FOLLOWING the cutting of grants to several municipalities by the National Treasury for flouting financial management prescripts, the health and stability of the eight big cities has come under the spotlight again.
Last year no metro received a clean audit from the auditor-general. But there is some good news as the Development Bank of Southern Africa has found that six of the metros are structurally sound and functioning well, but also found that leadership, administration, regulatory compliance, service delivery and financial management had improved in Ekurhuleni, the City of Johannesburg, the City of Tshwane, eThekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay and the City of Cape Town.
Mangaung was found to be structurally dysfunctional, and there was no data on Buffalo City. Both were elevated to metro status in 2011.
Ekurhuleni suffered some political instability, with four mayors and three city managers since 2000, while Joburg has been more stable with two mayors and two managers who have stayed longer. Tshwane has had three mayors and three city managers, while Nelson Mandela Bay has had two mayors and acting managers.
eThekwini has had stable leadership with two mayors and two managers in 12 years while Cape Town, where there were changes in the party in power at every municipal election, there have been five mayors and two managers.
Cape Town went from being run by the National Party to the ANC, to a coalition government consisting of seven political parties, to the DA.
Buffalo City has had only one mayor since 2011 but five managers with three in an acting capacity.
According to Financial and Fiscal Commission senior researcher Sasha Peters, municipalities still have a long way to go before they can claim to be sustainable and functional but flickers of hope are showing.
She wrote in a technical report that there was a lack of performance incentives to address failures, a lack of prioritisation of municipal needs and a lack of performance monitoring. Peters also wrote that if the true root problems were identified, getting the basics right and creating capacity would go a long way to fix the rot.
An example of the problems of the past is a number mayors and managers facing criminal cases or allegations of fraud and corruption.
Bavumile Vilakazi, the former Ekurhuleni mayor, was in 2001 forced to resign by the ANC for the alleged unnecessary expenditure of public funds.
His inauguration bash cost R400 000. He then went on to spend R560 000 on a official Mercedes-Benz, R3 million on personal staff and R430 000 on improving his Germiston office.
In Mangaung former mayor Pappie Mokoena and his wife Granny and former municipal manager Mojalefa Matlole were acquitted on fraud and other charges last year.
Mokoena and 18 others faced a total of 259 charges, including theft, corruption and money laundering involving an estimated R130m.
In eThekwini in 2011, former mayor Obed Mlaba and former manager Michael Sutcliffe were fingered in a forensic report showing financial mismanagement and alleged graft. It also fingered Mlaba in a multi-million-rand waste disposal tender which also reportedly involved his family members. No charges have been brought against either yet.
Analysts say cadre deployment of unqualified people has added to the problems faced by metros.
Derek Powell, the University of the Western Cape’s senior researcher at the Multi-level Local Government Initiative said the problem lay at the “political administrative interface” where politicians and administrators clashed over decision making and control.
Supporting Powell’s point was a 2011 state-of-the-cities report by the co-operative governance and traditional affairs department which found that cadre deployment and politicisation of the public service was the major problem in malfunctioning municipalities.
It also said senior council managers and councillors were often political appointees and lacked the skills required to do their jobs properly.
Also the lack of professional capacity had resulted in underinvestment in bulk infrastructure, poor project planning and management and neglected operations and maintenance.
This leads to the question of whether city managers arey qualified for their jobs. Auditor-General Terence Nombembe has found that 72 percent of key officials in municipalities lack minimum skills and that city managers and chief financial officer levels are not optimal.
The minimum that a city or municipal manager needs is five years’ experience at a senior management level and a higher education certificate, diploma or degree in accounting, finance or economics or alternatively a public finance management and administration certificate created by the National Treasury.
In the metros it was found that all city managers had more than the required qualifications and experience.
Mangaung’s manager has a masters degree in management, eThekwini manager Sibusiso Sithole has a masters degree in business leadership and is busy with a doctorate in strategic management. Achmat Ebrahim of Cape Town and Trevor Fowler of Joburg are the most experienced and have a minimum diploma or degree required.