NOT only did he do as requested and address municipal workers at their congress, but Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Richard Baloyi went a step further – clearing his schedule to attend some of the commissions.

Baloyi first apologised to SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) delegates for sending his director-general for traditional affairs, Charles Nwaila, in his stead on Tuesday – a move delegates condemned as “insulting”.

The apparent snub incensed delegates, who decided not to allow Nwaila to speak, sending him back with a message for Baloyi to honour his engagement.

Baloyi said it was not his intention to undermine the congress, but that he had had other commitments.

Delegates yesterday accepted Baloyi’s apology, but it was clear once he had spoken that they were brimming with questions to fire at him once the commissions got under way behind closed doors.

A major issue for Samwu has been the failure to release reports on investigations into corruption in municipalities – across most provinces, but particularly in the North West province.

“There are a lot of outstanding investigative reports, either with (local government) MECs in various provinces or the Minister,” said Samwu’s second deputy president Ntokozo Nzuza.

He said delegates appreciated Baloyi becoming “flexible with his programme so he can answer questions” as by clearing his diary he showed the kind of relationship he wanted with the union.

Samwu has just over 145000 municipal workers among its 160298 members who are at the coalface of government delivery. The union’s members have played a significant role in blowing the whistle on corruption in local government, but this had not always been rewarded by swift action against offenders, Nzuza admitted.

In his speech Baloyi stressed that municipal workers were an important partner of the government and pledged “to do everything” to fix the problems plaguing the sector.

Sorting out financial mismanagement in municipalities was top of his list of priorities, Baloyi revealed. Auditor-General Terence Nombembe recently reported that only 13 of the country’s 283 municipalities achieved unqualified audits.

Emphasising the need for good governance, Baloyi also committed to filling vacant posts, which Nzuza also welcomed. One of the reasons identified by Nombembe for municipalities’ dismal performance was the lack of competent staff.

“We must fill vacancies with competent people and continue to train them; we need to get financial management right, in order to ensure the delivery of services is made possible.

“The financial management of Municipalities is top priority for the department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs,” Baloyi said.

On corruption, Baloyi raised the issue of government employees doing business with the state, and whether they should be banned from doing so, or simply forced to make proper declarations of their interests.

“To accelerate the fight against corruption, we’re putting this question before all South Africans: what would be best for (the country)?”

“The image of the government in the eyes of the public is judged against some of these things,” Baloyi said.

Another apology yesterday came from SACP chairman Senzeni Zokwana.

The party’s general secretary, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, was billed by Samwu as confirmed to have spoken on Tuesday, but both his office and the SACP denied any invitation had been received.

Zokwana said government employees owning businesses that tendered for state contracts was “a big problem”, as was the privatisation of municipal work.

This led to workers losing control and not learning skills.

He called for the “de-tenderisation” of outsourcing so that municipal employees could be “not only re-employed but … given the power, training (and) the capacity to render services to people”.

Corruption was a “poison” but could be fought by treating trade unions “as a partner and not an enemy”, he said.

Zokwana also warned delegates against becoming “entangled in elections” to the point where they lost sight of policy issues they needed to be examining and debating.

In analysing the strengths and weakness of their leaders they needed to avoid becoming divided, as this would be a disservice to the Samwu members they were representing at the congress.