch up on all outstanding issues. The truth is that SCOPA does not have the power to order any municipal council to meet or prescribe what its councillors should discuss or approve when it does meet. It is in this context that there accession or a purported resolution on the above seems to fall outside the scope and ambit of the law.
SCOPA has instructed COGTA to indicate why it has not instituted Section 139 intervention in this municipality. Such interventions are in fact instituted by the Provincial Executive Council on in terms of the Constitution of the Republic.
With regards to Mpofana municipality which recently received an audit disclaimer, SCOPA is concerned about the lack of progress in instituting consequence management. COGTA does share these concerns and will work with the Municipality in ensuring that consequence management is implemented without fail.
SCOPA has rightly questioned the effectiveness of Section 139 intervention into this municipality, especially in light of its financial position. COGTA contends that legislation that would make such interventions more actionable is yet to be considered by Parliament and it hopes that SCOPA can fast-track this process.
SCOPA has been rightly irked by Mpofana’s decision to contract external and costly consultants for the preparation of its financial statements that in the end did not meet the requirements of the law. COGTA has already tasked its appointed administrator to investigate this matter and develop an action plan that will address the findings by the Auditor General.
SCOPA has called for tabling of an outstanding forensic report before the Richmond council to ensure consequence management against those implicated in it. COGTA had in fact commenced this process and will soon table the report once all internal processes at the municipality have been complied with.
At uMgungundlovu District, SCOPA has called on COGTA to conclude a forensic investigation into wrongdoing at this municipality.COGTA does appreciate the urgency and pledges to conclude this report as soon as possible. The department does its best to expedite such investigations as a rule.
At Nquthu, SCOPA has rightly complained about the municipality’s tendency to resort to costly litigation in the matter of appointment of senior managers and the appointment of the Mayor. COGTA itself has long criticised Nquthu’s intransigent attitude and advised the municipality to settle the matter out of court.
At Zululand District, SCOPA has voiced legitimate concerns around questionable financial management and alleged corruption. It must be noted that when COGTA itself investigated this municipality for maladministration, fraud and corruption, Zululand responded by taking the department to court.
It is quite clear from all of the above that COGTA has done its due diligence in respect of all reported challenges in the province’s municipalities and where its interventions have not yielded the desired results, the department has truly tested the limits of what it can legally do to improve the state of KZN’s municipalities.
To suggest that COGTA has been negligent in acting against misbehaving municipalities or ignorant of remedial actions afforded to it by the Constitution or local government legislation is simply incorrect. Going forward, COGTA is prepared to work with SCOPA to make things right.