Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency: Some Remarks

Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency: Some Remarks

Yunus Carrim
  Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

24 November 2011

Let me, at the outset, say how pleased we are that so many of you are here and thank you for coming to this very important Conference. Just how important, ultimately, will depend on you too, on how you play your different roles, not just CoGTA. So let me immediately say that you have to see your participation here as part of an ongoing process of engagement with CoGTA to together make the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA) work.
And work it must! We are under more pressure than ever before to accelerate service delivery. To do this we have to have to expand municipal infrastructure.

Yes, we have financial obstacles. But the main problems are around capacity. After all, municipalities didn’t spend about 14% of their R9,9 billion Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) budget during the last financial year.
And it is basically to address these capacity challenges, that MISA is being established. To support municipalities with planning, management and other technical expertise to roll-out infrastructure more efficiently and effectively. Especially weaker municipalities.
And let me immediately say, that MISA will not take over the core responsibilities of local government. It can’t anyway. Not constitutionally, not legally. Local government remains a sphere of government with its specific powers and functions. And that is not to be interfered with.
MISA will merely assist municipalities to fulfill their functions, especially in respect of municipal infrastructure and service provision, which we all agree have to be accelerated. Municipalities will have a major role in making MISA work.
We will, indeed, involve the provinces, SALGA, municipalities, experts and other stakeholders to play a role in MISA. If there’s a role for communities to play, we should make space for this.

In a sense though, MISA is not an entirely new initiative. For some time now, CoGTA has been working with other departments and other public sector institutions providing municipal capacity-building programmes to rationalize these programmes and provide greater cohesion. MISA has to be located in this context. It builds on some of the collaborative work already done.  Some of the key initiatives relevant in this regard are:
    •    Project Consolidate
    •    The Five Year Strategic Agenda
    •    Siyenza Manje
    •    Operation Clean Audit 2014
MISA must also be located in terms of the LGTAS (Local Government Turnaround Strategy).
The draft National Development Plan and the New Growth Path also provide a framework for MISA.
And with COP 17 about to take place on our shores, we are more than ever aware of the climate change issues MISA will also need to take into account.
I understand that yesterday you had exciting and robust exchanges about the role of MISA in supporting municipalities to accelerate infrastructure delivery and service provision. Good! It’s important that you have your full say. We need your help to make MISA work. And so we must listen to you.
But you must also listen to us.

Too often a government department and its potential partners, including other government departments, talk past each other, and so the cooperation we could otherwise get on programmes and projects of common interest simply doesn’t materialize! We can’t afford that luxury – or is it stupidity? – anymore. There’s too much at stake. It’s the needs of the people out there, especially the poor, that are at issue. And we can’t fail them. And they can’t fail themselves.
We just have to all work together to get things done better and faster.
I know that yesterday our Minister provided strategic direction for MISA and its programmes. So there’s not much that I need to say.
As you know, government as a whole is concerned about the need to improve infrastructure delivery and services. I spoke last week about issues relevant to MISA at a Conference of the Consulting Engineers of South Africa. Let me repeat what I said there:
“The government has a huge infrastructure development programme of over R800 billion. We are aware that we not rolling out this programme fast enough, and this was a major concern of the July Cabinet Lekgotla.  It was decided that the President should head a Cabinet Infrastructure Commission to accelerate this programme.

