MLM keeps mum on plan to improve service delivery

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GK CRONJE

22 June 2021

Were it not for the MIG and WSIG grant funds, the financial aspect of the municipality would be deemed unviable. Even with the additional funds allocated, the financial outlook for the municipality, and residents under its area of governance, is extremely poor.

Amidst all-time high dissatisfaction from residents, and a new low in service delivery, the IDP budget has been announced by Msukaligwa Local Municipality (MLM), and has been slated as a multi-year budget. The MLM executive mayor, Cllr. Mkhaliphi, delivered the budget announcement, and subsequently outlined the state of the municipality. He admitted that the municipality is currently in a mixed state, and that several backlogs have been ameliorated due to the purchase of new equipment. According to the budget speech, MLM’s success will rely on it ability to adhere to the national and provincial planning frameworks. This framework includes, amongst others, that the municipality should ensure transparency, accountability and regular engagement with the community. Most notably, the framework stipulates that the municipality should deliver basic services, which includes basic electricity, basic water, sanitation, waste removal and more. The framework also explicitly states that the municipality should ensure that services such as grass cutting, patching of potholes, working traffic lights and street lights and consistent refuse removal are implemented. It further states that focus must be placed on the operations and maintenance of existing infrastructure to ensure continuity of service provision. In total, the IDP lists 243 separate community issues and needs across all wards within its governance. Unfortunately, the majority of the listed issues have been longstanding for several years, with MLM failing to address the issues. Notably, the majority of complaints are of a service delivery nature, which includes the ghastly state of all roads, traffic lights and street lights that are in non-working condition, water provision, electrical infrastructure and provision complaints, refuse removal and general neatness of the wards and CBD. The rampant and unchecked drug use in Ermelo and informal townships have also been noted in several complaints. Ironically, no mention of the infamous 88kV substation can be found in the IDP. Electrical issues are simply referred to as “electrical infrastructure” issues. Other issues include the lack of healthcare and clinics, the lack of maintenance of council sportsgrounds, the lack of dumping sites and the issue of illegal dumping, illegal electricity connections and ageing infrastructure. A major point of concern is the Thusong Service Centre in Lothair, which, according to available information, started construction circa 2013/2014, but remains incomplete. According to the IDP, the main issues of focus from MLM should be housing, road upgrades, storm water drainage upgrades, access to sanitation, electricity supply, provision of water, waste management and public lighting. However, the prioritizes pie chart in the IDP makes no sense, as electricity shows a 12% priority scale, public lighting and waste management both at 9%, with roads and stormwater drains taking up 20%, and housing taking 21%. Sanitation takes up a mere 13%. In light of the current electricity situation that the community finds itself in, 12% priority is a slap in the face of residents.

By-Laws: According to MLM, the by-laws are not enforced due to “high costs associated” with the enforcement. According to MLM, nuisance, traffic, street trading and electricity by-laws will be enforced with the assistance of the SAPS and NPA. If these by-laws will be enforced, remains a topic of conversation. No mention of stray cattle and stray animal by-laws is made, except in the issues raised by the community. A direct enquiry to Mandla Zwane, municipal spokesman, dated 2 June 2021, yielded no response regarding the plan to step up the enforcement of all by-laws.

Water Quality & Sanitation: MLM has stated that it has appointed a technician to control the quality of the water supply, and claims to work towards SANS 241 compliance. MLM claims that the Blue Drop status was at 18.1% in 2014, but makes no further mention as to the current quality of the water supply. Water maintenance budget for 2021/2022 from municipal coffers stand at R3 933 000, with a total of R17 298 735 being allocated from municipal infrastructure grants (MIG). The MIG is a conditional grant from the national government, with the aim of improving service delivery. MLM claims that an actual amount of R12 000 000 is needed for operations and maintenance of water supply. The backlog is 4.97%. Gert Sibande District Municipality (GSDM) has assisted in initiating the upgrade of the bulk water supply pipeline and infrastructure for Ermelo, Wesselton, Breyten, Chrissiesmeer, Nganga and Warburton at a cost of R264 594 000. Free basic water to indigent households enjoys a staggering R6 835 987. Strangely, the budget for indigent water supply exceeds the water maintenance budget. Sanitation budget stands at a mere R897 000, with R9 187 380 from MIG and a blistering R50 000 000 from water services infrastructure grant (WSIG) funds. The green drop status of MLM is stated as a shockingly poor 98.5% in 2014. Again, no recent Green Drop status is mentioned. A equitable finance share from national government assists in the mammoth R14 922 000 bill racked up by supplying free basic wastewater management to indigent households. No mention of the dilapidated sewerage network is noted. Enquiries lodged, explicitly naming Cassim Park, President Fouché Avenue, Autumn Ridge, Wesselton, Sun City and surrounding areas as areas of focus where the sewerage infrastructure is virtually collapsed, saw no joy. The municipal spokesman simply ignored the enquires.

