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Councils fight Tito Mboweni’s cost-cutting measures

2019-06-25 01:30

Far-reaching municipal cost-cutting measures introduced by Treasury will not be implemented by municipalities next month because the SA Local Government Association (Salga) objected to them.

Salga represents the country’s municipalities.

This year’s Municipal Cost Containment Regulations were gazetted in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act.

The measures were heralded as a great initiative to eliminate wasteful and reckless spending by political office bearers and municipal officials.

The cost-cutting measures include limiting the use of consultants; doing away with official credit cards; limiting the amount of money spent on cars for mayors to no more than R700 000; allowing for catering under strict conditions; restricting business-class travel to trips exceeding five hours; and tightening accommodation expenses.

But Salga’s new president, Thembi Nkadimeng, said that the oversight body had joined the cooperative governance and traditional affairs department ministers and members of executive councils meetinglast week.

At the meeting, it was decided to delay the implementation of the regulations, which were scheduled to take effect from next month, until further consultation with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni.

Nkadimeng told City Press that, while Mboweni was empowered to make such proposals, he was legally required to seek agreement with the minister of the cooperative governance department – and this did not happen.

She said the regulations created the impression that councillors were extravagant and did not care.

“That is unfair,” she said.

Nkadimeng said that, while Salga supported cost containment in principle, its officials felt some of the provisions did not target existing problems.

She cited the example of certain municipalities hiring consultants because they could not attract or retain skilled workers in critical areas.

She said the funding model made it hard for smaller and rural municipalities to attract people skilled in financial management and in technical areas like engineering.

“This leads to poorly planned budgets and revenue not being collected,” said Nkadimeng.

“Worse still, it can result in bad workmanship such as bad roads. I can have a R200 000 car, but will we be able to build a road that won’t be washed away when it rains?”

Compounding such problems was the grading of municipalities, she said, which caused skilled people to refuse to work in rural provinces such as Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

“The Auditor-General’s review report points to critical shortages in financial, technical and corporate services. These areas have to survive on candidate engineers, who use municipal jobs to get work experience and then leave.”

Nkadimeng said some municipalities ended up using financial consultants to draw up financial statements because the ones produced by junior staff in council were so poor that the Auditor-General’s office refused to accept them.

Other concerns about the regulations included the provision that councillors use public transport to events. This made them vulnerable to violence, even murder, she said.

Nkadimeng, who is the mayor of Polokwane, said that at the ministers and members of executive councils meeting, it was agreed that consultations with councillors had to continue, hence the regulations could not take effect on July 1, when the municipalities’ financial year begins.

An added problem, she said, was that the former cooperative governance minister, Zweli Mkhize – who has since moved to the health portfolio and been replaced by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – had not given the regulations the go-ahead, as required by law.

“Mkhize also made a disclaimer saying that Salga should have been consulted.”

Nkadimeng said that, while she understood Mboweni’s position, councillors were asking why the regulations were not being extended to ministers and MECs who are starting new terms in office “because they have read stories of some ministers abusing their credit cards”.

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July 21 2019