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06 May 2016 00:00
Suspicious: Municipal officials are wary of the plan by North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo to centralise budgets. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo’s grand plan to centralise procurement has been slammed as a “backdoor move” to control deals in the province.
His provincial executive has issued a directive that each of the 23 municipalities in the province pass a council resolution agreeing to a new shared service structure to manage, among other things, billions of rands in infrastructure budgets.
Officials at several municipalities contacted this week were deeply suspicious of the plan, citing a lack of detail. Many have missed the April 30 deadline given to pass the council resolution.
Note: Mahumapelo’s office sent a statement to the M&G in response to our queries on Thursday evening after we had already gone to print. Read more here – Response from the North West Premier’s office on Supra story
By volunteering for a shared service system, these municipalities would in effect sign over money for projects such as housing, roads and stormwater drainage, rendering them with little or no spending power.
“This is a way to claim spending power, essentially controlling deals here, in an unprecedented manner,” said one senior official in the provincial government.
Claiming control over municipal finances can only be done through constitutional interventions. But by getting the municipalities to “volunteer” participation in a shared service structure, the provincial government is seeking to sidestep the strict legal controls in place to ensure municipal autonomy, said the senior official, who asked not to be identified.
Several officials have also questioned the timing of the proposed procurement plan — just three months before the country heads to the polls for the local government elections, a time when councillors and officials are generally at their most vulnerable and want to hang on to their jobs.
Mahumapelo made no mention of the shared service facility in his State of the Province speech at the end of February.
Some of the North West municipalities came in for a hammering last year when the auditor general’s office highlighted nearly R800-million in underspending, a key cause of poor service delivery.
There are effective systems in place under the Constitution to allow provincial governments to step in to assist struggling municipalities.
Local councils have reacted with caution to Mahumapelo’s directive. Tshepo Nkwe, the personal assistant to Taung local council’s mayor, Kaone Lobelo, said: “We have received this communiqué. We are not hostile to it but it is not likely to be an outright resolution.”
Nkwe said the shared service model issue is scheduled to go before council later this month, adding that it cannot be passed without having been interrogated.
“We have asked for more information and, based on that, it will go before the broader council for a vote.”
William Maphosa, spokesperson for the Tlokwe municipality in the Potchefstroom area, said they too have requested more information from the provincial government about exactly which services have been earmarked for the shared service model.
“Naturally, the municipality cannot commit to a shared services model of which it is not sufficiently informed of.”
Maphosa highlighted Tlokwe’s success in spending “remarkably well” on infrastructure projects, particularly its municipal infrastructure grant (MIG).
“For the current 2015-2016 financial year we had exhausted all of the R47-million MIG grant allocated to us. We were granted an additional R30-million for spending our budget well ahead of the targeted time frame.”
“This is the second consecutive year that the municipality is awarded extra funding for performing well in developing municipal physical infrastructure.”
Some of the MIG projects completed in the previous year in the broader Potchefstroom area include paving the Matlwang village access road to the N12 highway, a community hall in ward 19, the Ikageng extension 9 water reticulation project, installation of high mast lights at Ikageng, Promosa, Mohading and Matlwang, as well as paving the sidewalks and kerb along Ikageng’s Sarafina Road.
If given the green light, the proposed procurement system would see the province take control over much of the infrastructure budgets of provincial government departments and the municipalities in North West.
Dr Ndodana Nleya, head of the monitoring and advocacy programme at Rhodes University’s Public Service Accountability Monitor, said he was not aware of the plan by the North West government.
Commenting in general, he said: “While I understand that there may be frustration with the pace of municipal infrastructure delivery in the province, establishing a ‘superstructure’ at face value seems to violate the constitutional ‘distinctiveness’ of the local sphere of government as envisioned in [section 40] of the Constitution.”
Such a body would encroach on the “functional or institutional integrity of local government, its constitutional status, institutions, powers and functions,” he said.
“We must remember that the role of provincial government should be to support and strengthen the local government sphere rather than to usurp its powers and functions.”
Should a provincial government decide on such a model, it would first have to be debated in the provincial legislature and the National Council of Provinces, Nleya said.
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