Changing municipal borders is not the answer

Issued by Vicky Knoetze, MPL
Shadow MEC for COGTA

The MEC of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Xolile Nqatha, has finally admitted that the ANC’s policy of amalgamating smaller municipalities across the Eastern Cape into larger local entities has failed.

Changing the municipal borders is not the answer, its like reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. These municipalities are going down and unless a sustainable plan is put in place, they will collapse.

Last week MEC Nqatha is reported to have told Parliament that the 2016 boundary demarcation decisions, that saw the creation of the Raymond Mhlaba, Walter Sisulu, Enoch Mgijima and Dr Beyers Naudé municipalities, have been a disaster.

At the time, the Democratic Alliance strongly opposed the move, and advised provincial and national government that the amalgamation was destined for failure.

The DA takes no joy in seeing that the worst-case scenario has played itself out, and in less than four years these amalgamated municipalities now find themselves on the verge of collapse. Instead of the few successful municipalities raising the others up, as was touted by the ANC Government at the time, these municipalities have been torn down and are now as dysfunctional, if not more so, than their peers.

Unfortunately, MEC Nqatha has come to this realisation far too late. His plan now seems to be undoing what has been done, calling for municipal boundaries to be “redetermined” to correct “distorted arrangements and errors” before next year’s local government elections.

The sad truth is that things cannot simply go back to the way they were.

It is a well-known fact that the scientific evidence that determines the ANC’s demarcation proposals has less to do with what is in the interests of the residents, and more to do with voting outcomes.

No amount of changing municipal boundaries will fix the systemic problems faced by local governments across the province.

If the MEC is truly intent on rectifying the problems, then strategic interventions are needed.

These include:

  • Making it compulsory for all municipalities to ringfence funds received from electricity sales, to ensure that Eskom is paid its dues and that the rest is reinvested into maintaining and improving electrical infrastructure;
  • Better credit control policies need to be put in place. The Dr Beyers Naude Municipality currently has a collection rate of just 42%, which is unsustainable;
  • Municipalities need to relook at their budgets and seriously cut costs wherever possible, which includes rationalising bloated organograms;
  • Using the powers afforded to COGTA through the constitution to intervene and provide strategic support to municipalities in distress.

The DA has previously called on MEC Nqatha to do a re-estimation of distressed municipalities in the province, including an evaluation of factors such as administrative capacity, vacancy rate of key positions, the ability of servicing debt to Eskom, and adverse audit outcomes.

I will be writing to the MEC to request an update on this process as having an accurate reflection of which municipalities are in distress, and for what reasons, will assist the Department in determining a strategy for assistance and intervention.

Direct interventions and support are needed to ensure that good governance is restored.