The latest financial audit performance snapshot on municipalities in Mpumalanga highlights a systemic decline, according to the latest auditor general’s report, titled Not Much to Go Around, Yet Not the Right Hands at the Till.
“The audit outcomes indicate that internal controls did not work effectively at almost any of the municipalities in the province,” according to the report, released in July. This is despite the fact that these municipalities spent a total of R95-million on financial reporting in the financial year 2018-2019.
All municipalities in Mpumalanga, except the eHlanzeni district municipality, are reported to have appointed consultants in the financial units to do the work of employed staff. Employee cost across the municipalities averaged about 30% of the total municipal budget. This is eating into money intended for delivery of services.
Most municipalities failed to spend conditional grants for infrastructure development and maintenance from the national government intended. For instance, the Bushbuckridge local municipality spent less than 1% of its budget and remained with a balance of R3.13-billion on the last day of the financial year, and the City of Mbombela local municipality didn’t spend all of its grant, leading to R101.8-million being taken back by the treasury.
The report also points to “blatant disregard of compliance with key legislation with no consequences”. It notes that despite the previous report highlighting areas of concern and recommending action to remedy the situation, municipalities “did not investigate any unauthorised, irregular or fruitless and wasteful expenditure” and the trend persists. Local municipalities in Mpumalanga listed for inaction in this regard included Albert Luthuli, Dipaleseng, eMakhazeni, eMalahleni, Lekwa, Msukaligwa and Thaba Chweu.
The political and administrative leadership in Mpumalanga local government is criticised in the report for not demonstrating decisiveness in dealing with the deteriorating internal control environment, allowing unethical behaviour, misconduct and a culture of no consequences in the process.
This condition may indeed facilitate theft and fraud — a number of financially distressed municipalities in the province could not be resuscitated even with assistance from the provincial task teams dispatched to implement financial recovery plans.
Delivery of basic services?
Planact, a nonprofit organisation that has been supporting people’s call for transparency and accountability at local governance level since 1985, is collaborating with the residents of a cluster of informal settlement to collectively advocate for improved participation in local governance processes and service delivery issues. This approach intends to exert pressure on local, provincial and national governments.
In eMalahleni local municipality, the residents in a cluster of more than 10 informal settlements have been trying to work with municipal officials. The Covid-19 lockdown disrupted a scheduled meeting in March with the mayor, Linah Malatjie. Top on the agenda was to address a backlog of housing, inadequate toilets and water supply and poor public participation in local government, which would also help hold public officials accountable.
Local government is charged with providing basic services, including temporary services, people living in informal settlements in eMalahleni have to dig their own pit toilets or use the veld. Refuse is not removed and they don’t have an adequate supply of water. This endangers residents’ health, particularly during a pandemic.
The eMalahleni local municipality — where Planact has worked for more than 10 years — recorded 62% achievement of its targets in relation to service delivery. But the situation hasn’t improved in informal settlements.
A simple reading of the auditor general’s report shows that pouring money into the leaky bucket of local government service delivery systems will not translate to better services.