South Africans being badly let down by local government, says SAHRC after audit outcomes
Johannesburg – South Africans are being badly let down by local government, which needs to urgently "introspect" and identify concrete, tangible mechanisms to confront the problems bedevilling the sector, according to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
The SAHRC noted with serious concern the state of audit outcomes in local government contained in Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu's Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) 2018/19 report released this week, the commission said in a statement.
"The report depicts an extremely worrying negative trend on the audit outcomes of the municipalities. The overall picture painted by the report is that things are not well within the local government sphere at all," the SAHRC said.
It was regrettable that only 20 out of 257 municipalities obtained a clean audit. Fruitless and wasteful expenditure accounted for over R2.07 billion, unauthorised expenditure for R11.98 billion and R32.06 billion was spent irregularly, marking an increase of R6.86 billion over the previous financial year.
Most, if not all, service delivery that the government had to achieve to realise the respect, protection, promotion and fulfilment of the rights in the Bill of Rights took place at local government level.
"It is therefore extremely regretted that the rights holders are being let down by this very level of government. It is troubling to the commission to receive hundreds of complaints against local government for its failure to deliver socio-economic rights, including water and sanitation, sufficient food and health care services, and then to learn that municipalities have fruitlessly wasted R2.07 billion, spent R11.98 billion without authorisation and irregularly spent another R32.06 in just one financial year.
"That there is an increase in irregular expenditure needs clarification, as it seems that the protestations of the auditor general, combined with threats from government to hold people to account, have had no effect on this sickly situation," the SAHRC said.
The SAHRC had repeatedly expressed its concern regarding the endemic poor performance by municipalities. It noted with concern that insufficient attention was being paid to water and sanitation infrastructure by municipalities.
This neglect explained why most waste-water treatment plants were in such a mess and on the verge of collapse across the country, which posed a significant danger to the right to a healthy environment and to the health and well-being of communities, particularly at a time when clean water was crucial in preventing contagion and the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
Local government was key to the transformative vision of the Constitution, since local government was at the coalface of service delivery of basic services to communities. The importance of local government was now more pronounced than ever before given the Covid-19 pandemic, which was not only exacerbating vulnerabilities, but also creating new ones.
"The SAHRC notes that the equitable share budget allocated to local government was recently supplemented by R11 billion to enable municipalities to be at the forefront of tackling Covid-19.
"However, without putting in place systems to ensure accountability, stricter financial controls, resilience and functionality of local government, the country might not be able to adequately respond to the economic vicissitudes exacerbated by the pandemic.
"As the country will mark 20 years of democratic local government in December this year, the SAHRC calls upon the leadership of the local government sphere to introspect and identify concrete and tangible mechanisms to confront the challenges bedevilling the sector urgently."
Improvement would depend on the extent to which national and provincial governments as well as the members of the public demanded accountability from those in local government at whose disposal the country placed scarce resources with which to deliver services to communities to realise the rights given to them in the Constitution, the SAHRC said.
African News Agency (ANA)