Source: The United Democratic Movement
Title: UDM: Holomisa: Address by the UDM president, at a University of Fort Hare debate on “Can Local Government be fixed”, East London
Programme Director, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Daily Dispatch and the University of Fort Hare for inviting us to take part in this debate.
In a country that is dominated by State sponsored media, operating under the guise of a Public Broadcaster, it is difficult for opposition parties to get their messages across to the general public owing to the Public Broadcaster’s selective coverage of the activities of the role players. It appears we, regrettably, have to contend with a Public Broadcaster that seeks to increase the performance of the ruling party at each election.
However, the role played by the Daily Dispatch in providing all the stakeholders a fair opportunity to shape public discourse and our fledgling democracy is commendable. How I wish this could be emulated by other print media houses.
Today’s topic asks whether Local Government can be fixed. The phrasing of today’s topic clearly reveals that there are deep seated problems in the sphere of Local Government in our Country. The answers to this question are important in framing remedial actions for addressing Local Government problems.
I am pleased to share this platform with the ANC Secretary General, Mr Gwede Mantashe (Good evening Mqwathi) who, I believe, will be of tremendous value to this debate by the virtue of him being the cog of the ruling party.
The people who have graced this occasion with their presence this evening will doubtlessly know that I have been around for quite some time. I have been exposed to governance issues since the times of the Mathanzimas, Sigcawus, and the Transkei Military Government. And indeed, I got the privilege of serving under former President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet. Consequently, I am able to give considered counsel on what is right and what is wrong. In addition, you will recall that I have been batting on the wicket of anti-corruption for a long time. I look forward to tapping into my institutional memory to propose solutions to Local Government problems.
Before we propose solutions to the Local Government problems facing us, we ought to first sketch the circumstances that have led us into this quagmire. One of the reasons that the then Transkei Military Government, which I was a leader of, supported the liberation movements’ call for a unitary state, we thought that would herald an end to the balkanisation of our Country. We were given an impression that such a step would hasten the development of the historical infrastructure backlogs of the erstwhile homelands, and townships to be on par with the rest of the Country’s developed areas.
Alas, the ANC gave in to the IFP’s demand of a pseudo federal system during the CODESA negotiations. It is for this reason that today we have to contend with these glorified homelands known as provinces, which are, lamentably, structured along the same ethnic and tribal lines of the old homelands system. For instance, Xhosas have a Xhosa as their Provincial Premier, Zulus have a Zulu person as their Provincial Premier and the same can be said about other provinces.
Despite this flawed system, there are some notable improvements in the lives of many poor South Africans through successful electrification of communities and the provision of clean water and other basic services. This system has also served as a job creation strategies for many people who are now councillors and members of the provincial parliaments, and so on. But sadly, this is what has inflated the municipal salary bill, as in the old dispensation councillors were volunteers, which made it possible for more funds to be available for basic services, albeit under separate developments.
However, the same system has led to a division of powers in which key National Departments such as the Water Affairs, and so on, have no competence at Provincial Government level. Consequently, the Department of Water Affairs depends on consultants and the Water Boards, which sometimes do not cover the rural areas, to carry out its mandate. The unintended consequence of such a system is one of Government Departments that work in silos, with no proper coordination between its different levels.
Most of these fiefdoms, if not all, are governed by incompetent officials, which compromises the quality of service delivery at all levels. The appointment of incompetent people into key Government leadership positions has created an opportunity for bogus consultants and construction companies to take part in the State resources looting spree by charging exorbitant prices for shoddy work.
Often, this state of affairs is exacerbated by politics of patronage, which have led to the appointment of people into leadership positions based on their loyalty and willingness to carry out the instructions from the Palace. Had the ruling party inculcated a culture of appointing competent people into leadership positions, the Nation would have been spared the Eskom fiasco in which the ruling party’s business arm called Chancellor House got itself involved in a dubious business deal with Hitachi. A competent leadership would have rejected this deal with the contempt it deserves.
The implication of this deal is that we have a National resource that the ruling party uses as a cash cow for its party coffers. Put simply, every time each household buys electricity, part of that revenue goes to the ruling party’s coffers. The sheer arrogance displayed by the ruling party during media enquiries and questions from the public about this deal, leaves much to be desired.
This kind of institutionalised corruption might have deterred many would be investors from considering South Africa as an investment destination because of their unwillingness to be coerced into forming business partnerships with the ruling party. It is an open secret that this style of governance has permeated the ruling party’s entire system of governance. It is no wonder why so many people from the ruling party think they have an alien right to tenders and other Government business deals with scant regard for their suitability for or ability to do the job.
