Political interference in municipalities a problem - Collins Chabane

Transcript of minister's briefing following Zuma's address to mayors and municipal managers

Media briefing by the Minister in The Presidency responsible for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, Collins Chabane, October 20 2009

Venue: Oliver Tambo Hall, Khayelitsha, Cape Town

Statement read by Minister Chabane

President Jacob Zuma concluded a meeting with mayors and municipal managers in Khayelitsha, Cape Town today (20 October 2009) with agreement that there needs to be a national effort to improve the performance of local government. This effort should involve local, provincial and national government working together with communities and social partners.

President Zuma was accompanied by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and a strong delegation of Ministers and Deputy Ministers. Also present at the meeting were the Premiers and MECs responsible for cooperative governance from all provinces, and representatives of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA).

President Zuma convened the meeting to look at how all three spheres of government could work together to improve the functionality and effectiveness of municipalities. "We recognise the importance of local government as the sphere that is closest to our people," he told delegates.

The meeting recognised the achievements of municipalities since the advent of democratic local government. These included significant progress in the roll-out of basic social infrastructure to parts of the country where none existed before, and the provision of free basic water and electricity to millions of South Africans. This was achieved in the context of severe resource constraints and the large-scale movement of people into urban areas.

A central issue that arose was the need to improve relations and cooperation between the spheres of government. A particular challenge is the alignment of municipalities' plans and budgets with those of provinces and national government.

Municipalities are often called to account for the provision of services, like housing, that are actually the responsibility of other spheres. In other instances, local councils are unable to proceed with delivery because of inaction by parastatals and provincial and national departments, on whom they often rely for provision of bulk services and infrastructure.

Another major concern was the availability of resources. Problems were identified in the formula used for the equitable share of revenue for local government particularly that it does not take sufficient account of the challenges faced by rural municipalities. The Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) was considered to be insufficient to replace ageing infrastructure. There was a call for local government to be restructured to ensure that all councils have a sustainable revenue base.

Mayors raised a problem about onerous legal, regulatory and reporting requirements, undermining council efficiency without necessarily improving delivery and accountability. One example cited was the amount of time taken to complete environmental impact assessments, which holds up the provision of housing and other infrastructure investment projects.

The meeting discussed the effects of the global economic crisis on municipal finances, which included a presentation by Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan. It was noted that slower economic growth and the decline in the pace of job creation has had a significant impact on government revenue, including on resources available to local government.

It was agreed that municipalities needed to respond to the effects of the crisis by improving efficiency, reducing wastage and eradicating corruption and mismanagement. The meeting agreed that it was necessary for municipalities to address these financial challenges without undermining the provision of services to residents.

Political interference in the functioning of municipalities was cited as a problem. This included instances where municipal officials used party political processes to subvert council procedures. Party political factionalism also impacts on the stability and effectiveness of local government.

In his response to the matters raised by mayors and municipal managers, President Zuma said the challenges of local government needed to be taken up by provincial and national government. In this regard, it was necessary that municipalities take the lead in identifying their needs and developing solutions.

He said that all spheres of government needed to treat each other with respect and dignity, as equals and colleagues in the delivery of services to the people.


Journalist: One of the issues of Municipalities has been spending because many Municipalities get the municipal infrastructure grant but most of the money keeps coming back and half of them don't even spent their money. What were the solutions offered for municipalities to better spend money going forward?

Collins Chabane: It was recognised that there is an issue of capacity particularly for poor Municipalities which are unable to attract relevant skills. It's a matter which has been noted, National Government is taking steps to try and address that problem but nevertheless all the Grants which are suppose to go to local Municipalities are going to be reviewed there is a need for us to review and restructure them in such a way that they are accessible and they can be spend adequately to address the problems Municipalities face.

Journalist: Minister Chabane if you could say it in short what was the main resolution that the Government has taken out of this meeting with the Mayors for the very first time in this new administration.

Collins Chabane: In short the main resolution is what has been raised by the President is that there is a need for us to look at the reform in local government including the regulatory framework; the relationships between the spheres of Government and across these spheres of Government and other sectors to ensure we speed up delivery and efficiency; the restructuring of the finances of local municipalities or the grants that goes to local municipalities and the review of the finance and fiscal commission formula which allocate resources. And that we should not adopt municipalities as a one size fits all. They are different they have different sizes and different capacities so in the main that is what has been decided by the meeting.

Journalist: Why did you choose to have this meeting in Khayelitsha? It's just a hundred metres away from where you usually have service delivery protests?

Collins Chabane: Unfortunately I was not part of those who organise the meeting and it didn't arise at the meeting so I wouldn't know why they decided to come here but it's a good venue for us to have been here.

