A LACK OF EMPASIS ON THE COLLAPSE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN THE EASTERN CAPE & MEANINGFUL WAYS TO STRENTHEN THE MANDATE OF DPWI AS THE INFRASTRUCTURE NERVE CENRE OF THE PROVINCE
The Collapse of Local Government is one of the most significant problems faced in the Eastern Cape.
The mandate of DPWI as the infrastructure nerve centre of the province needs more emphasis.
Honourable Speaker, Honourable Premier, Honourable members and guests, good afternoon.
Without a doubt, the collapse and failure of various local authorities in the Eastern Cape is one of the most significant problems that the government in the province is faced with as the sphere of government closest to the people.
With a third of the municipalities officially standing on the edge of a fiscal cliff, and up to 83% of the municipalities in rather precarious financial positions, and 24 out of the 39 municipalities unable to pay their creditors within the legislated 30 day period, it was expected that much greater emphasis would be placed on turning around this potentially disastrous position. Interventions such as putting in place support structures, multi-disciplinary task-teams and mechanisms to stabilise the state of local government in the Eastern Cape, were expected.
The state of local government is central to the ability of government to deliver meaningful service to residents. The failure of the local authority has devastating consequences for the quality of life of our residents in the Eastern Cape, and its continuous collapse will undoubtedly lead to more suffering as it has damaging effects on the local economy and the inevitable failure of infrastructure in the form of the effective delivery of access to water, sanitation, roads and electricity.
Although mention was made of increasing the revenue base of municipalities, there was no mention of a strategy to address some of the most prevalent factors that plague our municipalities, such as
• cadre deployment
• officials that are not fit for purpose
• the filling of key and critical vacancies
• the escalating cost of employment
• poor collection rates and
• fraud and corruption within the local authorities in the Eastern Cape.
One of the factors that have devasting consequences for most municipalities’ financial positions in the Eastern Cape, which remains a province-wide evil, is the escalating ESKOM debt.
Without a doubt, this is a problem that should be prioritised as a matter of urgency, with the combined ESKOM debt for local authorities in the Eastern Cape having surpassed the R 2-billion-mark last month.
We need a clear way forward out of this mess and if it is not prioritised, you can mark my words that in a year’s time – we will be speaking about how ESKOM debt has surpassed the R 3 billion-mark.
We will continue to be plagued by payment agreements with the power supplier that are not being honoured and continuous threats and notices of bulk-electricity interruptions.
Honourable Speaker, I have to go as far as saying that Local Authorities in the Eastern Cape are in need of a complete overhaul. They must be read the riot act!
People that are not fit for purpose must be shown the door, consequence management must be applied for transgressions, multi-disciplinary task teams must be established for municipalities in distress, money for ESKOM must be ringfenced and a culture of compliance, good governance and a capable state must be instilled in these local authorities.
The Honourable Premier called for residents to pay for the services they receive – Honourable Speaker, if people receive service delivery – they are more than happy to pay for it.
When government demonstrates that they can be trusted with the public purse – people will have no problem paying their rates and taxes – as is testament in the DA-run Kouga Municipality, where a collection rate of above 90% was maintained even throughout the pandemic. If a local authority proves that they can be trusted – collection rates will start to improve and be maintained.
Honourable Speaker, with regards to the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure – the DA believes that more must be done to strengthen the mandate of the department as the infrastructure nerve centre of the province.
The capacity of DPWI to earn its place as the infrastructure nerve centre of the province will remain a problem unless a strategy is put in place to bolster infrastructure project delivery ‘on time and within budget’. Sadly the status quo of incomplete schools and clinics remains the Achilles heel of the DPWI.
While the Honourable Premier stated that the long-awaited Bhisho Precinct needed to be reviewed… he ends there. So, what now? At what cost? What are the implications? Honourable Speaker, it is clear that we will continue to see the escalation of public funds spent on the housing of governmental departments as there is a complete lack of urgency to complete the Bhisho Office Precinct and reduce the pressure on the public purse.
I will say it again, mark my words, we will stand here again next year and speak of the same Bhisho Office Precinct that is still not complete. I hope that I can be proved wrong, and if I am wrong, I will be the first to commend the DPWI for finally completing the project.
A capable state ensures that the spending of public funds translates to value for money, with complete transparency and accountability and that the people of the province are always at the top of the list of priorities.