Eastern Cape residents losing their dignity as local government collapses

Issued by Vicky Knoetze, MPL
Shadow MEC for COGTA

The DA has seen first-hand how residents of the Eastern Cape have had their dignity stripped away from them by the wanton abuse of power and maladministration of local government.

For the past two weeks myself and Shadow MEC for Finance, Retief Odendaal, have been visiting Eastern Cape local municipalities that have been identified as being in distress during a recent presentation to the National Portfolio Committee of Cooperative Governance on the State of Local Government.

Of the 39 municipalities in the Eastern Cape, 11 are regarded as dysfunctional, 14 are regarded as high risk and 14 as low risk. The Report of the Auditor-General raises further alarm bells, stating that municipalities will not be able to continue to render services of financial health remains an issue.

What we found was a province in decay. Towns are dying, businesses are closing up shop as service delivery collapses. Residents are forced to live in inhumane conditions, with raw sewage flowing freely in their streets, while their taps run dry and litter goes uncollected.

Once proud and resilient people have had their spirits broken by incompetent cadres, deployed by an uncaring ANC government, that have maladministered towns to the point of collapse.

These residents need someone to fight for them, and we have engaged with our local DA caucuses at each of the municipalities where we conducted oversight to assist them with developing turnaround strategies and tailor-made support and focus initiatives for each municipality.

But we cannot do it alone. What is needed is a targeted approach that promotes the involvement of civil society, the business sector and civic organisations in joining forces to stabilise these distressed municipalities.

Effectively failures of local government, which is the sphere of government closest to the people, means that it is the residents of these municipalities that feel the brunt of collapsing service delivery.

Other solutions which have been put forward include:

1. Cutting back on bloated wage bills
Cost of employment is the single biggest cost driver for most local governments. Whilst National Treasury’s guideline for total cost of employment is 30%, many municipalities have bloated organograms that spend exponentially more on COE than what is sustainable.

2. Collecting debt
Many of our distressed municipalities do not collect debt owed to them. Very often, councils are hesitant to implement their debt collecting and/or credit control policies. This has a direct effect on the cash flow and therefore also the day-to-day running of municipalities. As of 31 December 2021, Eastern Cape municipalities were owed more than R22 Billion in municipal arrears by consumers.

3. Ring-fencing electricity departments
Ballooning ESKOM bulk purchase debt is crippling municipalities. National Treasury has issued a directive that all Electricity Departments must be ring-fenced. Unfortunately, most of the distressed municipalities are utilising electricity revenue to offset the operating expenditure of the municipality without paying ESKOM for bulk purchases.

4. Identifying additional revenue streams
Municipalities have long been neglecting historic ancillary revenue streams such as traffic fines, licensing permits, leases etc.

Municipalities must realise that the funding they receive from National Government will not necessarily increase over the next couple of years. There is, therefore an urgent need to augment revenue by identifying additional revenue streams.

5. Ensuring that service charges and tariffs are cost reflective

Municipalities cannot provide services to communities on a non-cost reflective basis. All service departments must ensure that services are delivered efficiently and at affordable but fully cost-reflective tariffs.

The DA will continue to fight for the residents of these municipalities at both a local and provincial level and will keep on pressuring the Department of COGTA provides the necessary support to these municipalities.

A town is more than just a place, it is part of a person’s heritage. Each town is unique, and we cannot have peoples’ heritage destroyed by an uncaring local administration that is only there to line their own pockets and those of their cadres.