Supra's office failed to prevent breakdown – NWest task team

Ballooning of irregular expenditure from R8.6bn in 2013/14 to more than R15bn in 2017/18 was "crux of the problem"

The North West is in the state it is in because the office of the premier failed to provide administrative leadership where it mattered, Cabinet's inter-ministerial task team has told MPs.

The task team was in Parliament on Thursday to update MPs on progress in the North West following Cabinet's decision to officially place the province under administration a month ago.

The team, headed by Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, painted a stark picture of some of the administrative shortfalls across all departments following its fact-finding visits.

In terms of section 100 of the Constitution, the first office that would need to be tackled was the office of the premier, formerly held by Supra Mahumapelo, who has since resigned, MPs heard.

"The findings there indicate that the office of the premier failed to provide administrative leadership to the entire province, and was not able to prevent conditions that resulted in the breakdown in essential services," Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation director general Mpumi Mpofu told MPs.

"Why did we end up in this place? Possibly because this office did not do as much as it could to prevent the situation and their responsibility of oversight in this instance comes into question."

Mpofu explained that the ballooning of irregular expenditure from R8.6bn in 2013/14 to more than R15bn in 2017/18 was the "crux of the problem" in the embattled province.

Prior to 2013/14, when Thandi Modise was still premier, the annual average for irregular expenditure was R2.1bn.

Municipalities 'even worse'

A communication breakdown between Mahumapelo's office and the rest of the provincial entities was also one of the core factors in the collapse of the provincial health sector.

"They really admitted this themselves. The OTP (office of the premier) did not quite manage to communicate effectively, even with the unions, and in fact, the processes that led to the strike were due to inadequate communication.

"It was the absence of communication that led to the breakdown that we saw."

Mpofu also told MPs that the situation at municipal level was even worse than at various provincial departments and offices.

Not a single municipality in the province got a clean audit during the latest audit opinions by the Auditor-General for 2016/2017.

Twelve of the 22 municipalities are dysfunctional or "in financial distress", as highlighted by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta).

Many of them were also repeat offenders, having "either had section 139 [administration] applied to them before or audit disclaimers".

She told MPs that Cogta, with the help of National Treasury, was devising relief and revenue strategies to help the 12 councils restore governance and compliance.

Health crisis

MPs also heard that 72 schools had been closed since February 21 as a result of violent protests, with the most pressing cases in the Ratlou municipality.

There has been "no learning and teaching" at some of these schools.

The national Department of Health has been on the ground since the strike, she continued.

"A little more work has been done in the health sector simply because of the nature of the strike."

The task team found serious challenges around government structures, and absence of effective supply chain management and financial controls.

The national health department and National Treasury were assuming responsibility in strengthening supply chain management to combat corruption, and internal probes were at an advanced stage, she said.

Still to be done was a review of the organisational structure of the provincial health department, restoring services and bringing about general order.

The task team would also review historical audit committee reports.

Where to from here?

A memorandum of understanding will be signed by the premier's office and national government by June 15.

From there, a single coordinator will be appointed for "national intervention" on June 22.

Five administrators will also be appointed to facilitate, also on June 22.

There will also be discussions on monitoring and reporting timelines, both to Cabinet and then to Parliament.

With regards to the premier's office, the team will review all current delegations, from financials to procurement and human resources.

The team will also, as a matter of urgency, assess all the project management unit (PMU) contracts signed by the former premier. They will also review whether the system is even necessary going forward.

One such PMU contract signed was with AgriDelight, part of a project that reportedly resulted in former president Jacob Zuma receiving a "gift" of 24 cows and bulls, the Sunday Times reported.

The team is still waiting for documentation in that regard, and will go to court to receive the documents if necessary, Dlamini-Zuma added in response to a question.

On June 27, National Treasury, the Auditor-General's office and Deputy Finance Minister Mondli Gungubele will come before the ad hoc committee to update MPs on the fiscal position of the embattled province.

Acting premier Wendy Nelson and five MECs will also appear that week.