Editorial: Municipal disgrace shames us

For years the auditor general has been telling us that the majority of municipalities in the country are not working. 

There are controls for administration and governance but these are not followed. And municipalities hire consultants — R1.2-billion in the 2018-2019 financial year — even though they employ and have trained people to do the job. 

What Kimi Makwetu told us on Wednesday is not new — except for the rising figures and increasing zeros for money that is recklessly spent with impunity in these municipalities. 

Last year he told us that irregular expenditure at municipalities was R7-billion, but this week we got to learn that the number has shot up to R32-billion. 

This is staggering. 

The tragedy with what is happening in municipalities is that they are the first point of call for service delivery. Forget provincial and national government; it is local government that has to deliver the most basic services to people. Things that people need on a day to day basis to survive. 

The people of Qwa-Qwa have been without water for years because the local municipality has failed to provide them with an adequate service. The people of Emfuleni municipality have for years been starved of proper services because the municipality is just not working. Raw sewage runs in front of their doors exposing them to illnesses, the electricity and water supply is poor and infrastructure is not properly maintained. Nelson Mandela Bay metro municipality has not been stable for years — and when council sits it is occupied with petty issues and the fight about who will be the next mayor. There is no regard for how the daily lives of people are affected by a nonfunctioning metro. 

What the auditor general’s reports have, over the years, been telling us is that so many people in municipalities just don’t care about service delivery. Instead, theirs is the goal of self-enrichment. 

A few weeks ago we saw arrests in the VBS Mutual Bank case, in which 20 municipalities invested funds in contravention of the law. One was a former manager at the Merafong municipality. The arrests were a welcome step but an aberration rather than the norm. Mayors and municipal managers — who include cadre deployments — continue to run the show without facing any consequences for the ruin. Next year we will still be here and none will have been held accountable. 

We will probably hear premiers, a minister or even the president saying they “condemn in the strongest terms” what is happening in municipalities. But that is the best you can get. No one will be fired, no one will go to jail. It will just be another day in South Africa. 

It’s shameful. 

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