'Eye of the needle' to fix municipalities

Pretoria - Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Lechesa Tsenoli believes government has finally found a working solution to fix non-functioning municipalities and get rid of corrupt and errant managers in local government.

The answer, he says, is found in the new regulations that aim to help with the implementation of the Municipal Systems Amendment Act. Speaking to SAnews in an interview on Friday, Tsenoli said gone are the days when an official would "run away" from a corruption case by resigning from a municipality, only to join another one a few months down the line. According to the regulations, municipalities have to keep records of fired employees or those who quit before their disciplinary hearing is completed.

The new regulations, gazetted last Friday, also set minimum levels of skills, expertise and qualifications for senior managers, while pay will be capped by the minister in future. Those found guilty of financial misconduct in municipalities will be prevented from taking up local government jobs for 10 years, while those found guilty of other offences will be kept at bay for between two and five years.

"People are going to be properly screened and we want to make sure that they do not carry any baggage of misconduct from elsewhere; [and that] they do not have convictions of fraud and so on. We are going to be tough. We call it the eye of the needle."

The regulations would also ensure that when people are finally employed, they are leaders of integrity and will be able to run municipalities with honour, Tsenoli says.

"We also want to make sure that the salaries they earn do not outstrip that of the President, because it has been established that some municipal managers are earning way too much. Without entering into the bargaining arena, a cap will be put on the remuneration in line with the economic situation of the country."

The regulations were part of the turnaround strategy devised by the then Minister Sicelo Shiceka and will aim to help municipalities implement the Municipal Systems Amendment Act, which was passed by Parliament in 2011.

"We undertook, after taking office in 2009, that the turnaround strategy will be put into place and acted upon. This is one area of the law where we are intervening practically. It is a crucial way to guide weaker municipalities that are not able to properly guide themselves in human resources, finance and so on," said Tsenoli.

Asked how the regulations will affect the authority of municipalities to act independently, Tsenoli maintains that local authorities will retain their autonomy.

"It is a useful guiding template but still means that they have the authority and will act as a council without regional and provincial government intervention. So it is their responsibility to do that. What we have done is to provide them with help and guide them."

The law was not passed without opposition. Municipal workers' union Samwu and the SA Local Government Association opposed the passing of the act and the regulations, citing several concerns.

Samwu was concerned about the act prohibiting senior political office bearers from becoming senior managers in local government, while Salga was unhappy with a range of issues, including the capping of salaries by national government.

But Tsenoli defends the regulations, saying they are the best thing to have happened in municipalities since 1995.

"This is part of the Municipal Management Act. We work with Treasury in all of these things. We have also announced an amnesty of sorts, allowing for people who currently are in (senior) positions in municipalities to ensure they upgrade themselves because if they don't have specific competencies and qualifications, they will not be allowed to occupy those positions," said Tsenoli.

Chris Bathembu
- SAnews.gov.za