Journalist: In his address President Zuma said R53 billion is due to many municipalities, Departments have not been paying this and he didn't know why and he said it would possibly be discussed in the closed meeting. Was this discussed and what was the outcome to that?

Collins Chabane: Yes, it was discussed and it was re-emphasised that there are a number of institutions who owes municipalities. That money is not only from the national government, it includes the private sector, private citizens and it includes all the regular officials. But from the national government point of view there is agreement that we need to take urgent steps for us to be able to do the payments which are necessary to municipalities as urgently as possible and as a way to encourage other stakeholders and private citizens to contribute towards payment of services rendered by municipalities. The details were not worked on, but if I can give an example it's not only the presentation of the account by the municipality its whether that account itself is legitimate, is correct and is accurate before it makes the payment. Because if you don't do that you are creating a problem on the other side where you would have paid for a service you didn't receive so it's important that the accuracy of the statements itself becomes an issue for national Department to be able to settle the accounts but it's going to be speeded up.

Journalist: Were any deadlines set and will your Department be responsible for monitoring those. In terms of the targets that were set here today in terms of improving service delivery. What targets were set and did you put any deadlines to when exactly you want things to have improved.

Collins Chabane: From this meeting there are several processes which are going to take place from tomorrow there is a meeting of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs with local authorities and other stakeholders who are critical in running that. So most of the issues which have been raised here will be taken forward into that forum for discussion and resolution and where timeframes are going to be set up. There are issues which relate to provincial Cabinets which may need to be looked at by those structures and from The Presidency side we will coordinate that timelines and deadlines which are set. Once we have those timelines and deadlines we will make sure that these things are adhered to and make sure everyone that's suppose to play a part, is able to play a part. So we didn't set deadlines as such in the meeting but the next process we will be able to set the deadline for each and every item which have been identified.

Journalist: The service delivery protests we have seen lately you see communities calling for Mayors to be removed. Was there any discussion in this forum about Mayors maybe having to be removed in certain parts of the country?

Collins Chabane: Issues were raised related to service delivery improvement and circumstances which may lead some of the communities to raise about Mayors that should be removed but it was never discussed as an item. As we listened to the statement by the President it was more focussing on the positive issues the improvements we need to make in order to make change at a local level so we never discussed the removal of Mayors. But Mayors did raise some of the issues which contribute towards them being targeted its issues that doesn't relate to them, I think in the statement we do indicate that some of the issues people complain about are not related to local municipalities. For example people complain about electricity most of the municipalities don't provide electricity in the first place; if people complain about housing, municipalities don't provide housing it's the Provincial and National Government. So it was agreed there is a need for us to make people understand how Government works and how it should be done but as the President said in his opening remarks we can't encourage. Once we encourage people to be active and to participate in protest action against Government or any institution, we can't allow a situation where that democratic right leads to destruction of property, intimidation of people and so on.

Journalist: Can you give us one concrete thing or action flowing from this meeting that you are going to do in the next week, month or before the end of the year?

Collins Chabane: One concrete thing is that tomorrow there will be a meeting of Local Government Departments and institutions which is going to happen as a result of this. That meeting is going to set time frames on issues which relate to Municipalities and Provincial Governments. The next opportunity of Cabinet will adopt a set of time frames with regard to issues related to National Departments. The third one is we are confident that once that has been done, we will then be able to make sure that those things which have been agreed upon are implemented. As you can see most of the issues relate to reform of local Government, Institutions, Legislation and procedures. Those issues you can't say you will have finished them by December. You need to give a particular process which will outline this to get them amended or to get changes to take place with the necessary consultations with the various stakeholders.

Journalist: What happened to Project Consolidate?

Collins Chabane: Project Consolidate which was a project of Local Government Department and Provincial Affairs Department to assist Municipalities which were struggling on the technical services. That program has since been substituted by Programme Siyenza. Project Consolidate was a report that was provided at the end of it there is program which has been instituted in partnership with the DBSA which is also a technical assistance program to municipalities and municipalities which are struggling. That one is still on going to assist municipalities to comply or to be able to execute their basic functions for which they have been formed.

Journalist: The President said that this dialogue was a very important one to have, when will the dialogue begin with community members?

Collins Chabane: The first step which we took, the President met representatives of principals; unfortunately we could not put them in one room. We started with principals we went with Police Commissioners, today we are meeting Mayors and Municipal Managers. There will be a next phase which will identify others. But at the end of this month there will be an Imbizo Week. It will link up with communities across the country to conclude that.

Issued by The Presidency, Tuynhuys, Cape Town

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