This sick mentality is central to what we are witnessing today, where people are expected to be ANC card carrying members before they can be employed into Government positions or before they can access basic services. Thus far, President Zuma is the only ruling party leader who publicly condemned this narrow, partisan practice at a public meeting in 2009. However, the situation on the ground has not changed at all; in fact it has taken a turn for the worse. This must stop because it’s a recipe for a revolution!
Listening to the ruling party leadership’s claims about how serious it is in the fight against corruption and the promotion of the ethics of good governance is like listening to a farmer giving strict instructions to his workers about the importance of not eating rats, while having a long tail of a rat hanging out of his mouth – a clear sign that he himself had indulged in the rat eating exercise!
Perhaps, I should opportunely remark that the Local Government system is not immune to the challenges experienced at National level. In fact, it is a direct victim of the ruling party’s style of governance as outlined above. This style of governance has culminated into a shocking level of anarchy and infighting in the ruling party, with comrades going on a tug of war taking turns at looting Sate resources.
What we have observed is that this infighting is disguised along ideological lines. Others call themselves Communists, while others call themselves Africanists, Ultra-leftists and so on. All of them are claiming to be fighting for the needs of the people. Some of these factions even go to the extent of giving themselves labels such as the Mantashe group or the Mbalula group etc to achieve their goals. The common denominator with all of them, however, is that each one is fighting for its turn at looting State resources. These self-seeking politicians disguise their greed and relentless pursuit of wealth as ideological battles. They opt for Government policies that give them carte blanche to loot State resources; bad policies that are biased against future generations. I cannot emphasise how serious the implications of this behaviour to the South Africa’s democratic stability, enough.
In some instances, it has been confirmed that the majority of the service delivery protests, engulfing our country, emanate from this hatched rivalry. This hatched rivalrous relationship poses a threat to the stability of our Country. In fact, the tolerance of special corrupt privileges for certain people has pernicious effects on the poor and the poorest of the poor in particular. For instance, the political infighting resulting from crass materialism and conspicuous corruption in the majority of municipalities across the Country have rendered all these municipalities dysfunctional. The ruling party’s failure to provide leadership on these burning issues reminds me of a line from William Butler Yeats’ poem The Second Coming when he says “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”
The resultant effects of this infighting can be seen by the outpouring of anger and frustration of our people onto the streets of informal settlements and townships across the Country in the form of service delivery riots and protests in an effort to get their voices heard. As a matter of fact, in all the service delivery protests, we have yet to see Government leaders dispatched to engage members of the communities about their concerns prior to sending the South African Police Services, which is notorious for its use of excessive force and rubber bullets.
Lack of Discipline
While it is commendable for the Government to have the Integrated Development Plan as its framework for overall development, it is disconcerting to see different stakeholders completely disregard the plan. No one takes it seriously. People build houses on pieces of land that have been demarcated for grazing land. Shacks are mushrooming all over the country, with people randomly putting up shacks in every piece of vacant land they see paying no regard to due process and procedure.
In cities like Johannesburg there are cartels from out of the Country that have forcefully taken private properties that belong to individuals and are renting them out to the general public. There is no investment made on the maintenance of these properties as all of them are dilapidated. By the year 2000, the once mighty cities and towns like Johannesburg, East London, Butterworth, Mthatha, etc, were already turning into slums due to inadequate planning. By then, their potholes had already turned into ditches because of a severe lack of maintenance. As a result, in some circles the city of East London has been dubbed the rural metro. Their environment has been allowed to degrade in most unimaginable ways.
People rent out RDP houses and go back to shacks. There is just a worrying level of ill-discipline on the ground. This lack of discipline must be stopped if we are to take this country to any meaningful destination. Someone must be bold enough to stand up and uphold the laws of this Country. The time for populist political posturing is over!
Lack of Capacity Building
The appointment of incompetent administrators to run municipalities coupled with the political interference of the councillors in the day to day municipal administration by poking their noise into the awarding of tenders compounds the dire state of many of our municipalities. Annual Reports which are tabled before parliament by various departments clearly indicate a lack of capacity to spend money and allocate resources effectively, especially at Local Government level.
In some instances where funds have been spent, they reflect in the Auditor General’s reports as unauthorised expenditure. The unspent budget allocations which have luckily not been misappropriated are returned back to the National Treasury. A case in point is that irregular expenditure in provinces runs into the billions of Rands, with the Eastern Cape leading the pack with an irregular expenditure amount of more than R2 billion in its education and health departments.
