There is no doubt that 2020 has been an exceptionally trying year, with extra-ordinary challenges, most notably those brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic. It is said that in the light of adversity true character is revealed. In the Eastern Cape, this adversity has revealed how fragile our government departments have become following years of neglect, mismanagement and outright corruption.
The province was labelled the epicentre of corruption, the epicentre of unemployment and the epicentre of the Coronavirus, and has lived up to its reputation as an incapable state.
Where strong leadership and guidance was needed, we have instead seen politically deployed cadres, clearly out of their depth, and a lack of political will to act and rectify the problem.
Worse still, the rot of corruption has permeated into relief efforts, with a culture of self-enrichment at the expense of those who are in dire need prevalent across the province.
There can be no doubt that 2020 has revealed just how broken the Eastern Cape government has become.
OTP & SPECIAL PROGRAMMES
The Office of the Premier has shown a complete lack of leadership and political will this year.
OTP has failed to address the shortcomings of various government departments in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has also been slow to respond to the rampant corruption that has come to light throughout the province.
There has also been lack of action in ensuring that inter-governmental structures provide the necessary support to the province’s collapsing local municipalities. As a result, municipalities have fallen into further disarray.
The premier’s broadband project continues to be a disappointment, as does the Bhisho Precinct, with both remaining in the infantile stage, despite ballooning costs
The Premier cannot use the pandemic as an excuse to circumvent accountability.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
The dysfunctional Department of Health has been thrown into the spotlight due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Department continues to teeter on the brink of total financial collapse, with no decisive political leadership, and a veritable army of senior officials who clearly do not have the capacity to manage.
It is such a shambles that the Minister of Health himself has had to visit the province no less than five times to sort out the mess, with fresh deployments on every visit.
The only reason the Department is not rated zero, is due to the work done by frontline workers. These angels have been at the coalface of the pandemic and have gone beyond the call of duty.
These workers have served this province with distinction, overcoming the barriers put in their path by an incompetent Department, and sometimes paying with their lives in doing so.
We shall never forget them.
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
The Department of Social Development has failed to support the citizens of the Eastern Cape at a time when they have been at their most vulnerable.
At the height of the pandemic, poor procurement practices saw inflated prices paid for food parcels, benefitting politically connected cadres, instead of starving families. The Department was plagued by allegations of food parcels being stolen, or being allocated along political party lines, resulting in families that qualified for relief, going hungry.
Temporary shelters for the homeless set up during the lockdown were poorly resourced. Many shelters had to rely on donations from the community as the Department failed to provide even the basics.
The Department continues to fail NPO’s, and delayed payments over the past few years has still not been rectified. Many NPO’s were without any funding for up to six months, while demand for their services soared as the devastating effect of Covid-19 took hold in the province.
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS
Although the department achieved a 99% expenditure rate for the 2019/20 financial year, they only achieved a dismal 74% of their performance targets, which raises concerns over performance management.
The Department has been recruiting scarce skills, and a drive to increase the revenue generation of Government properties with 71 of 221 identified properties already released for income generation must be appreciated.
However, the Department has failed to address illegal occupations of buildings and has not been able to make any positive strides in the Bhisho Precinct.
The department remains plagued by reoccurring findings, ineffective oversight mechanisms, poor planning, and a lack of a conducive environment to drive innovation.
Lack of strategic leadership, both political and administrative, have led to client departments not adhering to revenue management agreements and repaying the Department for services rendered
This year Department of Education has been plagued with a myriad of debilitating factors.
In responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, procurement mismanagement by the Department saw PPE purchased at inflated costs. Often supplies were of inferior quality or simply not delivered.
Allegations of PPE corruption are rife, with the Department’s actions placing the health and safety of learners, teachers, and school staff at risk.
The Department also embarked on an illegal piggy-back contract with the Sizwe Africa IT Group that aimed to equip Matric learners with tablets. The tablets and accompanying services have been procured at inflated costs, again raising concerns of corruption.
Infrastructure delivery continues to be plagued by non-payment of contractors, incomplete projects, and completed projects standing vacant.
The Department has failed to address previous auditor general findings resulting in repeat findings for the 2019/20 financial year and a sixth consecutive qualified audit opinion.
COOPERATIVE GOVERNANCE AND TRADITIONAL AFFAIRS
Local municipalities are in crisis, with service delivery collapsing across the province as municipalities buckle under the pressures of rising debt, diminishing collection rates, poor financial management and maladministration. Ballooning Eskom debt, labour unrest and collapsing infrastructure has already crippled smaller municipalities.
Political factionalism, cadre deployment and a general lack of political will to act at municipal level has exacerbated the problem.
The MEC’s selective action in addressing these issues leaves much to be desired.
The Department’s runaway cost of employment, a shocking 84% of the department’s budget, leaves just 16% for service delivery.
The Department has also underspent its 2019/20 Disaster Management budget by 37%, in the midst of the most debilitating drought faced by the province.
RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND AGRARIAN REFORM
The Department scores a dismal 2 because of their continued inability to deal with the prolonged drought in the province.
Agriculture is a key, labour-intensive, industry for the province, yet critical drought mitigation resources have either not been made available or have been redirected away from areas where they are needed most.
