Oudtshoorn: Update of Ongoing Administration
Anton Bredell, the Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in the Western Cape, says very encouraging strides have been made in stabilising the Oudtshoorn Municipality following an intervention done on 31 July 2015 in terms of SECTION 139(1)(b) of the constitution.
“The administrator inherited a dire situation that continues to present many challenges, some which can only be addressed over the medium to long term. I have recently reported to the Provincial Cabinet and given the extent of the remaining challenges it was resolved to extend the current intervention until the forthcoming Local Government Elections next year.”
Bredell says significant backlogs have been identified in terms of infrastructure and maintenance for which there is no quick fix.
“Budget and skills remain a huge problem in addressing the challenges that are on the ground. While matters are being addressed the full turnaround will be a lengthy process.”
Bredell has thanked his colleagues and counterparts at National and Provincial Government Departments for their continued assistance with regards to the intervention in Oudtshoorn.
“This intervention has always been and remains a combined effort between local, provincial and national government.”
Major challenges identified in Oudtshoorn and details on the work that has been done to date:
In Oudtshoorn over the past few years, instability in the council limited effective functioning. Following years of litigation, what followed was an intervention in terms of SECTION 139(1)(b) of the constitution.
Additionally, since 28 September 2015, all executive powers vests in the Administrator and until such time as an acting Municipal manager is appointed, the Administrator functions as the Accounting Officer. It is envisaged that such an acting MM will commence duty by mid-January 2016.
To date, in order to empower the council, training and workshops with councillors have been held and relevant portfolio committees established. Ward committees were re-established and strengthened by training to enable public participation. These are currently functioning.
Litigation has been a major cost driver in the municipality. Measures have been put in place to curb these expenses and all legal action instituted by and against the Municipality is being assessed. Where possible, settlements are being entered into. The Legal Services section of the Department of the Premier is advising on legal matters in an effort to further curb costs.
- Waste Water Treatment Plant.
The major problem is that the capacity of the treatment plant is inadequate and must be upgraded from 6 Mega litres per day to to 9.2 Mega litres per day.
The indications are that this will come at an estimated cost of R4.8 million. The department has already reprioritized some Municipal Infrastructure Grant funding and this has made R2 million available. Officials are still investigating ways to fund the remainder.
Additionally, a 3 ML mothballed waste treatment facility is being brought back online. This facility should be operational by the end of May 2016.
Furthermore, inspectors have been appointed who are tasked with policing and enforcing the existing bylaws pertaining to the disposal of commercial and industrial sewerage into the municipal sewers. This aims to address the quality of the influent into the system.
- Water supply.
The issues with water is a one of growing concern. The country is experiencing water shortages and the Oudtshoorn region is no different. The region is one of the worst water affected areas in the province. Disaster management authorities in the province is developing a strategy to mitigate any situation should matters escalate over the coming months. A long term solution is being developed by the department.
- Roads and storm water systems
Roads are generally in poor condition with big potholes prevalent throughout Oudtshoorn, Dyselsdorp and De Rust. Additionally there is a general deterioration of road surfaces, inadequate sealing and storm water systems are failing. To date funds have been allocated for repairing potholes and work has already commenced. The priority has been to reseal the road in the CBD. The acting director of technical services is currently doing a full assessment of all the roads in the town and its outlying areas. Following the assessment the department plans to address the matter with colleagues at the various transport and road departments and agencies requesting funding to address the issues that are identified.
The town’s budget was not credible with over-expenditure of projected income. The administrator found poor financial and budgetary controls with a high level of creditors.
Cashflow remains under severe pressure.
To date, the budget is being revised by way of an adjustment budget for January 2016. The administrator and his team continues to minimise all non-essential expenditure and additionally, a committee has been established to implement strict expenditure control, meeting weekly. This is in order to address the cashflow matters.
Debt exceeding R11m to housing agency ASLA has been repaid. Repayment of ESKOM arrears has commenced and final and full repayment is being negotiated.
A new procurement policy is being developed as well as a 3 to 5 year financial recovery plan.
A full forensic investigation has been instituted, following numerous issues raised by the public and issues detected internally following the appointment of the administrator. The forensic investigation team has been appointed and the investigation has commenced. To date staff have been interviewed and data is being analysed. A forensic report is expected by end January 2016.
Any official or other party found to have been involved in irregular or illegal activities will face the full consequences of the law.
The administration found a high number of acting senior officials which resulted in diminished accountability. The town has big skills shortages in critical highly skilled positions, yet a high cost of employees. A large temporary staff contingent of around 600 people was inherited by the Administrator. To date, acting senior staff has been returned to original positions. An acting CFO and acting Director Technical Services has been seconded. These posts are currently both funded by the Department of Local Government. A skills audit is being executed. The administrator is also assessing the status of temporary employees and has commenced with a process to review the organisational design.
The town faces a significant housing backlog. There are some additional challenges like housing for disabled people and some existing housing units that have fallen into disrepair.
To date a memorandum of understanding has been entered into with a service provider to erect houses in Rosevalley and to repair houses that have fallen into disrepair. The administrator is also working towards a credible housing list and credible process of allocation of housing. In this regard an official with the necessary skills and capacity has been identified as a Housing Manager.
The administrator found the caves had no operating budget. There has been a general deterioration of infrastructure and some management inadequacies have been identified. To date an expenditure budget has been developed for the interim period. Additionally, technical issues such as lighting and water are being addressed.
Over the longer term, a task team has been established to recommend an appropriate management model for the Caves. We have also applied for grant funding to restore infrastructure around the caves. We are hoping for a positive outcome in this regard. Currently the message to the public is, the caves are open and are operating well.
Bredell says the turnaround of Oudtshoorn will not happen overnight.
“I remain disappointed that the situation had to come to this. It bears reminding that various departments have been monitoring and trying to advise Oudtshoorn within the limits of existing legislation for years, but the council in charge at the time, rather chose to counter cooperation with legal action on numerous occasions. This has delayed many of the actions we are now implementing. Unfortunately these delays have meant that the town is now stuck with a backlog that must now be addressed as quickly as possible, but this is not an overnight process.”