Oupa Segalwe is the Public Protector’s spokesperson.
Oupa Segalwe is the Public Protector’s spokesperson.

Municipal officials must appreciate their role in building a better SA

By Oupa Segalwe Time of article published Jun 28, 2020

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The cliché goes that local government is at “the coalface of service delivery”.

This suggests that government efforts to tackle poverty and underdevelopment, essentially to change the lives of the previously disadvantaged for the better, must largely take place at municipal level.

Sadly, some municipalities are seemingly failing to grasp this concept.

In one of the 35 investigation reports released last week, Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane laid bare gory details of how a rural community in the outlying areas of the North West was strung along by the Mahikeng local municipality regarding the construction of a tarred road which was to have changed their lives for the better.

The R4.8 million project would have seen the 3.1km of a rocky dirt stretch linking the impoverished Kaalpan rural village on the outskirts of Mahikeng with the neighbouring Nooitgedacht community being tarmacked.

Nearly a decade later, the community is still waiting, yet the contractor appointed for the job has pocketed R4.4m for the incomplete job.

In its current state, the road is inaccessible in rainy seasons, blocking members of the community from making their way to schools and work. It is also harmful to residents’ vehicles.

The community welcomed with much fanfare news of the project in 2010. A tender had been advertised in a local paper in June that year, paving the way for the appointment of the contractor, Bonolo Supplier and Distribution, 14 months later.

Naturally, expectations were high when the contractor moved on site in 2011. The project, which was financed through the Municipal Infrastructure Grant - a ground-breaking intervention introduced in 2003 to cover the capital costs of basic infrastructure development and maintenance for the benefit of underprivileged communities - was to last as little as five months.

But the community’s excitement was to be short-lived. Before the project was completed, the roaring machines on the construction site had gone silent. The workers left. All the while, there was no word from the municipality as to what had happened.

To date, the community remains in the lurch while the contractor was paid for a job well-done. The money came in 10 tranches ranging from R38000 to R1.9m over the three-year period ending June 2012. 

It was this state of affairs which caused one a representative of the community to approach the Public Protector in October 2015 with questions that he hoped advocate Mkhwebane would help him find answers to.In a heartfelt complaint, the representative wanted to know who inspected the work done and authorised payment for the project, even though the contractor vacated the site halfway through construction. He also questioned if officials had any plans, at all, to complete the road.

In addition to confirming that the contractor was paid, the investigation revealed that the then head of roads at the municipality certified that the account was correct, that the service was rendered and that the charges were fair and reasonable.To bring the community their long-awaited relief, the municipal manager was ordered to conduct an analysis of work still to be done on the road, determine the costs thereof and the time lines within which the project can be completed.

It is high-time officials in municipalities realised that a lot of the country’s development agenda rests on their shoulders.

* Segalwe is the Public Protector’s spokesperson.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Sunday Independent

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