What the auditor forgot to ask...

The founding provisions of our constitution guarantees citizens a government that is accountable, responsive and open; thereby it obliges all government institutions to comply with these principles in everything they do - Plettenberg Bay Residents and Ratepayers Association provided this alarming feedback on Bitou’s annual report

ARGUABLY the most important legislation giving effect to the right to openness and accountability at municipal level is the annual report/oversight process contained in the Municipal Finance Management Act.
It requires a municipality to publish an annual report and, most importantly, that the public is allowed to be part of an oversight process where the report and its content are scrutinised and analysed.
The executive arm of the municipality, comprising the executive mayor and his deputy, other members of the mayco, senior officials, the MM, CFO and directors are all held to account for their performance by the citizens.
The process is not much different from a listed company’s AGM where, based on its annual report, shareholders get to hold the directorship and management accountable for the performance of the company.
Bitou Municipality
annual report
The draft 2017/18 Bitou Annual Report has been published for public comment. Below are some of the questions and concerns that arose:
• Performance bonuses doubled from R348,738 to R630,539 - this despite the annual report reflecting a near collapse of credit control and a decline in the delivery of basic municipal services. Performance bonuses in an underperforming entity?
• Expenditure of almost R1-million on catering services, R346,000 on entertainment, and a whopping R1.796-million on events and festivals. In terms of applicable National Treasury guidelines, municipalities must avoid this type of expenditure.
• Bursaries at R437,218. This is not a municipal function, but apart from that there is no accounting as to the application of the funds and the benefits accruing to the municipality therefrom.
There is no account of how many people received bursaries, in what amounts and, most importantly, what the study fields were, i.e. what benefit to the municipality is envisaged.
• Congress/seminars attended by councillors and municipal employees quadrupled from R450,000 to R1,736,000. Again, National Treasury guidelines warns against this type of expenditure.
• Fuel costs increased from R1.2-million in 2015/16 to R4.2-million in 2016/17, and then to R7.3-million in 2017/18, adding up to a massive 508% over three financial years!
The average diesel price increased from R10.30 in 2015/16 to R10.96 in 2016/17 and to R12.06 in 2017/18 - a total increase of 17% over the three-year span.
This is not just a cause for concern, it is a call to action and every councillor and senior official should be jumping up and down trying to get to the bottom of this.
Yet, there is no explanation whatsoever in the report to account for this.
• Legal expenses are not listed in this annual report. In the two former years they increased by 189% from R1.9-million to R5.5-million.
That enormous increase was not accounted for at the time and one cannot help but wonder why it has been concealed this year.
The latest adjustment budget shows that legal fees are expected to amount to R8.2-million in 2018/19. That foreshadows an increase of 330% in just four years against an inflation rate of just 6% per annum.
• Hire of vehicles increased from R767,000 (less than R1m) in 2016/17 to R8.5-million in 2017/18 - an increase of 1008% (one thousand and eight percent) year-on-year! Once again, this is not explained or accounted for in any way in the annual report.
• The cost of learnerships and internships stands at R8.8-million. If an intern is paid an estimated R100,000 pa, which would be generous, that means we funded 880 learners and interns last year!
Considering we have 560 municipal employees, that means that on average, each and every employee is teaching 1.6 others. It is reported that the entire Western Cape spent a total of R31-million for this purpose.
• Postage increased by 525% from R51,000 to R815,000.
Irregular expenditure amounted to R16.7-million. Over the same period, the Western Cape Government’s total irregular expenditure was R44-million on a budget that makes Bitou Municipality’s pale into insignificance.
These and other issues have been raised and we are ever hopeful that they will be dealt with satisfactorily in this process.
The draft annual report is on the Bitou website and at the library. Email the oversight committee chairman, councillor Jessica Kamkam, at jkamkam@plett.gov.za if you would like to comment.