The recently released Auditor-General’s (AG's) report on the latest municipal audit results does not paint a good picture for spending and service delivery on the part of South Africa’s local governments, says industry body Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA).
AG Kimi Makwetu states in the report that there are limited resources across all provinces, but that proper care is not being applied to manage and spend diligently.
“The safe and clean hands that can be relied upon to look after the public’s finances in local government are few and far between,” he states.
Notwithstanding, CESA notes that it is not all bad news for municipalities.
CEO Chris Campbell highlights that the industry body has stepped up to the plate in recent years to assist and advise municipalities on sounder and more effective project procurement, planning and implementation processes.
“It is widely understood that there is a skills disparity at government level, meaning a lack of sufficient expertise when it comes to navigating the complexities of public infrastructure development processes.
"CESA has been building on our partnership with government to equip the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure with the necessary skills and capacity to improve service delivery – specifically for the kinds of municipal projects mentioned in the AG’s report,” he explains.
CESA says it has seen successes in guiding various municipalities across the country through financial, contractual and ethical disputes, providing local government with advice.
In one case, CESA assisted the City of Cape Town by providing objective advice in terms of the Engineering Council of South Africa's (ECSA's) fee guidelines that resulted in the amicable settlement of a fee dispute.
The issue had arisen between the city and a firm of consulting engineers where the fees charged appeared excessive for a relatively minor project within the Gugulethu Cemetery.
“In this case, we helped local government spend smarter. If we can advise more municipalities on such issues, it would go a long way in improving the management of public finances and see a better AG report in the future,” comments Campbell.
Fee guidelines seem a common issue, and on three separate occasions CESA has assisted the Healthcare Infrastructure Directorate of the Western Cape Department of Transport & Public Works by providing advice on the application and interpretation of the ECSA engineering fee guidelines.
In Gauteng, too, CESA has assisted in this area by advising the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development on engineering fees based on the ECSA guidelines.
“Overpricing was listed in the AG’s report as one of the top reasons for spending irregularities. We are pleased to be able to offer our expertise in this regard,” says Campbell.
However, CESA’s expertise goes beyond pure financial queries, the body notes. The association has also assisted in terms of dispute resolutions.
In one case, CESA assisted the Ugu district municipality in achieving an amicable resolution in a dispute between two of its service providers, a consulting engineer and a contractor, through nominating a suitable mediator.
Moreover, advising on ethical conduct, CESA intervened earlier this year when it helped Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) avoid a potential challenge by bidders. ACSA had initially not disclosed the names and prices of bids received, but on CESA’s advice it arranged a public reading of these details.
The AG’s report found that there was a lack of accountability at local government level, driven by poor skills and competencies, and hindered further by a lack of effective systems and internal control processes.
“We have the skills and capacity to offer advice to municipalities across the country on the service delivery of road, water and sanitation infrastructure. These are key areas where an unreasonable number of municipalities underperformed with regards to maintenance, assessment plans and monitoring policies.
"We look forward to further engagement with municipalities across South Africa, with the support of the Auditor-General,” concludes Campbell.