SALGA is not an innocent in municipal swamp

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SALGA is not an innocent in municipal swamp
  • R22billion stolen from the taxpayer
  • No prosecutions

Comments Geoff Jacobs, President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

IN the seven years that the Auditor General, Kimi Makwetu, has been examining the books of all 278 municipalities to make sure their office holders are looking after public funds, there has not been a year without horror stories of mismanagement and theft from the public purse.

Yet, no one has been brought to court, found guilty and punished for what is often bald, unadulterated theft of other people’s money. The latest tally is R22 billion lost to theft and vandalism and payment for goods and services never received.

The victims are, of course, the ordinary citizens who pay taxes.

Instead, the public have heard a litany of official euphemisms – like those excuses indulgent parents make when apologizing for their unruly children running riot at a garden party, drunk on wine dregs from abandoned glasses.

Year after year the same things are revealed.  Mr. Makwetu described most municipalities as “crippled by debt… unable to pay for water and electricity; having inaccurate and lackluster revenue collection; expenditure that is unauthorized, irregular, fruitless and wasteful; and with a high dependence on grants and assistance from national government”.

In other words, behaving like teenage children, who in the words of P J O’Rourke, the American satirist, have been given whiskey and car keys.

But what Makwetu didn’t mention was the role played in our municipal shambles by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the various trade unions that affect all municipalities, even those with clean, or almost-clean, audits.

SALGA shines through as a major cause of the problem. It’s because SALGA operates as a white-collar trade union for municipal workers but happily abides by whatever wage agreement the trade unions come to in their pay negotiations.

SALGA members have their cake and eat it. As management, they also benefit from a national agreement binding on all municipalities. So, if the unions wangle a salary increase of 6% across-the-board for their members, the managers happily accept that same percentage as top-up to their much-higher salaries. And shrug if any ratepayers dare to ask why.

This annual bonanza has nothing to do with performance. It means incompetents can run a municipality into the ground and still get paid as if they were paragons of financial and managerial virtue.

It is an especially happy circumstance for managers in the larger metropolitan areas. Not bad either for those managers operating (or pretending to) in smaller towns (and we know how hard it is for them to get by).

SALGA seems to be only slightly embarrassed about this, judging from the reaction of its president Thembi Nkadimeng, who said in reaction to the auditor general’s latest stinging condemnation of municipal finances that “there was an urgent need to speed up the review of the fiscal framework of local government.

“We will have to look into discussions of how best we can release …funds to these municipalities while enforcing compliance. If we don’t do that, the indication is (sic) deteriorating financially and will continue, and this will put difficulty on our community.”

If anyone can translate that insipid, could-not-really-care-less statement into a call to root out municipal corruption, then it is proof that hope springs eternal, pigs can fly, and nothing will be done until there is nothing left to steal.

It just happens that president of SALGA is also a beneficiary of the 6% annual increase club.