Sisulu balks at Cabinet homes plan

Plans by Cabinet to reassign responsibility for the construction of public housing to municipalities could be heading for heavy waters.

National housing ministry spokesperson Marianne Merten told the Mail & Guardian last Thursday the ministry is unhappy with the proposal and “would turn this position down”.

Last week Cabinet approved a proposal on alternative approaches to the funding of concurrent government functions, including housing.

Government spokesperson Themba Maseko said “the budget will be allocated to municipalities and they will be responsible for the delivery of houses”.
The National Housing Department would concentrate on “policy and budget priorities”, he said.

One of the main reasons for the proposal is that funds allocated for housing in provinces are sometimes used for other purposes.

Maseko said that in allocating budgets the national treasury would ensure that national priorities are included in provincial plans.

“The proposed approach seeks to achieve greater alignment between policy-making, priority-setting and to address challenges such as the non-implementation of national priorities by the different spheres, as funds are sometimes diverted to other priorities.” From as early as 2005 the Department of Housing has been considering accrediting municipalities to build houses, with less reliance on provinces.

But Merten said that idea had to be reversed because municipalities do not have the capacity to manage projects. Two weeks ago representatives of the housing ministry appeared before Parliament’s joint budget committee, where the matter was discussed.

Merten said the committee was told that “even those municipalities that thought they would be able to build houses are struggling”.

Some of the challenges identified by the government at municipal level included lack of project management, technical and financial skills.

The spending record of local government lends support to the ministry’s view. In a parliamentary briefing in May this year it was revealed that some of the R100-million earmarked for housing in the Northern Cape for the 2007/08 financial year was transferred to municipalities and no houses were built by the provincial department of local government and housing. However, the province allegedly gave money to municipalities that had not been accredited. The Sol Plaatje district municipality was the only accredited municipality to receive funding.

South African Local Government Association spokesperson Xolile George said many municipalities are already capable of taking on housing delivery responsibilities. “Unfortunately, even in cases where municipalities have proved to have the necessary capacity, they have not yet been accredited to perform the function,” he said.

Further investigation by Parliament revealed that R11-million transferred to Sol Plaatje was used for unspecified infrastructure development instead of the construction of homes.

In 2006 the North West department of local government and housing withdrew the housing function from all municipalities in the province because of their weak capacity.

The provincial minister responsible for housing at that time, Phenye Vilakazi, said it was decided that housing in the province could be delivered only by the provincial department.

Before this decision the provincial housing department had transferred all the money it got from the national housing department to municipalities so they could appoint contractors.

The Mafikeng local council municipality built only 586 houses between 2000 and 2005, despite receiving provincial government funding for about 10 000 housing units.

The proposal to move the responsibility for housing delivery to municipalities is scheduled to be discussed with the provinces and the South African Local Government Association at the Presidential Coordinating Council next month.

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice. Read more from Mmanaledi Mataboge

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