By PHILIP MACHANICK, MCF PR Councillor and FAME committee member
The Finance, Administration and Monitoring (FAME) Portfolio Committee, also called Finance, met on 18 February 2022, and there was a positive, constructive spirit in the meeting, chaired by Councillor Z Hoyi.
Issues that came up include the low fraction of contracts awarded to local contractors the lack of progress on critical projects such as the Ncame Street resurfacing and sewer upgrades. Related to projects, I questioned why project managers score projects highly on performance when there is no progress.
I was pleased to have strong support from an ANC member on questioning how over R500 000 could be spent on one borehole. Also related to water is why so much has been spent on refurbishing dams like Jameson that supply no water when the money would be better spent on addressing leaks. The 25 January oversight visit by the parliamentary portfolio committee on Water and Sanitation also came up, and I questioned why we were omitted.
I was particularly concerned about the lack of progress on water and sewer upgrades. I raised the question of why the Ncame Street project was taking so long, as this could create the perception of favouritism towards the CBD, where the road project, despite delays, has made steady progress. We will be keeping a particular watch on this project as upgrades of township roads are long overdue.
Another issue with a wide agreement is that overtime needs to be brought under control, having ballooned to over R1-million per month.
Acting CFO Colleen Mani assured us that the item in the agenda that made it appear that we were running out of water treatment chemicals had been addressed, and an alternative supplier was found.
Another issue was signing up indigent residents, an important factor in calculating Equitable Share, provided by the national government to support services for the poor.
A concern I raised is that the process of cleansing the debtor database is long overdue as unrecoverable debt (e.g. deceased residents) makes Makana’s financial position look better than it is, making it challenging to justify assistance in financial recovery.
I once again raised the point that was not understood in previous engagements with municipal officials: in the Eskom case, the municipality and Eskom are respondents. If they want to cut a new deal on clearing the Makana Eskom debt backlog, they need to involve the applicants. This point appeared to be accepted by the chair and acting CFO. The acting CFO outlined payments made over the month to Eskom to catch up with the payment plan; I am not aware that the applicants in the case were informed of these steps. This is not the first time the municipality has acted in ignorance of the law, and I questioned the quality of its internal legal advice.
A problem for the FAME portfolio meeting is that it touches on many other areas; it would be better if other directors could be present. The acting CFO answered questions efficiently, but she could not speak for operational areas beyond her knowledge of financial aspects.
As this was the first FAME meeting for the new council, we did not get deep into the substance. In future meetings, we need resolutions that will drive action.
A longer-term concern is fixing systemic issues such as lack of controls, potential corruption of supply-chain management and the way revenue collection of non-payers disproportionately targets the poor. MCF will push for greater use of local service providers and insourcing. It is crazy that we spend hundreds of thousands of rand a month for a contractor to manage the landfill site, a task that a municipality should operate out of its own resources.