The municipality of Matjhabeng owes its water board a staggering
R2.3 billion, to go with the R1.84 billion it owes Eskom.
Mmusi Maimane, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, in Mangaung, Free State, joined by DA Free State Leader Patricia Kopane – 24 July 2019
Our Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to have access to sufficient water. But this promise is only as good as the local government tasked with delivering the service. And here in the Free State, the standard of local government is as bad as you get.
In the last Auditor-General report, not one single Free State municipality received a clean audit. Towns across this province have been brought to their knees through sheer mismanagement and corruption, and the result is a widespread breakdown of service delivery.
Auditor-General, Kimi Makwetu, described the situation in the Free State as “of critical concern”. He went on to say:
“The Free State local government environment displayed a total breakdown in internal controls as the province’s political and administrative leadership, yet again, exhibited no response to improve its accountability for financial and performance management… we doubt if there is political will to do the right thing for the right reason, mainly due to political interference to the detriment of good governance.”
But this state of affairs is hardly surprising when you consider that the ANC entrusted the Mayorship of Mangaung Metro to the very person who oversaw this municipal collapse. As MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Olly Mlamleli was responsible for the performance of these municipalities. She could not possibly have done a worse job, but instead of facing repercussions for this poor performance she was put in charge of the province’s biggest city and only metro.
That’s the way the ANC does things. That’s why the man who wrecked this province through state capture, Ace Magashule, is now the Secretary General of the ANC. Elsewhere, when you fail at your job or when you have committed acts of corruption, you are fired. In the ANC you get promoted.
Olly Mlamleli must be fired, if accountability means anything. It is an insult to the people of Mangaung to be saddled with her as their Mayor after her disastrous stint as COGTA MEC. Back then, she did nothing about the looting and negligence that all but collapsed service delivery in this province, and she is now doing the same to this Metro.
Coupled with this corruption and mismanagement is an inability or unwillingness by local governments to collect payment for services, leaving them with debt amounting to billions of Rands owed to both Eskom and the various water boards. One third of all municipal debt to Eskom is owed by Free State municipalities.
The municipality of Matjhabeng owes its water board a staggering R2.3 billion, to go with the R1.84 billion it owes Eskom. Here in Mangaung, Bloemwater claim that they are owed more than R400 million. But because the City only collects half the monthly amounts due, they simply fall further and further behind in their debt.
It has become so bad that large parts of the Metro – particularly in the South – regularly go without water for days at a time due to a combination of infrastructure neglect and non-payment. During the past 15 months the suburbs and townships in the South, along with towns like Dewetsdorp and Wepener, have gone for 40 days without water. That’s three days per month, every month.
What use is the guarantee of sufficient water in our Constitution, when the local government cannot make good on this promise?
To make matters worse, there is water infrastructure here in Mangaung that should be able to augment the city’s water supply. This reservoir here was completed four years ago at a cost of R35 million by the Mangaung Metro. But in all the time since then it still hasn’t been connected to the water supply network. It has stood here on this hill since 2015 like a giant white elephant – a constant reminder of a government that simply does not care.
The City has the ability to pump water from here in the North to the areas so often affected by water cuts in the South, but in four years it has not managed to link this reservoir to the grid. And so the people in the South must go without water every month, sometimes for days on end.
And this is what you will find right across this province. There is not one town in the Free State that is not affected by water cuts.
This is not acceptable in our modern democracy, but nothing will change until government is held accountable and, where necessary, prosecuted for the corruption that caused this breakdown. To date, no such prosecutions have been forthcoming. Every time it looks like something might happen, the charges are dropped by the NPA and nothing happens.
We saw this in the well-publicised Estina Dairy Project in Vrede, where all charges were dropped and no one was held accountable for the grand corruption practiced there. And we saw it in the case of MEC Mathabo Leeto, who has been linked to a R2 million bribe while at Matjhabeng municipality, but has had her charges repeatedly dropped, reinstated and then dropped again.
If we want to turn a province like the Free State around, then we are going to have to get tough on corruption and follow through with prosecutions – even when these prosecutions are politically risky.
This is a good place for our new National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shamila Batohi, to start cleaning things up. Here in the Free State she will find enough corruption to keep her busy for a long time. Millions of people in this province are desperate for a better life, but are still waiting for the basic services promised to them in our Constitution.