Auditor general Terence Nombembe's latest report on our municipalities has reinforced what is, sadly, common knowledge: the sphere of government that interfaces with citizens and is responsible for delivering critical services, is profoundly broken.
Of South Africa's 343 municipalities, 63 did not send their financial records to Nombembe's office for auditing, and only 13 of the remaining 283 achieved clean audits.
Collectively, 54 municipalities underspent their budget – essentially depriving citizens of services – to the tune of R3.7-billion.
Unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure by the main culprits – 86% of them – was up from last year to R11-billion, whereas fruitless and wasteful expenditure totalling about R260-million was attributed to problems with the issuing of tenders, procurement practices and errors in financial information.
Nombembe says our municipalities are bereft of skills – 72% of municipal officials are incompetent, and 91% of municipalities hire consultants with no palpable effect. He also says poor performance and transgressions seem to have few consequences, and that 57% of the municipalities were lethargic in responding to his recommendations of previous years.
Against the backdrop of Nombembe's damning assessment, the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, has recommended a 5.5% annual increase for public officials. Seriti said councillors, who bore the brunt of citizens' anger, were not adequately paid, or insured, given the dangers they faced. But he also suggested that there was a need for performance-linked annual increases. He has recommended that councillors' salaries rise from R380 000 to R401 000.
We welcome the commission's rather prudent recommendation, but remain concerned that councillors' pay increases are still not related to performance. We say that the best insurance that councillors can take out is to do their jobs properly, become more responsive to their communities and work towards a more efficient delivery of services. Jobs and services at municipal level must be depoliticised, and not used in party-political power struggles.
Our country, not underperforming councillors, deserves more from the government.