The Department failed to lobby for an extension of the Provincial State of Disaster declaration which would have allowed National Government to provide much needed assistance to the farmers affected by the drought.
Many of the departmental projects remain in a dire financial state and will require bailouts from government in the very near future. This is a direct result of the inability of DRDAR to ensure that competent project leaders are appointed to these projects and their unwillingness to partner with private sector organizations and farmers.
The Department is also not doing enough to assist small scale farmers.
DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM
The Department is one of a few that has demonstrated the political will to deliver an improved performance, evidenced an increase in performance targets reached in the 2019/20 financial year.
However, the Environmental Affairs Programme has only achieved 43% of its set targets, mainly due to desperate understaffing in all eight districts. The Department must ensure that these posts are filled, as it is the foot soldiers and frontline workers, and not board members of public entities, who get the job done.
It is pleasing to note that the Department has paid all supplier invoices within thirty days. The Department has shown an improvement in audit outcomes, particularly in compliance and performance information.
Challenges around the implementation of the new organogram must be swiftly resolved.
Despite the pandemic, the Coega Development Corporation and East London Industrial Development Zone have kept their heads above water and are working hard to catch up on targets. This has required discipline and focus and we acknowledge their efforts in this regard.
The same cannot be said for Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC), which continues to underachieve, particularly with regard to the creation of jobs for the youth and the LRED fund. The ECDC property portfolio is still a war zone and the MEC needs to make some tough decisions as to whether they require extra funding or dissolution.
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORT
Despite an announcement that the 24-hour traffic service would launch, this service has failed to materialise in 2020.
The ongoing challenges at the Mthatha Airport remains a concern, even though the airport’s status as a category 4 airport was reinstated in 2020, after being downgraded to a category 3 in 2019.
The MEC has been embroiled in several scandals this year, not least of which include the use of the Miorca Lodge in Cala, which is owned by the MEC’s daughter, as a Covid-19 quarantine facility, and which has also been used for long term accommodation to Transport officials at the Department’s expense.
The Province’s roads continue to deteriorate, placing the lives of commuters at risk. Litigation was initiated against the Department, compelling it to engage stakeholders in respect of road repairs and maintenance. Despite this, no comprehensive plan has been forthcoming on how the Department plans to address the backlog.
The lack of innovation to embrace and adopt new technologies by the Department is an indictment of an incapable state.
Housing delivery has fallen even further behind this year, with a shocking 25 housing projects that have been left abandoned and unfinished by contractors. Of the planned 9 413 units to be built in the 2019/20 financial year, only 4 243 were completed.
The Department is currently under investigation by the SIU relating to the procurement of temporary structures in the province in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. These temporary structures were procured using deviation orders, and without a competitive bidding process.
There are at least 5 463 RDP houses that still have asbestos roofing.
It is also extremely concerning that there is still no consequence management system in place to deal with underperforming contractors, that should be blacklisted and prevented from applying for future projects.
The Department does not have a plan in place to mitigate against land invasions and illegals sale of houses. Many houses are still illegally occupied with the Department lagging behind in the implementation of its correct beneficiary occupation system.
Provincial Treasury can be commended for its responsiveness during the Covid-19 pandemic in ensuring that much needed funds quickly made available to a factually insolvent Department of Health.
Unfortunately, Treasury has been less successful in forcing Provincial Departments to make a mind shift in eradicating non-core service delivery expenditure through austerity measures.
Treasury has also failed in assisting almost half of the local governments in the Eastern Cape in managing their finances. Many of these municipalities are on the brink of financial ruin and unable to pay their creditors.
The aforesaid dire financial state of Eastern Cape local governments has become our Achilles heel in providing service delivery to our people.
Provincial Treasury must not just ensure that it increases it’s planning and oversight role, it needs some teeth to be added to its normal bark.
SPORTS, RECREATION, ARTS AND CULTURE
The Department has made some improvements in developing and promoting cultural and creative industries, and in promoting our heritage and languages.
The film industry has done substantially well with an R11 million boost received. The ECPACC also received a clean audit report and we welcome this, but the Department continues to accumulate irregular expenditure, despite its relatively small budget.
The pandemic and the subsequent measures put in place to curb the spread of the disease, has had a disproportionately high impact on our sportsmen and women, artists and entertainers, and the Department must give a full account on how relief funding assisted these beneficiaries.
The high level of vandalism of and theft affecting sporting facilities across the province is of grave concern. Municipalities and DSRAC have neglected their responsibility in ensuring these facilities are guarded.
Also of concern is the ever-shrinking Library Services budget, while libraries face challenges of infrastructure, lack of material and safety concerns. Delays in the transfer of available library funds to municipalities are also condemned.
SAFETY AND LIAISON
The vacant Head of Department position for Community Safety finally has finally been filled after three years. This should provide stability and direction and improve the Department’s ability to conduct oversight and hold the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the Eastern Cape more accountable.
The department has, once again, received a clean audit, so from a technical point of view it is meeting its compliance objectives. However, the latest annual crime statistics show that incidents of violent crime in the province remains unacceptably high, with 11 people being murdered every day.
Clearly what is being done is not working, and new methodologies need to be considered like an intensive police reservists recruitment campaign to keep the people of the Eastern Cape safe.