Help for red-zone councils

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IOL Xolile George THE STAR Mpho Nawa, deputy chairman of the SA Local Government Association, unveils a Municipal Audit Support Programme in Newtown, Joburg. Photo: Dumisani Sibeko

Johannesburg - The SA Local Government Association (Salga) has promised more help to municipalities still struggling to get their finances in order - and leadership is the key.

“There’s a multiplicity of efforts to help local government improve,” said Salga chief executive Xolile George.

“If you are running the Comrades Marathon… local government is sitting at the halfway mark.”

Salga’s municipal audit support programme was announced on Thursday, the day after the auditor-general released the report on municipal audit outcomes from 2012/13.

Although there were some improvements, with more municipalities and their entities slowly getting better audit results, there is still a long way to go. Of the 319 municipalities and entities audited, only 30 got clean audits and 138 were in the next-best category of unqualified with findings.

Salga intends focusing on the 67 municipalities and entities at the bottom of the heap, the 59 who got audit disclaimers (the worst result) and the eight with adverse findings.

These are the group in “the red zone”, George said.

While Salga’s announcement was met with some scepticism due to the endless and seemingly insurmountable problems in the local government sector, the association was upbeat.

Salga deputy chairman Mpho Nawa said that overall local government was functioning and performance was improving.

“Yes, of course, stories abound of inefficiency, mismanagement, corruption and the like. However, by and large our country is operating like a well-oiled machine through the efforts of municipalities.

“Without taking anything away from legitimate criticism about local government shortfalls, let us equally acknowledge that the system is viable and functioning,” Nawa said.

There was an acknowledgment from officials at the briefing that punitive measures would have to be applied, and they pointed to regulations in this regard which became effective last month.

Salga expects to spend about R40 million over the next three years on training.

In addition, there’s help from other sectors.

The National Treasury’s TV Pillay said the Financial Management Grant was for funding management reforms to improve finances and has a pot of R400m for the first year.

The first grants went out this month to municipalities which managed to submit audit support plans.

The attorney-general’s office and the national Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs were also there to offer support.

George said the new programme was the first time Salga would be implementing a multi-disciplinary programme, aiming to address four key areas: institutional capacity, financial management, leadership and governance.

Leadership was key. “You need political leaders to see to it that there’s compliance in municipalities,” Nawa said.

Political leaders had to understand that they had a responsibility to carry out oversight over the audits. Training will be offered to senior local government leaders, political leaders and municipal management.

View the attorney-general’s audit report at www.agsa.co.za

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