By Geoff Embling, Ward Four DA councillor
The municipality’s Infrastructure meeting took place on 11 May. At the previous infrastructure meeting, three months ago, the managers were asked why their various departments were not performing. The unanimous response was that allocations of money seen on the budget for roads, sewage, storm water, electricity, and water were not made available by the finance department. In response, the chairperson of infrastructure said that she would set up an urgent meeting with the chief financial officer (CFO), councillors and management to ascertain where the problem lay. The chairperson was reminded about this, but to date there has been no such meeting.
The chairperson of infrastructure complained previously about opposition councillors doing oversight visits to infrastructure facilities, and three months ago she pledged to set up a visit whereby councillors and management could do a water oversight visit together. This never materialised. It was noted that several months ago the Speaker of Council stated at a public meeting that a joint operations committee (JOC) would be established, whereby academics and engineers from town would work with the municipal water management. This has not occurred, and the chairperson of infrastructure was reminded to press this issue.
R24 million was budgeted for water services, over and above the capital projects such as James Kleynhans upgrades, yet only thirty percent of the R24 million was accessible from the finance department. All other infrastructure departments echoed this frustration, that money was available on paper, but did not materialize when requested from the finance department. Water is the largest department but has only two bakkies available to attend to water leaks and other repairs. It means that one team can only be used at a time, while other teams stand idle. This has a knock-on effect, because if a third of the issues are seen to per day, the back-up log becomes increasingly worse as the weeks progress, and overtime becomes necessary due to these factors.
Other departments echoed this sentiment, that essential vehicles such as the cherry picker (for electrical work), grader, JLB and refuse trucks have been standing idle for months awaiting minor repairs. Management complained about a host of vehicles grounded with minor needs such as a new clutch, tire, or starter motor. The finance department allegedly is not submitting paperwork and releasing payments for these repairs, and more worryingly, finance is not paying businesses which have done work on municipal vehicles. For example, a local auto electrical business has not been paid for work done, and Makana has been sending vehicles to Port Alfred instead for repairs.
Makana has not been paying for quality analysis done on its water samples, so the company has been withholding the results. The supply of chemicals for treating the water is low, and the finance department is delaying the orders for more chemicals. It was mentioned at the meeting that if the chemicals do not arrive on time, Makana may have to shut off the water supply entirely.
Management expressed grave concern that many service providers are not being paid, which is breaking their trust. Emotions were high at the meeting, and it seemed as if the situation had become increasingly worse, to the extent of becoming intolerable over the last six months. One councillor mentioned that it might be better to decentralise finance somewhat and allow different departments, such as infrastructure, to manage their own budgets and procure the necessary items.
To date, Makana has not been able to determine the cause of the blockage at Howiesonspoort dam. Workers are still protesting the overtime issue, and it was reported that on 10 May, when the Makana teams were working on finding the issue at the dam, the workers packed up promptly and left the dam at the knock-off time, which is 4pm. A few senior managers were left at the dam, and work which was being done in detecting the issue, ground to a halt. Several areas in Makana have been without water for over three weeks, yet the crisis is no closer to being resolved than it was at the start. It was mentioned that if there is no progress regarding water availability, the National Arts Festival may be jeopardised.
It cannot be overstated how severe the situation in Makana is. The lack of consequence management, inability to control employees, lack of finances for infrastructure (due to poor budgeting and prioritising other less essential services), along with low morale of staff, are the problems.
Makana municipality might have reached the point where it needs to be placed under administration.