President Cyril Ramaphosa has raised concerns that municipalities, especially smaller municipalities, were not spending their grants to upgrade and maintain public infrastructure, leaving the country prone to accidents, disease outbreaks and other tragedies.
In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa said that while South Africa had good quality infrastructure, in far too many instances, it was not properly maintained and upgraded.
“We continue to witness the detrimental consequences of failure to maintain public infrastructure. We are seeing accidents, disease outbreaks and other tragedies that in a number of instances have been associated with dilapidated infrastructure,” he said.
Last year, the South African Institution of Civil Engineering gave the country’s social infrastructure a D rating, with E being failed or failing. Passenger rail scored particularly low, achieving an E.
Ramaphosa said the maintenance of public infrastructure was often the responsibility of local government, however, it remained a concern that municipalities were failing to spend conditional grants allocated to them for maintenance and upgrades of infrastructure.
The National Treasury recently reported that slightly more than half of the Municipal Infrastructure Grant was being spent by municipalities. This grant is for upgrading and building new infrastructure and rehabilitating existing infrastructure.
“At the last meeting of the President’s Coordinating Council, in June, we agreed on greater accountability from municipalities that consistently underspend on their conditional grant allocations. Part of the problem is that municipalities, especially smaller municipalities, lack implementation capacity,” he said.
However, there were municipalities that were spending conditional grants successfully and timeously. For example, Ramaphosa referred to approximately 91% of funding allocated to municipalities to fund reconstruction and rehabilitation after floods in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal was spent by the respective municipalities.
He said that this illustrated that with the necessary support, technical assistance, planning and coordination, the problem of municipal underspending on public infrastructure could be overcome.
“When social infrastructure is well-maintained, not only do citizens benefit, but businesses are also supported and the economy as a whole grows and develops,” he said.
Ramaphosa said that South Africa consistently ranked highly on indices published by the African Development Bank that evaluate the status of transportation, electricity, ICT and water and sanitation infrastructure. South Africa ranks in the top five countries in Africa with the best public infrastructure.
This, he said, was important because infrastructure development played a key role in ensuring fast economic growth and alleviating poverty.
“However for this world-class infrastructure to continue to support our developmental goals, it has to be properly, effectively and efficiently maintained. And decisions on infrastructure investment have to respond to the growing need and upgraded appropriately,” Ramaphosa said.