Speech notes: Retief Odendaal 6th Legislation 2019 SOPA debate

Speaker, in the Premiers’ State of the Province Address on Friday, the premier had some bold ideas relating to both infrastructure and economic development.

What he unfortunately neglected to state was just how the dysfunctional state of local government in the Eastern Cape will frustrate his plans. You see Speaker, many municipalities in the Eastern Cape today are on the brink of collapse.

The Auditor-general, Kimi Makwetu, had the following to say about the state of local government in the Eastern Cape in his latest report on municipal audit results and I quote:

“The overall financial health of municipalities in the province regressed, as 76% of the municipalities had concerning financial health indicators or required intervention, compared to 66% in the previous year. Of these municipalities, 29% faced significant cash flow and viability challenges which were emphasized in their audit reports.”

Elsewhere in the report he states:

“In response to the previous years ‘outcomes the provincial leadership committed to stabilising local government…Most of these commitments had not been implemented at year end”.

Given the aforesaid it is clear that the previous provincial administration failed local government in the Eastern Cape. This can be seen by the state of many of our municipalities today, some which I will touch on in my speech

Firstly, there is theSundays River Valley Local Municipality. Now here is a municipality that has started the new financial year yesterday without an approved budget in place Speaker.

While the council is of the opinion that they have approved the budget, they have not, because the law clearly states that a budget needs to be passed by the majority of councillors for the municipality, not just a majority vote in council.

That they do not know this is not surprising, given the fact that Sundays River Valley has appointed a Chief Financial Officer that does not meet the prescribed financial, minimum competency levels.

This is just one example Madam Speaker.

We are all acutely aware of the financial problems currently experienced by the Inxuba Yethemba local municipality.

This is a municipality that owes Eskom more than a hundred million Rand, which it is unable to pay. In a desperate attempt to prevent ESKOM from switching off the lights, this municipality even launched a court application in which the Hon MEC for CoGTA was cited as a respondent.

Madam Speaker, despite its financial woes with Eskom, this council proceeded toadopt a budget for the 2019/20 financial year, in which they have only made a 5.7% provision for increase in the bulk purchases of electricity!

From the frying pan into the fire!

Staying with Inxuba Yethemba, this is also the municipality that has not paid any VAT or even the income tax deducted from their employees over to SARS. Nor does it pay any of the medical aid and pension contributions made by their officials to the relevant service providers.

Speaker we don’t need a crystal ball to see what is looming on the horizon  for this municipality.

Speaker, I’m a firm believer of going to see for myself.

In the Chris Hani District Municipality I found an entire sewerage plant that was dysfunctional for months. Here, a massive sewerage plant was left unattended, allowed to go to rack and ruin, while  the untreated sewage of approximately 40,000 people was channeled directly into the Great Fish River, contaminating water utilized for human consumption.

In this regard, I personally engaged with the office of Hon Minister Lindiwe Sisulu in order to intervene, and I am happy to say that when I visited the plant last week, a contractor was already on site.

It is clear however that the Chris Hani District municipality is unable to deliver adequate water and sanitation services to the local municipalities which it serves and is as such failing our people.

Why is it that only after significant public pressure was placed on the municipality, and the threat of imminent legal action from the Department of Water and Sanitation was hanging over their heads, did the municipality act?

We could argue that the problems are confined to the smaller local municipalities, who battle to retain the necessary skills, but that is not the case Madam Speaker.

Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City, our two metropolitan municipalities, are running the risk of losing hundreds of millions of Rands due to their inability to spend their unconditional grants in the 2018/19 financial year. It’s simply criminal that in province with our infrastructure backlogs municipalities are unable to spend their budgetsand will rather give it away to other provinces.

In this regard, may I remind this house that Nelson Mandela Bay was on two occasions awarded additional USDG funding to the tune of R378.8 million as a reward by National Treasury for spending a 100% of its USDG Grant Funding for two consecutive years in a row under the leadership of Athol Trollip.

Madam Speaker, I want to raise the issue of Amahlati municipality, where we all know that municipal officials and councillors alike have last received their salaries in April of this year.

Although I understand that the Municipal Manager has now made arrangements to pay salaries for the month of May from the equitable share, we are failing the people of that municipality by not intervening and taking control of that administration.

Against this backdrop Madam Speaker, it is notable that a report by SA Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) that was presented to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on June 21, highlighted 30 municipalities across the country where there were employees that were not being paid, due to lack of funds.

Coincidently, Madam Speaker, these 30 municipalities could be found in each and every province except in the Western Cape!

Whilst small, rural municipalities in the Western Cape experience just about all of the same problems that small, rural municipalities in the Eastern Cape faces, it is the rapid response and intervention of the Western Cape Government that prevents municipalities from collapsing.

In the Eastern Cape in the past, letter after letter was written to former MEC for CoGTA, the Hon Fikile Xasa, which simply went unanswered.

Madam Speaker I wish to say to MEC Nqata, we must be responsive as a provincial government!

There many more examples of municipalities that are broken and which requires urgent intervention.Think of Makana, Enoch Mgijima and Great Kei.

Speaker, President Ramaphosa said that we should all stand up and say: Thuma Mina. Well Hon Speaker, Hon Premier here I am: Thuma Mina-send me.

In fact send all of us. Because we will only be able to fix local government in the Eastern Cape if we put shoulder to the wheel collectively. Indeed Speaker, in respect of local government in the Eastern Cape,we have much work to do.

Against this backdrop, the Democratic Alliance implores the MEC for CoGTA to be far more proactive in his response to the failures of local government in the Eastern Cape.

The Democratic Alliance believes that the portfolio committee for CoGTA could play a valuable role in providing much needed effective and responsive oversight in relation to our failing local authorities. There is no reason why this committee can’t provide the Hon Premier and indeed this house, with urgent recommendations to interventions sought in such municipalities.

Madam Speaker, while we respect the autonomous nature of our local governments we have to be honest, the state of local government in the Eastern Cape today needs urgent intervention.

I thank you Speaker.