Municipalities need competence and accountability, not a skills swap

Our municipalities are burning but the Minister wants to inject oxygen into them

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06/07/2022 10:59:22

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Municipalities need competence and accountability, not a skills swap

Stop pandering to incompetent deployed cadres in municipalities and replace them with professionals who will do the job. The public is entitled to expect that managers who are paid anything from R815 063 to R3.934 million a year are fully competent.

“Our municipalities need professional people who can run them like a business with proper performance evaluation and consequences. South Africans are tired of paying ever-increasing rates and service charges for inadequate service. If those in charge of our towns and cities fail to perform, they should be disciplined and removed,” says Julius Kleynhans, Executive Manager at OUTA.

OUTA challenges the proposal by Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma that the best- and worst-performing municipalities introduce a skills exchange programme.

Municipal managers are well paid, with the expectation that they are competent. Current salaries for municipal managers range from a minimum of R992 705 (the lowest pay in the poorest municipality) to R3.934 million (maximum pay in the metros), and the salaries of the managers reporting directly to municipal managers range from R815 063 to R3.148 million. These salaries are set nationally (see last year’s salaries here and this year’s retention at the same level here). We note that the remuneration notice motivates these high salaries by the expectation of competence.

This is what the notice says:

The upper limits constitutes an integral part of the human resources value chain in building resilient administrative institutions underpinned by the intent to enable municipalities to attract, appoint and retain appropriately qualified and competent municipal managers and managers directly accountable to municipal managers necessary for effective performance of their functions.

In order to strengthen the capacity of municipalities, this Notice reinforces the statutory obligation binding on municipalities to appoint municipal managers and managers directly accountable to municipal managers who meet the minimum prescribed competencies, higher education qualifications, work experience, knowledge, including attainment of a competent achievement level or higher as measured against the Local Government: Regulations on Appointment and Conditions of Appointment for Senior Managers of 2014.

We suggest that Cabinet, the CoGTA Minister and MECs read this notice and ensure that it is applied.

“Some of the municipalities and metros in our country have budgets equivalent to the biggest companies in South Africa. If you compare the quality of individuals in top management positions in top performing companies and our municipalities, you will quickly get the picture of what is wrong,” says Kleynhans. The ineptitude and incompetence are overwhelming.

We also note the enormous amounts of money spent each year on training and support for municipal officials and, in light of the widespread failure of municipalities, we question the value of this spending when accountability is absent.

This includes:

  • National Treasury already provides manuals, guidelines, instructions and help, including the Local Government Financial Management Grant (R566 million in 2022/23, see here) to build capacity in municipalities to implement the Municipal Finance Management Act.

  • The national CoGTA department will spend R18.493 billion on its local government support and intervention management programme in 2022/23 and another R87.572 billion on  “institutional development” for local government (see here). Provincial CoGTAs also spend on municipal support.

  • The Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) annual report for 2020/21 (the most recent available) records R519.706 million in revenue from the skills development levy (paid by municipalities) of which R294.690 million was spent on training. The LGSETA has built up a “discretionary grant reserve” of R1.376 billion and its top executives get R2.4 million a year.

  • The South African Local Government Association (Salga) annual report for 2019/20 (the latest available) states its vision as an association of municipalities “at the cutting-edge of quality and sustainable services”, and its mandate as including building the leadership and technical capacity of municipalities, support and advice for municipalities, and sharing information with municipalities. Salga received revenue of R677 million (paid by municipalities, with a 10.3% increase in levies year-on-year) and paid its CEO R5.755 million.

“Meaningless and impractical suggestions of skill swaps will not fix the dire problems we are facing in municipalities,” says Tim Tyrrell, Project Manager for the Community Action Network (CAN), a community empowerment initiative by OUTA.

The Ministry has been missing in action for many years now, and has done little to advance the performance of local government. There is a sheer lack of oversight. Even when citizens bring legal action against failed municipal councils (such as in Makana in the Eastern Cape, Msunduzi, Umshwathi and Umgugundlovu in KwaZulu-Natal, Emalahleni in Mpumalanga and Kgetlengrivier in the North West), the CoGTA MECs too often defend the errant council instead of addressing the issues that residents have raised.

Politicians in South Africa suffer from an inability to take action and implement a zero-tolerance policy against non-performance and incompetence, leaving the fight to hold city management to account to residents and communities. “South Africans are suffering the consequences of failing local government leadership, leading to crumbling infrastructure, electricity and water shortages, decaying or non-existent infrastructure and bad service delivery in general,” says Tyrrell.

The ANC’s defence of its destructive cadre deployment policy – which Chief Justice Zondo called unlawful and unconstitutional,  and which is now being challenged in court – is a shameless attempt to retain the corrupt and incompetent. There is a strong correlation between cadre deployment and a lack of political will, particularly in those municipalities that are underperforming.

Here are OUTA’s proposals for improving municipalities

  • Fire Dlamini Zuma as minister. She is out of touch and has no solutions.

  • End cadre deployment.

  • Focus on professionalising municipalities, with a clear separation between political oversight by councils and the managers employed to provide professional services.

  • Ask the legal profession to second a team of excellent labour lawyers, and give them one year to finalise disciplinary cases against all the senior municipal managers who are suspended and bring cases against others implicated in financial irregularities (start with the municipalities with audit disclaimers).

  • Conduct a thorough skills audit on senior personnel to ensure they are qualified to do their jobs and, if not, they should be fired.

  • Stop wasting money on inappropriate training for senior municipal managers.

  • Don’t use consultants unless it’s absolutely essential. If staff cannot do their jobs, they should be fired and replaced by permanent staff who can.

  • Communities must organise themselves, engage with their municipalities and hold them to account.

More information

A soundclip with comment by OUTA Executive Manager Julius Kleynhans in English is here and in Afrikaans is here.