The South African Local Government Association (Salga) has raised concerns about the deteriorating quality of governance within municipality structures across the country.
This after auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke released a report on the financial and audit outcomes of municipalities last week. Although the report, which consists of insights on the state of financial strength and accountability systems, showed an increase from 27 to 41 municipalities that received clean audits with no findings, it painted a dire situation regarding the financial wellbeing of the municipalities.
The findings depict incompetence in terms of accountability and consequence management within the local government structures.
Salga spokesperson Sivuyile Mbambato said a new approach is needed to enforce accountability and consequence management.
“2020/2021 AG’s [auditor-general] report on local government paints a gloomy picture about a lack of accountability in municipal finance management,” said Mbambato.
“This calls for a new approach to enforce accountability and consequence management. A carrot and a stick approach, where excellence is rewarded whilst mediocrity and maladministration is punished, is what is needed to turn local government around.
“Whilst Salga is disappointed with the findings of the AG’s report, Salga welcomes the report as it provides some key lessons on what works, identifies areas of improvement, and those municipalities that require serious and urgent intervention.
Mbambato added: “The deteriorating quality of governance and accountability that is fuelled by a lack of consequence management in municipalities is indeed a serious concern for Salga.”
Mbambato further said a lack of consequence management and the tolerance of incompetence drives a sense of impunity in the local government, adding that it accounts for the dwindling levels of accountability.
He noted that there will be no improvement in the local government structures if the transgressors go unpunished, adding that the Salga is calling for municipal leadership to hire competent staff.
He said: “The revelation by the AG’s report that municipalities spent R1.2-billion on consultants in the 2021/2021 financial year whilst paying finance department staff R10.4-billion is concerning.
“It points to the skills deficit in municipal finance departments, hence municipal leaders must ask themselves critical questions in an event that a CFO [chief financial officer] is unable to produce a credible financial statement.
“The tolerance by councils of ineptitude coupled with a lack of consequence management cannot continue unabated. Salga calls for the appointment of skilled and professional staff who are competent. Mediocrity must never be tolerated.”
The municipal watchdog has acknowledged the existence of corruption and collusion in municipal tenders, stating that it has requested Maluleke to provide a list of the transgressors so the department can act against them.
“Municipal officials are moonlighting [and] doing business with the state, let alone with the municipalities in which they are employed. This must come to an end, it cannot be tolerated any further.
“Salga has as recent as 14th June 2022 requested the AG to provide a list of the officials involved in this corrupt activities so that decisive and appropriate action is taken against those officials. It is only through consequence management that we can foster a culture of accountability, good governance, and improved service delivery.”
Mbambato said the municipal watchdog is also concerned about 25 municipalities that received a disclaimer of audit opinion and lack of consequence management.
The report, which unveils a lot of incompetence, also revealed that 141 municipalities received unqualified audits after submitting credible financial statements. According to Salga, these municipalities must be applauded.
Mbambato said these municipalities account for 76%, which is R387-billion of the overall local government expenditure budget of R508-billion.
“Put simply, this means that for every R100 in local government hands, R76 is fairly stated. However, a rand not fairly stated is a rand too much.”
Meanwhile, the Midvaal local municipality governed by the DA in Gauteng and the Okhahlamba local municipality led by the IFP in KwaZulu-Natal remain in the “pocket of excellence” as they have consistently received clean audits since the 2016/17 financial year.
The DA-led municipalities in the Western Cape ranked among those that received clean audits for the past six years. They include the Cape Winelands district municipality, Overstrand local municipality, Witzenberg local municipality, Cape Agulhas local municipality, and the Senqu local municipality in the Eastern Cape.
Praising these municipalities for their exemplary work, Mbambato said: “These are the municipalities whose control systems must be studied and used to draw lessons for others to emulate.
“The slight increase in the number of clean audits – from 27 to 41 municipalities – also inspires hope for greater improvement in the future. The 14 municipalities which improved to a clean audit in this audit cycle send a clear message of progress and greater accountability.
“Salga calls for the entire local government system to emulate these pockets of excellence and improve their audit outcomes and service delivery.”