BUSINESS DAY LIVE: Van Rooyen to push for more financial support for municipalities

Newly appointed Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Desmond van Rooyen says he will push for more funds for the development and maintenance of infrastructure at municipalities, despite conditional grant allocations being neglected by councils.

Mr Van Rooyen, a former mayor of Merafong City local municipality in North West Province, has been appointed to replace Pravin Gordhan, who returned to the finance portfolio on Sunday. Critics have highlighted Mr Van Rooyen’s tenure as Merafong mayor, when protesting residents burnt his house down, saying that his local government experience did little to inspire confidence in his ability to manage the new portfolio.

Speaking to reporters in Pretoria on Tuesday, Mr Van Rooyen said his experience as a mayor, member of mayoral council, as a councillor and as a whip in Parliament’s standing committee on finance would stand him in good stead in the post. "Over the coming months, as part of Back To Basics, we will intensify our oversight of local government and service delivery. My experience in local government and the finance committee will hold me in good stead in handling the final points of this programme," he said.

He said with the ever-increasing demand for services in councils around the country, struggling municipalities that relied on allocations would need more funds to cope with the pressure. "Municipalities must have sound financial management principles to serve the people. Municipalities must be properly capacitated. We have to do things differently to ensure that there is provision for the maintenance of infrastructure and allocations are expanded. We will work with councils to ensure that," said Mr Van Rooyen.

South African Municipal Workers Union spokesman Papikie Mohale challenged Mr Van Rooyen to meet Mr Gordhan to discuss how the Treasury and the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs could improve financial support for municipalities.

"It can’t be that the country’s 278 municipalities are expected to deliver basic services to over 50-million South Africans on a shoe-string budget. We will be urging the minister to demand a sizeable increase to local government in the upcoming budget speech," Mr Mohale said.

CEO of the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (Misa) Sean Phillips, referring to Misa’s annual report, said that while its budget had increased from R283m to R301m in the past financial year, municipalities often abused its funds. Misa was developing requirements to compel municipalities to build their own capabilities to manage infrastructure, he said.

"Some municipalities have become dependent on Misa’s support to the extent that they neglect the importance of building their internal capacities. Some municipalities view Misa as an additional financial resource that can be used to supplement their budget shortfalls," Mr Phillips said.

South African Local Government Association (Salga) spokesman Tahir Sema said the association agreed with Mr van Rooyen’s view that municipalities needed more funds for infrastructure development and maintenance. Read more here