Electricity supply: Amidst the electrical infrastructure of Ermelo teetering on the brink of collapse, with rolling blackouts and load reduction on a daily basis, MLM has allocated a measly R3 000 000 for maintenance of electricity in 2021/2022. R10 000 000 has been allocated from the integrated national electrification programme (INEP) grant, for bulk electricity infrastructure and the electrification of households. MLM stated that it needs to apply for bulk capacity upgrade of the notified maximum demand (NMD) from Eskom. Mandla Zwane has stated that there has been no reduction in the NMD from Eskom. However, residents aren’t biting this carrot, with the load reduction and power outages from MLM that have dramatically increased withing a very short space of time. The municipality claims that ageing infrastructure and insufficient cable sizes are to blame for the electrical outages. These need to be replaced. With the paying residents getting the short end of the stick, indigent support sees a budget allocation of R11 136 000, where MLM supplies free basic electricity of 50kWh to more than 11 500 registrants. A direct enquiry to Mandla Zwane, municipal spokesman, dated 2 June 2021, explicitly enquired as to how MLM plans to resolve the issues faced by the inadequate supply from the 88kV line, as claimed by the municipality. Additional enquiries regarding the budget for the upgrade of the substation, as well as the maintenance and upkeep of the line were also lodged. To date, the enquiries yielded no response. It is clear from the allocated funds above did not make provision for neither upgrade nor maintenance of the 88kV substation. No provision has been made for the upkeep and servicing of the electrical infrastructure. Enquiries lodged on numerous occasions regarding the damages suffered by residents due to neglect of the infrastructure and erratic electricity supply, and how they can claim reparations from the municipality, has simply been ignored by the spokesman. MLM also failed to elaborate on how they plan to engage with illegal connections, and the fact that entire towns, such as Breyten and Chrissiesmeer, have, for all intents and purposes, a zero percent payment rate from residents. According to the latest know figures, MLM has an arrangement of R180 634 883 with Eskom, with R35 000 000 already paid, and R145 634 883 being outstanding. It is unclear how these figures were calculated, or if these amounts are the interest or the capital amount owed. According to the last known report, MLM owed Eskom R172 million in August 2020. According to the MLM spokesman, the municipality is on schedule with the arrangement between MLM and Eskom.

Roads and infrastructure - Of the total length of 446km of roads within the municipality’s jurisdiction, a mere 234km is either paved or tarred. A total of 212km of roadway lies in the backlog, or are farm and backroads. According to MLM, there is no funds in the municipal coffer for new roads. A measly amount of R2 579 800 has been allocated for infrastructure and maintenance. An additional allocation of R23 969 985 has been funded by the MIG for upgrading existing roads. According to MLM, a total of R86 500 000 is required annually to maintain road infrastructure within the municipal jurisdiction. Therefore, MLM essentially states that there are no funds in the municipal coffer to maintain the roads and infrastructure. Enquiries explicitly outlining the dilemma faced of the collapsing roads in Ermelo, and the virtually non-existent roads in Wesselton, Sun City and other areas have been ignored by MLM. Enquiries regarding the plan of action to rehabilitate and maintain the roadways in high traffic areas, most notably school routes, roadways surround new developments and housing complexes in Camden Avenue and Wes Street and, as well as high density routes in the CBD, have also been ignored.

Stormwater management - Puzzlingly, the funds allocated for the maintenance and management of the stormwater infrastructure falls under the measly amount allocated to roads and infrastructure. According to MLM, Human Resources shortages remain a challenge, as no personnel are available due to financial constraints.

Refuse removal - MLM will fork out R9 233 000 for free basic refuse removal for indigent registrants.

Ultimately, it would be logical to view the budget and financial state of Msukaligwa Local Municipality as likely to collapse, as the municipality is, for all practical, technically bankrupt. Were it not for the MIG and WSIG grant funds, the financial aspect of the municipality would be deemed unviable. Even with the additional funds allocated, the financial outlook for the municipality, and residents under its area of governance, is extremely poor.