Among the decisions taken were:
• There should be a greater focus on coordinating and integrating service delivery in priority areas where backlogs are the highest and on transforming apartheid special development patterns. These include 21 rural districts. It was noted that less than 30% of the people have access to basic services in these districts, which are in 6 provinces.
• The projects to be implemented will address water, sanitation, electricity, waste management and access roads. Other very important services such as education, health, policing and housing will also be included.
• The infrastructure cluster service delivery task team will compile a set of integrated project plans for each district by end of 2011.
The Lekgotla also focussed on focus on metros, large towns and cities with large informal settlements, and it was agreed:
• There will be an informal settlement upgrading plan in 45 metro, large cities and towns. Projects will cover security of tenure, water, sanitation, public transport, area lighting, electrification and waste management.  There will also be provision of social services and amenities, including public open spaces and recreational facilities.
• There will be a focus on improving the infrastructure delivery management process, eradicating under-expenditure and improving value for money.
• All provinces and relevant national departments will participate in the Infrastructure Delivery Improvement Programme.
• All struggling municipalities will participate in the COGTA special purpose vehicle to address key blockages in service delivery.
• There will be a focus on accelerating the building of infrastructure delivery skills and capacity where it is lacking in government and municipalities.
• National government will put in place stronger norms and standards for infrastructure delivery and monitor and enforce these measures.
Of course, the State-Owned-Entities also have to play an important role in accelerating the infrastructure roll-out.
It is estimated that meeting the infrastructure backlogs in local government would cost at least R495 billion. Part of this backlog would be addressed when the overall infrastructure programme of government referred to above is met. But it will be difficult to meet the entire backlog.”  
As we have also pointed out before, the scale of the service delivery challenges at municipal level has been set out in the LGTAS.  Only 54% of the country’s population has access to all the 4 basic services of water, sanitation, electricity and refuse removal. This ranges from 88% of the people in the Western Cape to 15% of Limpopo.
So if we have done well overall, we still have a long way to go.
Among its priorities MISA will focus on the 21 vulnerable Districts identified at the July Cabinet Lekgotla.
As part of ensuring MISA works more effectively, we are, as explained at the recent CESA Conference, also working towards improvements in the spending of the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG). Among the issues being addressed in this regard are:
• Better planning cycles taking into account the financial year, the five-year IDP and long term plans.
• CoGTA providing more assistance to provinces to assist municipalities with implementing MIG.
• Working more cooperatively with other sector departments to ensure they finalise their norms and standards on infrastructure and also monitor the projects more actively.

We are working with National Treasury to encourage municipalities to spend an adequate percentage of their budgets on infrastructure maintenance.
We are also aware that we have to tackle corruption in infrastructure provision far more effectively.
Now if we are going to get where we want to with MISA, we need your help and that of many others not here. The responsibility to get the necessary cooperation to make MISA work rests mainly with us, as CoGTA. And we commit ourselves to doing what we can to encourage you to play your role.
We are aware that the technical experts transferred from Siyanze Manje are somewhat anxious. Of course, that’s understandable. Changes usually bring uncertainties. But we want to assure you that as CoGTA we respect you as engineers and other professional experts, and we need and want you, and we are not going to alienate you. We want you to feel at home in your new home. We think this change will in the long term serve your interests better too.   
We want to hear from you in any case. Please raise your issues of concern with us. I understand from our officials that they are addressing your concerns. But, if necessary, maybe I can speak with the Minister and see if he can meet with you to make you more at ease?

We know that many municipalities do not seem to treasure technical experts, and many of you find the fractious political and managerial environment in municipalities difficult to work in. And of course some of you work under senior managers who interfere in your work, even though they don’t know much about the complex technical issues you have to deal with.

Of course, at national level we can’t prescribe to municipalities, but if there’s anything we can help with, of course we will try to assist. It’s relevant in this regard to mention the passing of the Municipal Systems Amendment Act by parliament earlier this year, which Act seeks to professionalise the local government administration. We are currently consulting key stakeholders to finalise the regulations that derive from the Act, part of which entails setting minimum criteria for the appointment of senior municipal managers. Of course, the re-professionalisation of the local government administration will not take place overnight, but over time we can together ensure it happens.
MISA certainly will function in a way that takes your concerns as experts into account.

But as technical experts you also need to do your bit to improve the municipal environment and make the conditions more conducive to you functioning more effectively. You can’t just rely on the national government. And it’ll help if you didn’t look down on your senior managers who don’t have a technical knowledge of the issues you deal with. You need to empower them so that they can better provide managerial supervision of your work – which is what they are meant to do, and what you are meant to accept.
As technical experts, you cannot run away from municipalities. You, after all, also live in municipalities, and if there are power cuts or water stops flowing from the taps, you too are adversely affected.

And municipalities are adversely affected if you are not there to assist them. So they must do more to make you feel at home.
This country belongs to all of us. We’re all in it together. And we all have to make it work together.
Let MISA be an example of this!