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This time, will it work?

GROCOTTS / 14 MAY 2018 - 11.51 / SUE MACLENNAN

There’s no doubt residents, businesses and institutions in Grahamstown want Cogta’s imminent intervention to work. But can it? Grocott’s Mail asks.

Earlier this month Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Zweli Mkhize introduced the high-powered team delegated to provide technical and managerial support and expertise to Makana Municipality. Last week Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s highly publicised response to parliamentary questions from DA Shadow Minister for Co-operative Governance Kevin Mileham confirmed National Treasury would be involved in managing the finances of Makana and 14 other municipalities in the Eastern Cape.

Workers on a cherrypicker clean vegetation off the outside of the Makana City Hall. Cogta's intervention will be the fourth in four years. Will it work this time? 2017 file photo: Sue Maclennan

But after 22 months of Section 139 (1) (b) intervention in Makana, what’s different this time?

“My concern would be does our provincial government have the technocrats with capacity and skills to take over 15 municipalities?” local government researcher Lungile Penxa commented following last week’s announcement by Nene. “If they do, what stopped them from doing it before other than political interference?”

Nene responded last week to parliamentary questions from Mileham, naming 15 municipalities including Makana that had been targeted for intervention by National Treasury. Nene said municipalities were responsible for drafting financial recovery plans. Through Chapter 13 of the Municipal Finance Management Act, municipalities could request the National Treasury to draft the recovery plan in consultation with provincial treasury and the municipality.

Nene said they were working with Cogta in these interventions and his statement does not appear to contradict the interventions planned for Makana as indicated by Minister Mkhize’s advance team report.

Makana Municipality has a financial recovery plan drafted during former Section 139 (1) (b) administrator Pam Yako’s tenure. It is not clear whether this plan will be used in the current intervention.

Like civil society organisations, Penxa, who comments in his private capacity, expressed concern at Mkhize’s lifespan in office to effect the stability he was promising.

Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Zweli Mkhize poses for a photograph with Makana Local Municpality’s Executive Mayor Nomhle Gaga before an engagement with Makana stakeholders on Friday 4 May at the Monument. Photo: Sue Maclennan

During his visit to Grahamstown, the Minister said a multi-stakeholder structure comprising national, provincial, local and Rhodes University representatives would be set up to develop a programme of action, as well as task teams for implementation and improving implementing capacity.

Elections

“As much as Dr Mkhize committed to oversee this programme of action, this is not work that can be completed in a few months,” Penxa said. “South African party politics have shown us that the lifespan of a Minister in power can be made very short, so we are still unsure of how long he will be the Minister of Cogta so that he can contribute in stabilising the struggling Municipalities like our Makana.

“We must also take into consideration that elections for 2019 are around the corner. The elections can also affect the outcome of this promised national intervention.

“The capacity building intervention needed in Makana Municipality should specifically focus on among other aspects, enhancing technical, operational and management expertise, supplemented by a sustainable skills development programme which should be rolled out to all the existing staff to improve their expertise and work ethic,” said Penxa. However, there were no time frames given for this intervention. “It is a wait-and-see game.”

In addition, a sustainable skills development programme could only work in an institution that had its full staff complement.

“A skill cannot be left in a vacant critical position.”

Penxa was also sceptical about the fact that Makana’s financial recovery plan, approved by Council mid-2015, had not been immediately implemented.

“Even other currently dysfunctional municipalities that have been put under administration have had financial recovery plans but forgot to implement them. Overall, our current Minister of Cogta is in touch with the municipal systematic problems. He is saying all the right things and we are positive that he can bring about the desired change.

“We look forward to the intervention under his leadership and we will support where we can,” Penxa said, speaking as a resident of Makana.

As it happened

In a Council meeting late last year, the DA’s Makana caucus withdrew a motion for the municipality to be put under full administration in terms of Section Section 139 (1)(c ), which would include dissolution of the Council. They did this on the basis of Mayor Nomhle Gaga’s assurance that Sarah Baartman District Municipality’s Manager Ted Pillay’s secondment to Makana had been requested.

In January a grouping of civil society organisations along with the DA protested the fact that the secondment hadn’t yet gone ahead. The Concerned Citizens Committee to Save Makana red-flagged what appeared to be a misleading statement in the 24 November announcement, and a demonstration outside the City Hall followed days after. Pillay was seconded in a resolution taken on 24 January, Sarah Baartman Mayor Eunice Kekana later clarified.

Commenting this week on Nene’s response, spokesperson for the DA in Makana Mlindi Nhanha said, “The DA has always been supported an intervention by both national and provincial governments, but we opted to give the Mayor a lifeline. She has clearly failed the residents of Makana. The announcement by the Minister of Finance is a breath of fresh air and a glimmer of hope.”

The ANC Subregion Head and Makana Chief Whip Mabhuti Matyumza said, “We feel strongly that the National Government has the full right to intervene on matters of Local Government – particularly when that sphere needs assistance and we welcome that.”

The Grahamstown Residents Association, part of the Concerned Citizens grouping that campaigned for the dissolution of Makana Muncipality under Section 139 (1) (c) said they were reluctant to comment yet as it was not clear exactly what help Makana was getting from Cogta.

“What we still don’t have is a ‘platform’ or even a regular government update to tell people what’s going on and allowing for engagement,” said GRA Secretary Tim Bull.

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LINK : http://www.grocotts.co.za/2018/05/14/this-time-will-it-work/

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