In light of the above, ours is not a question of a Country that does not have money to address service delivery needs, but a question of a lack of capacity to spend budget allocations, which is occasioned by putting political interests ahead of the Nation’s.
Proposed Solutions: Way Forward
The damage that has been done by the inept leadership at all Government levels, compounds the colossal challenge of past backlogs. The UDM’s proposals do not in any way suggest that these problems will go away immediately. But more importantly, the voters first need to alter their voting pattern and behaviour. When the people go out to vote, they need to vote against the perpetuation of the status quo. The voters should now give the mandate to people who know how best to run municipalities and who will clean up this mess for them. The power to change the situation lies in the hands of the voters and not of political parties.
As already stated above, the empty promises are the biggest contributing factor to our people’s anger, which is playing itself out in the open in the form of service delivery protests and riots. I shudder to think what would happen to this country if we were to experience a revolution of the people along the lines of what happened in North Africa with the people fighting against the abuse of democratic institutions, looting of State resources and corruption, considering that, unlike our North African counterparts our people are armed to the teeth.
There are, however, good signs that our Constitutional democracy is working when people are able to leave the ruling party and stand as Independent Councillors. The fact that some disgruntled members of the ruling party have taken it to court in a bid to reverse some of the decisions that they are not happy with is another sign that our Constitutional democracy is indeed functioning.
Turning the situation around requires strong, decisive leadership and political will. If the ruling party is serious about rooting out corruption and the implementation of proper mechanisms and systems of good governance at Local Government level, it should have taken strong action against its Members of Parliament who deliberately sabotaged the passing of the Municipal Systems Amendment Bill by failing to attend the meeting in parliament, making it impossible for the Bill to be passed because there was no quorum.
When councillors involve themselves in dubious transactions, the State must lay criminal charges against them. It is unthinkable how the former Mayor of OR Thambo District Municipality could get away with unilaterally authorising a purchase of R 45 million for a farm in KwaZulu-Natal, in a place that is far away from her constituency. Instead of her being criminally charged for her transgression, she was promoted to a Cabinet position.
Huge capacity building requirements at Local Government level provide adequate evidence that our Nation suffers from a chronic skills shortage at all levels. This problem is particularly acute at Local Government level. Skills audits should be conducted at all municipalities to help design training programmes that are tailor made for municipalities across the Country. The purpose of these training programmes is to improve productivity, ensure proper municipal financial management and service delivery to the public. The Skills Audit and Development Programme (SADP) should be monitored by both the Department of Treasury and Local Government.
In addition, the National Government should second Government officials both from Provincial and National levels to specific municipalities to help impart skills and knowledge to Local Government officials and assist them with municipal administration. Needless to say, this would improve the efficiency of most municipalities around the Country and would also ensure that services are indeed delivered to our people.
Linked to the secondment of these officials to the Local Government level is the benefit of improved coordination between the different levels of Government, which is sorely lacking at this juncture. It would also serve to streamline the process it takes for budgeted funds to reach the Local Government level from the National Government. The funds budgeted for Local Government should be released immediately after the Finance Minister’s annual budget speech, instead of waiting for the wasteful ceremonial parades of Provincial Finance Heads and District Municipal Finance Heads to make statements on the same budget allocations before funds are released to the Local Government level. Often this cumbersome process takes months before it is finalised. In fact, in the majority of cases, funds reach the councillors around August, September in a fiscal year just in time for revised budget estimates.
Before they know it, it’s the end of the fiscal year, and funds have to be returned back to the Department of Treasury for the closing of books. A move away from this extremely bureaucratic process would help to streamline the allocation process and would also ensure that no money is returned back to Treasury as unspent funds.
While still on the subject of budget allocation and budget expenditure process, political maturity and cooperation are needed in cases where one of the opposition parties runs a municipality. For example, in the past, funds to the King Sabatha Dalindyebo (KSD) municipality were deliberately delayed by people from other levels of Government in order to negatively affect its programmes just for the simple reason that it was a UDM-run municipality. The strange part is that the inability of a municipality to deliver services to the people affects both opposition party members and ANC members alike. This time around the UDM will vigorously and vociferously expose such practices.
With regards to the cleaning up of the corrupt and messy situation found in the awarding of tenders, the UDM asks whether the time has not come for us to revert back to the Independent Tender Board system that is free of political interference. Such a step would, without any shadow of doubt, minimise corruption.
