DURBAN - THE national government has to deploy seasoned experts that will implement an “intense” turnaround plan to fix some of the embattled municipalities in the province that continue to struggle despite being under administration for years.
That is the view of members of the Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) portfolio committee in the province who said experts coming from outside are the last hope for some of the municipalities.
They spoke to The Mercury about what other avenues were available to fix municipalities like Msunduzi, which is struggling to function despite being under administration.
They said there were not many steps to right a struggling municipality. The available remedies included placing the municipality under administration, deploying experts from the national government or, as a last resort, dissolving the council.
But SA Local Government Association (Salga) said it believed that part of the problem was the funding model for municipalities, saying they were short-changed, which put them under financial strain and affected their recovery. There were several municipalities in KZN that were under some form of intervention by the provincial government.
Msunduzi municipal manager Madoda Khathide told new councillors recently that the municipality was on its knees. It owed more than R300 million to Eskom and had entered into an arrangement to pay this; it owed millions to Umgeni Water, and every month it was a struggle to pay salaries.
This has shown that, despite the municipality being under administration for the past two years, its financial fortunes were not improving.
IFP MPL and spokesperson on Cogta Otto Kunene said the last step to assist failing municipalities was for the national Treasury to intervene and send its own experts. He said similar action had been taken in other parts of the country.
“The municipalities are failing because of people that are not suitably qualified to do the jobs they are employed to do. When the municipality falls into trouble, an administrator with no history of turning around anything is deployed to fix that municipality.”
He said Msunduzi was a classic case of a municipality that had failed to cover the basics.
Salga head in KZN, Sabelo Gwala, said the source of the challenges was funding. He added that municipalities could not be kept under administration indefinitely as their problems are not structural but financial.
Gwala said municipalities’ revenue from residents was far less than what they have to pay either for water or electricity from the suppliers because many people are poor and simply cannot afford to pay for services.
“The allocation of the funds from the national government under the indigent policy is far less than what the municipalities should be getting,” he said.
He added that the government had instructed municipalities to update their indigent list, but this also was an expensive exercise for the municipalities.
In the case of the indigent policy, said Gwala, the government should be relying on the information that is compiled by Statistics SA to determine how much should be paid to municipalities under the policy.
DA MPL and Cogta spokesperson Martin Meyer said the real hope for municipalities in turmoil, like Msunduzi, was for “the national government to assemble a panel of experts, even some coming from outside the government and they come with an intense turnaround strategy, on the things that need to be fixed”.
He said that the municipalities should look at their expenditure and cut the wastage.
“In municipalities like Msunduzi, they spend a couple of millions of rand on a soccer team. You cannot spend that money on such an item if the municipality is in trouble,” he said.
KZN Cogta spokesperson Senzo Mzila said the position of the provincial government was that interventions had to remain in place until a municipality’s situation improved.
On the intervention by the national government, he said, under section 154 of the Constitution, the government is involved in providing assistance to municipalities in a variety of ways, including through the provision of grants.