By DA Ward 4 Councillor, GEOFF EMBLING
A mere two percent of the municipality’s roads and stormwater budget was spent in the first half of the financial year.
This emerged at the Makana municipality’s Infrastructure Portfolio Committee meeting on 9 February
Page 14 of the report provided at the meeting stated that the yearly budget for roads and stormwater maintenance was R8.3 million, and of this amount R2.5 million was allocated to materials for fixing roads and potholes i.e., asphalt tar. The current financial year runs from 1 July 2022 – end of June 2023, and only R178 789 of the roads and stormwater budget was spent in the first half of the financial year, which is mere two percent of the budget. If the municipality keeps up this pace it would have spent four percent of this budget by the end of the financial year.
Several reasons were presented at the meeting for the astounding inaction seen across the board, such as supply chain and procurement blockages. Vehicles stand idle because of minor issues. Some municipal vehicles have been without oil for the past weeks due to negligence and late orders, and a private institution even donated 5 liters of oil so that the municipality could continue the job it was busy with. The municipal grader needs a starter motor and has been sitting idle since December, another heavy-duty vehicle needs a wheel, along with a host of bakkies and other vehicles requiring minor maintenance. Apparently asphalt could not be procured and/or could only be procured in limited amounts, and a batch that was ordered in July arrived in December. More worryingly, when departments approach the finance department for funds, the money is not forthcoming, and the excuse is that budgets have not yet been “approved”.
When the finance department presents a budget to council and then refuses to provide the respective funding to departments, it borders on fraud. It was mentioned that the new Chief Financial Officer (CFO), whose absence at the portfolio meeting was noticed, is trying to “clean the house” and get rid of debts. If this is the case, she is doing it at the expense of maintaining the town’s infrastructure. This is a serious matter, and the portfolio Chair stated that she will arrange a meeting with the CFO and infrastructure portfolio committee next week to find out exactly what is going on.
Pg. 80 of the report indicated that a vast amount of money from the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) and Water Services Infrastructure Grant (WSIG) was not spent in the previous financial year (July 2021 – end of June 2022), namely R21.6 million and R15 million respectively. In previous years, R4 million of unspent MIG and WSIG grants was seen as very high, but suddenly that figure has risen into the tens of millions. Unlike the R8.3 million that the municipality budgets, from its coffers, for fixing potholes and stormwater drains, the grants from MIG and WSIG are externally funded and basically “free money”.
The government often “rolls over” grant money, which was not spent, and the municipal departments possibly expected the same treatment this time round, but it didn’t happen. There was so little progress with capital projects in the previous financial year that Makana’s application for the MIG and WSIG rollover funding was not approved. An appeal was sent to National Treasury, but Treasury did not respond. This is a disaster, as many projects are now stuck hanging in midair, like the refurbishment of the 11kV electrical network, which is 90 percent complete.
Pages 82-85 in the agenda show an astonishing lack of progress with most of the projects. A key point which the Director raised was the continued awarding of tenders to companies which cannot cope with the work and fail the municipality. This is a countrywide issue and is partially due to BEE and the system which it has bred, narrowing the pool of selection and undermining competition. Large projects in Makana have been affected by the rollover not being approved, such as the upgrade of Ncame Street, the Belmont Valley wastewater treatment works, replacement of asbestos pipes and the Mayfield Outfall sewer. The Director said that work at Belmont Valley will continue with funding from the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). It seems as if some departments did not even bother to register projects with treasury. Registering projects requires some effort, like a business plan, but needs to be done to receive the available grant funding. For example, on pg. 83, R1.3 million for the purchase of a new solid waste compactor was not registered, and on pg. 84 external funding for streetlight repairs was not registered.
These are some issues of note which were discussed in the morning, until the meeting was cut short due to a municipal wellness session, thoughtlessly arranged, which clashed with the infrastructure meeting. The infrastructure meeting was resumed later in the afternoon. In my next report, I will provide an update on the afternoon’s session – water, electricity etc.