One other area that requires attention is the issue of Demarcation Boards whose accountability is unknown. Currently, they appear to be a party manipulation strategy designed to achieve narrow political party interests. At times this creates a chaotic situation during the registration process where people are unsure in which ward they belong when they have to register for Local Government elections. It is clear that the Demarcation Board need to be restructured.
Added to this is the current system of ward committees which is failing dismally. These ward committees lack capacity and information to be able to make effective decisions. Instead of these dysfunctional ward committees, the UDM proposes introduction of Sustainable Development Council (SDCs) that are representative of the community. The envisioned SDCs would be comprised of key State departments (such as land affairs, water and environment, health, human settlements, rural development and public works), traditional leaders, non-governmental organisations, religious groups, youth, women and people with disabilities.
SDCs would help to ensure proper coordination between the different levels of Government. Whenever there are development opportunities, communities must be consulted. They must be the first to know what road is to be built where, why and how. Community involvement in such projects would guard against consultants and construction companies siphoning money that is intended for community development into their pockets by producing shoddy work and at times even leaving the work unfinished.
In SDC meetings State departments would have to come and explain their project plans to the people instead of relying on consultants to do this important task for them. The Integrated Development Plan is failing precisely because of this reason. Environmental issues would also be placed among the top priorities of SDCs. Communities must be taught how to care for their own environment themselves. They have to be responsible for taking care of their natural resources such as rivers, grazing land and so on.
Climate change is here to stay. We ignore it at our own peril. SDCs would make sure that climate change remains foremost in people’s minds. It is through small steps like encouraging people to take part in greening projects by planting trees that make a huge difference on the National and Global environmental scales. They would also ensure proper management of drainage systems to help reduce flooding. People must be encouraged to once again start tilling the land and ploughing crops in their fields to ensure food security. Unfortunately, the current ward committee system has provided no leadership on these issues; instead they are used as pawns in the political infighting.
To further ensure better coordination between the different levels of Government, SDCs should be introduced at Provincial Government as well and should be monitored at National level by the National Planning Commission. By now, we should be clear about what we mean when we refer to a rural municipality versus an urban one; what constitutes a rural municipality as opposed to an urban one. This will help us tailor make our responses for all communities and municipalities and the kind of land tenure systems we are to adopt. In such areas, we also need to be clear about where to demarcate areas for indigenous forests, plantations and fire woods, and so on.
SDCs would ensure job creation programmes are sustainable by making use of infrastructure maintenance programmes and environmental projects. SDCs will ensure that never again shall State resources be allocated along political party affiliations.
Although we are one of the opposition parties, some of you in this audience can attest to the fact that we have written numerous letters to former President Mbeki and President Zuma asking them to make infrastructure investments that will integrate the infrastructure of the former Ciskei and Transkei to be on par with the Country’s developed parts. For some inexplicable reason, there does not seem to be a sense of urgency from Government leadership on this matter. While we appreciate the upgrading of N2, which passes through Mthatha, the challenge still lies with having to upgrade the infrastructure of the towns and townships in surrounding areas into which the people are flocking. Added to that, is the unreliability of the electricity and water supply in these areas.
Once these infrastructure investments have been made, the responsibility should be given to the municipality to maintain it. It is impossible to expect municipalities, especially the micro ones, with slender budgets to have the financial muscle enabling them to invest in large scale infrastructure development.
Insofar as the siphoning of State resources into ruling party’s coffers, such as the Eskom deal, is concerned, the UDM will take it upon itself to educate the public about the unsuitability of the ANC for the job of managing State resources and running the Country. In the period leading up to 2014, the UDM will make it its mission to make the public aware of the corrupt practices of the ruling party and their implication on service delivery. In order for the looting of State resources to come to an end in Government, South Africans must send a strong message to any elected leader who uses his/her office to enrich cronies and family members.
In such cases, the voters must rise and show that political party the door. It is only then that we will be able to improve service delivery to our people. In addition, future budget allocations must be informed by the need to attend to the needs of the neglected areas. To address the poor state of our roads, the Government needs to revive the Road Maintenance Units that, in the past were central to the task of road maintenance. This move would serve as a job creation strategy as well.
Lastly, we need to ask ourselves serious questions about when we are going to integrate the Provincial and Local spheres of Government, as there is a lot of unnecessary duplication of functions between these two spheres of Government.
It is for this reason that we the UDM manifesto calls for a return BACK TO BASICS!
I thank you.
Province Or State