TOP officials in the country’s 257 municipalities have been warned to stop using ratepayers’ money to bankroll councillors’ funerals, or face the wrath of Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke.
The National Treasury has informed municipal managers and chief financial officers (CFO) that they will be held responsible should the practice continue, after two prior notices that such expenditure will be deemed irregular and recovery from the councillor concerned will be mandatory.
”Municipalities are reminded to ensure that any policies to this effect are rescinded as this matter will be referred to the Auditor-General to verify during the 2023/24 audit if there have been no instances where public funds are utilised for burial of councillors,” reads the 2024/25 municipal budget circular dated December 7, 2023.
In addition, the document warns that should such activities have occurred in a municipality with effect from the 2023/24 financial year, which started in July last year and ends on June 30, then each accounting officer (municipal manager) and CFO will be held responsible and councils will have to deal with such instances in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA).
Section 171 of the MFMA states that accounting officers of municipalities commit financial misconduct if they deliberately or negligently contravene a provision of the act, “fail to comply with a duty imposed by its provisions on them, and make or permit, or instruct another municipal official to make unauthorised, irregular, or fruitless and wasteful expenditure.”
Accounting officers also commit financial misconduct by providing incorrect or misleading information in any document which in terms of a requirement of the MFMA must be submitted to the mayor, council or to the Auditor-General, the National Treasury or other organ of state or be made public.
The threat of being charged with financial misconduct also applies to officials exercising delegated financial management responsibilities.
Treasury said municipalities were urged in December 2022 and March last year to ensure that public funds were not used for councillors’ burial, and were expected to amend council approved policies dealing with the issue.
”Municipalities may also refer to relevant councillor’s pension scheme or personal funeral policies in existence for any funeral benefits relating to such councillor,” National Treasury said.
A number of municipalities across the country have adopted policies for the burial of councillors and other prominent residents, such as the Emalahleni local municipality in Mpumalanga which provides between R25 000 and R50 000 or municipal services, including the funeral venue, grave-site, traffic escort, national flag, advertisement in local newspapers and wreaths.
The municipality does not assist in cases of suicide, death due to a misdemeanour, criminal conviction or for councillors removed from office.
The Dipaleseng local municipality, also in Mpumalanga, supplies water, levels roads and streets, other municipal services, provides the grave-site, transport for all, hall and programmes, but insists that the process be underpinned by fairness, equity, honesty, transparency and openness.
The Greater Giyani local municipality in Limpopo covers up to R80 000 of the costs of the memorial and funeral services for councillors who die in office, including transport for the family and residents, catering, venue or marquee tent and tombstone.
Ba-Phalaborwa, which is another Limpopo local municipality, pays R30 000 to the family of the deceased serving councillor and managers directly accountable to the municipal manager, and is responsible to host a memorial service. But all indirect cost are limited to R20 000. Ex-councillors only receive a maximum of R5 000.
In 2019, the Eastern Cape-based Buffalo City Metro approved a R50 000 contribution for the funerals of 100 of its councillors and traditional leaders sitting in council, while their wives were eligible for R35 000 towards their funeral costs, which it described as a compassionate grant for councillors’ and their spouses’ funeral costs.
Across national and provincial government departments, serving and some retired political office bearers, can be afforded state-funded funerals.
According to the presidential handbook, state funerals are reserved for “when a serving and former president or their deputy pass away” and their burials are divided into two categories.
State funeral category 1 is reserved for a sitting president, president-elect and past presidents, while state funeral category 2 caters for deputy presidents, acting presidents and former deputy presidents, in terms of the policy.
The government’s 2022 guide to members of the executive, which replaced the ministerial handbook and covers ministers, their deputies, premiers and MECs, in the event of a member’s term ending as a result of the death, the state will be responsible for the funeral arrangements in terms of the state, official and provincial policy.
In state, official or special official funerals as well as provincial official or special provincial official funeral, the departments are responsible for “reasonable costs” related to the services they are expected to offer, including funeral undertaker costs such as the coffin and limited catering for the family and state and/or official guests.