Mpumalanga’s municipalities are poorly managed, and living standards and services delivery consequently suffer. These are some of the alarming findings in AfriForum’s Centre for Local Government’s third municipal audit, which comprises Mpumalanga.

Dr Eugene Brink, manager of the centre, says that internal controls in the province’s municipalities are disgraceful. “Poor municipal audits and high irregular spending are the order of the day – and this undermines service delivery. This has resulted in among other things dire unemployment, poor refuse removal and a lack of tap water.”

Municipalities receive an impression mark out of 10 in the report that is based on the available information. “Most municipalities received less than 4 out of 10. This should leave the managements of these municipalities worried.”

According to Brink the only relatively positive case is that of the Steve Tshwete Local Municipality (Middelburg). “Unemployment, infrastructure and service delivery are much better here than in the rest of the province. It is a ray of hope that has been shining for a while in a province in which for example water and electricity problems have become commonplace and are still deteriorating. Although they deserve a feather in their cap, much room for improvement remains and they cannot rest on their laurels.”

Brink says that better service delivery is of the utmost importance for socio-political stability. “Demonstrations are on the increase and are often caused by poor service delivery in municipalities – or this at least drives or exacerbates it.  The recent unrests are a warning that poor service delivery and the bleak existence and poverty that go hand in hand offer a rich breeding ground for instability. The powder keg then needs but one spark to ignite.”

Morné Mostert, Manager for Local Government Affairs at AfriForum, says that this report and its findings illustrate the need for regular elections and that these elections should not be postponed. “Communities have the right to vote in elections to change the composition of their councils if they are dissatisfied. There is no legal principle that allows for postponement. That is why we joined the case as friend of the court after the Electoral Commission of South Africa had applied to have the election postponed to after 27 October.”

Brink argues that voting in elections is not the only solution. “In a few months, South Africa will be voting in the sixth local elections; yet the situation in municipalities keeps on deteriorating. Without ongoing community involvement, elections are nothing but another ritual that will not improve the circumstances. However, it does make it easier if better management works with the community to improve service-delivery.”

The lack of official information on something as important as municipalities is reason for concern. “AfriForum is the only organisation that regularly tests the quality of sewage and drinking water, as well as landfill sites. Without proper information, the managements of municipalities cannot make informed decisions,” Brink concludes.

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