Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Mpumalanga residents demand water, electricity from struggling municipality’s new boss

By Loyiso Sidimba Time of article published Jun 3, 2021

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Johannesburg - Fed-up residents of the cash-strapped Lekwa Local Municipality want its newly appointed administrator Johann Mettler to urgently restore water and electricity services.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has dissolved the Mpumalanga municipality’s council, placed it under administration and appointed Mettler.

Mettler will have to set out a specific strategy to address Lekwa’s financial and service delivery problems, including reducing unnecessary expenditure and increasing revenue collection, and oversee all budgetary processes and approve a temporary budget and revenue-raising mechanism, before a new council is elected.

He must also prepare progress reports for Mboweni and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s approval.

The municipality owes Eskom almost R1.1 billion in unpaid electricity bills, which has forced the power utility to implement what the local residents’ association refers to as “Lekwa shedding”.

This means that in addition to load shedding being implemented by Eskom across the country, the municipality experiences blackouts unique to it due to its failure to pay the power utility.

Ronald Tsotetsi of the Lekwa Ratepayers’ Association told Independent Media that the municipality’s well-documented challenges have worsened.

According to Tsotetsi, it was not unusual for the municipality not to have water for an entire day, which worsened its water woes as it made it harder for the water pump to function.

”We are living in a pigsty, it’s like we are not living in South Africa,” he said.

Tsotetsi said Standerton Hospital also did not have water. Standerton is the seat of the municipality.

Mettler, according to Tsotetsi, must prioritise the basic needs of residents - clean water and a consistent electricity supply.

He said companies operating in Standerton were retrenching staff because of the constraints placed on their operations by the intermittent electricity and water supply.

Recently, one company intervened and bought a water pump for the municipality, to ease the inconvenience experienced by residents and businesses.

Approached for comment, Mettler, the former city manger at Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, said he had not started his work yet or been introduced to the municipality.

The Office of the Auditor-General found that the municipality had not had a full staff complement for a number of years, with its overall vacancy rate at 52%, and 67% for senior management.

”The vacancy rate in the finance department was 33%, and even more serious was the position of chief financial officer, that had been vacant for a while,” the auditor-general said last year.

The municipality is forced to use consultants to augment its staff but daily and monthly preventative controls have not been implemented due to the high vacancy rate.

By the end of June 2019, the municipality had a balance of R741 million available for infrastructure improvement but management did not spend anything on infrastructure, to ensure that the municipality’s service delivery capacity was sustained, which contributed to electricity and water distribution losses of R112m and R63m, respectively.

Mettler will take over all executive functions and all the dissolved council’s legislative powers and functions.

He will also take over all the deposed mayor’s statutory executive obligations and functions, and manage all fiscal and financial management functions at the municipality, including being signatory to all primary and secondary municipal banking accounts.

Mboweni granted Mettler the power to remove acting senior managers and deal with disciplinary matters, including criminal and civil action, and approve all decisions taken by the municipal manager and other senior managers.

He will also implement forensic reports and work with the national Treasury to develop and implement the municipal financial recovery plan and a system for the control and approval of all expenditure.

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Political Bureau

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