KwaZulu-Natal Cooperative Governance MEC, Nomusa Dube, has hit out at lazy councillors, saying some neglected their duties and only come to council meetings “just to sign the register”.
“In some cases a meeting starts at 10am and by 12 it is finished. When have these people done their work? Clearly this cannot work… People are just rushing to lunch or to have tea, they do not even ask critical questions,” she said on Thursday.
Dube said that municipalities continued to return billions of rand to the treasury because of under-spending, mainly due to councillors failing to play an effective oversight role over officials.
“Sometimes when monies are returned (to treasury), the councillors do not even know the monies were there because they do not scrutinise the monthly financial statements,” she said.
Addressing the Speaker’s Forum, a gathering of all speakers from various municipalities, Dube said local government was the most critical sphere of the government as “it is where the rubber hits the tarmac”.
She also lashed at councillors who ignored their constituents.
“Some councillors do not want to go to their communities. Even when there is no money to do what the communities want, you should go to them and tell them that. It is painful, but you must tell them.”
But the MEC also acknowledged that some councillors were lacking the skills to help them execute their duties effectively, but said that this was being attended to.
The department has asked for a skills audit in all municipalities, said Dube, adding that the one-size-fits-all approach had not worked.
“We have been training councillors but the municipalities have been falling apart left and right. We are now going for specialised training, because we have found that some councillors are overwhelmed by reports that they receive” she said.
Dube said as an example, those councillors who served in finance committees would receive training in finance to equip them to better analyse and understand financial statements.
University of KwaZulu-Natal professor Betty Mubangizi stressed the importance of the oversight role played by councillors over the administration at municipalities.
“Oversight is a continuous process, it is not a once-off thing. It is a full-time job. But it is important that we engage with each other without being adversarial because we need each other.
“Monitoring is not only about looking for bad things but also looking for good things so that you strengthen on those,” she said.
She urged councillors to make use of the available research from state organs and universities to strengthen their oversight role.
Speaker of the KZN legislature, Peggy Nkonyeni, who convened the forum, said oversight should not be used as a tool to settle political scores.
Nkonyeni also stressed the importance of public partici-pation in the government saying that without it, democracy would be “shallow and hollow”.
She said, however, that the low levels of education in communities was likely to hamper effective and informed public participation.
Deputy speaker of the legislature, Mtholephi Mthim-khulu, said that without an effective local government “we might as well forget that 1994 (the attainment of freedom) ever happened”.