Opening Address at Municipal Public Accounts Committee Symposium
Speakers Councillors and Officials,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Last week on Thursday I had the honour of addressing the NCOP in the presence of President Jacob Zuma.
I reminded the delegates in the NCOP of the fact that our beautiful country is today, 20 years after democracy, a much better place than it was pre 1994.
I believe this to be true.
Our people today all have access to things like electricity and houses and the best education regardless of the colour of their skin.
But I told the NCOP that democracy inherited many challenges.
Chief amongst these are the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment that today throws a very big shadow over our rainbow nation.
Despite all the good that has been done and still is being done, these triple challenges keep catching up.
Poverty keeps catching up.
And it doesn’t help that a democratic South Africa has seen corruption and the waste of public resources increase.
Corruption is one of the worst kinds of crimes, especially when it happens in governing structures.
Because when one steals in government, you are stealing directly from the poorest of the poor.
Rich people and middle class people are okay if some money meant for services goes astray.
For example, if money meant to maintain a water pump gets stolen or redirected, rich people can buy bottled water.
Poor people must drink from polluted streams or dams and then they get sick and the situation gets worse.
Corruption like this abounds across our country.
And this scares me.
The Auditor General has only recently announced that irregular state expenditure increased from 26 billion rand in the 2013 financial year to 62 billion rand in the 2014 financial year.
That’s an almost three fold increase in one year.
What can be done about this?
Well, I believe that municipalities that are well managed and held accountable for their actions, are vital.
I oversee 30 municipalities in the province and we were therefore very pleased earlier this year when the AG awarded 29 of our 30 municipalities with unqualified audits.
Additionally 11 of those municipalities also got a further achievement of getting clean audits. Bear in mind only 22 municipalities across the country got clean audits.
I do believe these types of benchmarks are important as they are a way to tell poor uneducated people that their government is spending the entire budget it gets in their best interests.
I am sure you will agree with me that these municipalities must be congratulated and celebrated. We are certainly very proud of their achievements.
One tool that has proven to be quite useful in running our municipalities accountably is the Municipal Public Accounts Committees or MPACS.
Since National Treasury issued guidelines for the establishment of MPACS in 2011 many Western Cape Municipalities questioned the relevance and need for an additional committee.
Municipalities argued that it is a duplication of what they are already doing.
They argued that it is an additional cost that is unaffordable and that there are capacity constraints in smaller councils.
All these arguments are not irrelevant or without basis but it do not justify municipalities to not establish MPACS.
My reason for taking this position is because MPACS is not about achieving clean audits.
MPACS is about improving oversight over executive action and administrative implementation.
The one argument coming from local government that I do not agree with is that MPACS is duplication.
This argument is too simplistic if you are committed to improving oversight.
And no person can convince me that oversight does not need to be improved at local government level everywhere in South Africa.
And I say MPACS should be used as an opportunity to improve oversight.
Section 151of our Constitution states that the executive and legislative authority of a municipality is vested in its municipal council.
The Council gives executive power to the mayor and his committee but the council remains accountable.
This means if an abuse of power or failure to perform by the executive and administration goes unchecked by the municipal council this is a failure by council.
The mayor and administration might be the responsible persons but because the power is vested in the municipal council, the individual councillors and the collective body remain accountable.
‘n Munisipale raad is dus gesamentlik aanspreeklik vir die oortredings en/of nie uitvoering van pligte van ‘n uitvoerende amptenaar soos ‘n burgermeester sou die raad nie optree teen só amptenaar wat oortree nie.
Munisipale rade kan nie hul gesag of verantwoordelikhede weggee nie en kan gevolglik nie uitvoerende amptenare se wan administrasies of gebrek aan prestasie lewering ignoreer nie.
Municipal councils cannot give its power away and thereafter turn a blind eye to non-performance or even worse maladministration.
I know that we all will agree that an MPAC is not a magical cure for all of the challenges which Municipalities face.
It also does not guarantee a clean audit.
However, with appropriate support and a willingness to face these challenges the MPACs are a positive step in the right direction for municipalities who want to be more accountable.
MPACs will also assist in achieving clean audits.
Naturally if MPACS are not supported the system could become just another committee that adds no value.
For an MPAC to be effective it needs partners which can support its oversight functions.
These partners are the Auditor –General, Audit Committee, Provincial Departments of Treasury and Local government, COGTA and other relevant components within the municipality.
When it comes to my department and support from our side, we are available at any time to assist with any request from municipalities in regards to MPACs.
We will also play an active role in additional training that must be rolled out.
The success of MPACS is dependent on a joint effort by all parties.
The training that was provided at earlier workshops and the MPAC session by the Standing committee in 2013 as well as today shows that we are serious about the implementation of MPACS at each and every Municipality in the Western Cape Province.
Two issues need clarification.
The first is the chairpersonship of MPAC.
The guideline suggested that the chairperson should not be from the ruling party. It is not a legal requirement but the Western Cape government supports this suggestion.
We are the only province where municipalities are heeding this call.
We understand that in many councils this may be a stumbling block to the establishment of MPACS.
It should not be, but we know that each council is different.
My Department is willing to meet with you and discuss this issue where needed.
The second issue is the full time position of the MPAC chairperson in councils with more than 40 councillors.
This affects only five councils outside the metro.
It is the position of the Western Cape Government that full time councillors will only be designated if councils are able to illustrate that the MPAC is meeting regularly and that the quantity but also quality of work being done indeed justifies a full time salary.
The guideline suggests that MPAC meet a least 4 times a year.
Four meetings a year does not justify a full time salary.
In some places, part-time chairpersons are now able to earn more than other part time councillors.
It is our belief that if municipal processes do not generate a sufficient amount of work for part time chairpersons of the MPACs then those councils are wasting taxpayers’ money.
Such councils should consider reducing section 79 committees or providing detail to the terms of reference that will generate sufficient work.
It is further my belief that the success of MPAC depends on the ethical qualities of the Councillors sitting on the Committee.
Councillors must have the ability to at times take off their political hats and work in the best interest of the Municipality and its citizens.
Another critical factor is the nature and quality of the combined support provided to MPAC members by all present here today.
The message has reached twenty seven (27) of our Municipalities who have currently established MPACS and the others have given positive indication that they are in the process of doing so.
If there are stumbling blocks to their continued establishment feel free to call on my Department.
Also, if you have already established your MPAC but are experiencing implementation challenges please call on my Department.
We are committed in assisting you.
I would like to end by stating again that I unequivocally and without hesitation give my full support for the establishment of MPAC’s at all municipalities within the Western Cape Province.
I am therefore encouraging those municipalities which have as yet not decided to proceed with the establishment of MPACS to do so as a matter of urgency.