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Decisive action needed to turn municipalities around

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Finance Minister Tito Mboweni says with struggling municipalities collapsing due to bad leadership and maladministration, decisive action is needed to restore their integrity.

He said this when he tabled the National Treasury’s Budget Vote during a mini plenary of the National Assembly on Thursday.

“Municipalities no longer appear to be the agents driving change in the local space.

“Rather, communities and businesses are becoming increasingly intolerant of municipalities that can neither deliver basic services nor conduct their administration effectively. Communities are mobilising against municipal ineptness and are turning to the courts for recourse.

“It is clear that the tide is turning and that deliberate and decisive action is needed to restore the integrity of the municipal sector,” he said.

He said this after Cabinet took a decision to dissolve the council of the Lekwa Municipality in Mpumalanga earlier this month owning to infighting and political interference in administrative matters.

He said that while municipalities were seen as a catalytic role in driving social and economic transformation at local government level, the trajectory of municipal performance is rather unimpressive.

“Much of the progress made has unfortunately been eclipsed by the widespread “failure” of many municipalities.

“Rather than moving communities forward, many municipalities have themselves regressed – struggling to perform their basic functions, unable and sometimes unwilling to bill for services and collect revenues and some have even been bold enough to request financial assistance from national and provincial government to pay salaries.”

Currently, there are 163 municipalities in financial distress, 40 municipalities in a financial and service delivery crisis and 102 municipalities who have adopted budgets this year which they cannot fund.

Mboweni said for the first time since the advent of democracy, the national executive has been ordered by a high court to constitutionally intervene in the affairs of a municipality owing to a financial and service delivery failure.

“As I make this submission before this House today, I am both the Minister of Finance of the Republic of South Africa and also responsible for the Lekwa Local municipality in the Mpumalanga Province.

“While the situation at the Lekwa municipality is extremely unfortunate, it shines a light on a number of issues affecting the performance of local government.

“Poor political leadership demonstrated by political infighting in councils and political interference in administrative matters have served as a stumbling block to a viable municipal sector.

“We can’t speak of economic recovery and prosperity when municipalities, as agents responsible for helping government achieve these objectives, find themselves in a perpetual crisis,” he said.

Mboweni said administrative incompetence will not be tolerated.

“National and provincial government have to date spent billions of rands in local government capacity building programmes.

“The poor performance of many municipalities shows that there was almost a zero return on that investment.”