Troubled FS municipalities a ‘top priority’

MEC Thembeni Nxangisa

The financially troubled Mangaung Metro Municipality is among Free State municipalities that the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department vows to turn around. Tabling the department’s 2021/22 budget in Botshabelo, MEC Thembeni Nxangisa said the financial health of municipalities in the province and their ability to provide residents with adequate services is a top priority.

He confirmed many are plagued with high vacancy rates, low revenue collection and escalating debts to service providers. This, coupled with lack of consequence management, political infights, and non-compliance with procurement processes as per the latest report by the Auditor-General. Whilst Nxangisa has vowed to address challenges faced by municipalities in the province, he confirmed they have been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He told the Members of the Provincial Legislature (MPLs) and community members gathered at the Lenyora La Thuto Comprehensive School, that provision of sustainable water, sanitation and electricity are key in the 2021/22 financial year. “Municipalities owe large amounts of money to service providers. The huge debt is sometimes a source of conflict between municipalities and service providers, leading services to be terminated by the service providers, which as a result leaves communities without the necessary services. We will therefore like to encourage businesses and residents to pay for services” he highlighted.

Nxangisa confirmed municipalities in the province collectively now owe Eskom more than R13.5 billion, with the infamous Maluti-A-Phofung and Matjhabeng owing the bulk of it. He said they will be forging closer working ties with the provincial treasury and ailing municipalities to ensure that they adhere to their payments agreements and implement recovery plans to improve their financial outlook. Whilst opposition parties in the provincial legislature lambasted him for what they referred to as empty promises, Nxangisa told the house his department is this year more resolute to ensure municipalities are financially viable and able to carry out their duties.

His statement also comes merely two days after the South African Human Rights Commission has expressed concerns at the state of ailing municipalities in the Free State and how their inability to carry out their constitutional functions infringes on residents’ human rights. The Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department has been allocated more than R416 million budget for the 2021/22 financial year by the MEC of Finance Gadija Brown earlier this month.

During the tabling of the provincial budget speech, Gadija announced that this department will with its budget have to ensure the improvement of municipal audit outcomes, the establishment of water laboratories in municipalities, and make provision for the House of Traditional Leaders among other necessities.

Katleho Morapela