The Free State provincial government says it is implementing several measures to help municipalities improve service delivery and overall administration which have not been quite impressive in some areas. The Weekly’s Martin Makoni asked the Free State Director General Kopung Ralikontsane about some of the measures following the delivering of the State of the Province Address (SOPA) on Tuesday where a number of initiatives were announced. Makoni also asked Ralikontsane what was being done to ensure municipalities were able to attract and retain highly qualified and skilled staff. Excerpts:
What will it take to fix the municipalities in the province because some of them have had their properties attached after failing to meet their obligations to creditors, what’s being done?
The issue of municipalities is very crucial. Debt has accumulated over time in our municipalities such that some of them are not able to meet their obligations anymore. It’s true, some creditors have gone to court to try and recover costs. By doing that, because the municipalities are unable to pay, they are now taking municipal assets. We have intervened. We are in discussions with these creditors.
What sort of intervention are you providing as a provincial government and have you made any headway?
The Premier set up a task team which I lead as the DG. It also comprises all the Heads of Departments in the province. We have looked at the priority municipalities and we are also working with a team that Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) minister Zweli Mkhize has set up. These are the rapid response teams. They bring in the technical part. We are dealing with governance issues from our side to try and stabilise the finances, prioritise issues and then to also negotiate settlements with creditors. We are gradually progressing, like in Mafube, we have been able to talk to some of the creditors. We are gradually beginning to settle with the creditors and they are bringing back some of those municipal assets.
And how significant is that progress given the task at hand; will it really bring marked change in these municipalities any time soon?
We are bringing stability from a governance perspective. And from a service delivery perspective, we are working with the team that has been set up by minister Mkhize, with the assistance of the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA). It’s a team of engineers and urban planners. We are getting direction on how to address some of the challenges and the municipalities have been implementing those measures with some positive outcomes. There is still a lot of work to be done.
The Local Government Lekgotla held in November last year urged municipalities develop an Implementation Plan for the resolutions, how is this shaping up in the province?
We will be working on that this year. The envisioned interventions will include improving on planning, coordination and support within and between the three spheres of government, and professionalising local government. Already, we are assisting municipalities to comply with the municipal performance management system. Minimum competency requirements on filling of senior management positions in compliance with the necessary legislations will strictly be effected. We can only do better if we have able and qualified people.
Free State municipalities recorded remarkable improvements in their audit outcomes in the 2016/17 financial year, but most of them regressed in 2017/18, what are you doing about it?
Provincial Treasury will assist municipalities that received poor audit outcomes. We will provide support on budgets, supply chain management, internal audit and risk management.
Service delivery in several municipalities remains a challenge, resulting in some residents staging protests for better services but this is proving difficult due to limited funds in some cases, how are you addressing that?
Measures have been put in place to limit the impact of service delivery challenges emanating from declining budgets and the prevailing economic pressures, which have resulted in most municipal budgets being unfunded. We are now assisting 12 of the 22 municipalities that have cash flow and reporting challenges. We are hoping that our intervention in Mafube and Masilonyana would have led to the desired outcomes and the intervention uplifted. There are still persistent challenges, which need our technical support.
The situation in Maluti-A-Phofung has not been good for a while in terms of service delivery and operations in general, is there anything specific that you are doing to address that?
The situation is certainly a matter of concern. We are particularly concerned about sustainable provision of water and electricity in that area. We are working with the team that Minister Mkhize has put together to resolve these challenges. We are also hopeful that the current political impasse will be resolved.
Most rural municipalities struggle to attract and retain highly qualified and skilled personnel particularly due to their geographical locations and lack of other services and amenities such as schools, banks and hospitals, what are you doing about this?
You know that minimum compensation has now been determined. So, we are trying to use MISA to bring that additional support and assist those people that are appointed. Sometimes you appoint technologists because of the size of the municipality, So, you may need a MISA engineer to try and assist those technologists over a period time. That allows that person to take over the running of infrastructure development in that municipality thereafter.
One of the reasons why municipalities are struggling with debt is that they have small revenue bases, what are you doing to address that and how bad is that situation?
We are basically purifying, first, the current data of municipalities. There are people who are piggy-banking on people that are not working and claim not to be working too so that they don’t pay for services. Some of them are living with their families, as in parents, but you may find the person is a teacher. That person must pay on behalf of the family. So, we are purifying our indigent registers to see who exactly they are. Those are the governance and financial management processes. From there, obviously manicipalities can then start creating jobs because they will be collecting more revenue. But the jobs shouldn’t just be limited to infrastructure projects because those are short term. We need to create long term employment so that people are able to pay for their services.
How is the provincial government working on that to ensure more permanent jobs are created within communities?
Obviously, sustainable jobs can only happen if the business comes to the party. We are busy talking to business, some of them are involved in manufacturing, like those we have earmarked for QwaQwa in the Phuthaditshaba Industrial Park, in Botshabelo here, and we are also resuscitating the Thaba Nchu Industrial Park. Manufacturing has to happen, to accommodate more people. The agricultural sector must also thrive so that it is able to accommodate more people.
What’s discouraging businesses to come to the Free State, what sort of feedback are you getting?
They obviously what to look at the demographic dividend. They look at the number of people that will purchase their goods and services, first. So, in the Free State, we are trying to target major areas such as Mangaung, Matjhabeng, Dihlabeng, Sasolburg and QwaQwa, so that we can actually incentivise business in terms of that demographic dividend. They also look at whether they will be able to get qualified staff over and above the market potential. That’s why there are more businesses in major cities.
And what sort of incentives are you, as the provincial government, offering to businesses that wish to set-up base in the Free State?
It all depends on the kind of business that they are into. Some can get land for a particular period of time, say, three years without paying rates and taxes on the land. There are many other tax holidays specifically designed for the SEZ (Special Economic Zones). We are hoping that a lot of businesses will be going there because we are introducing a host of tax holidays.