Public Protector wraps up stakeholder roadshow in Free State
Poor quality of roads, substandard electrical infrastructure, non-responsive police and stock theft are among the key service delivery issues that emerged during Public Protector Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Deputy Public Protector Adv. Kholeka Gcaleka's meeting with the with Kholokoe Traditional Authority near Harrismith in the Free State on Tuesday.
Adv. Mkhwebane and Adv. Gcaleka wrapped up their two-day visit in the province at Makholokoe Traditional Council offices in an engagement attended by the Mayor and Council Speaker of the Maluti-A-Phofung Local Municipality Cllrs Gilbert Mokotso and Paratlane Motloung, and the Municipal Manager.
They heard of the struggles of the Makholokoe community including how ambulances and scholar transport cannot enter or leave the village during rainy seasons as the only access road — a dirt street — gets flooded, interrupting schooling and limiting access to healthcare, among other amenities.
Strained relations between the community and the local councillor and the municipality's alleged failure to consult the traditional authority ahead of the implementation of development projects on communal land were also cited as among the key impediments to service delivery.
In one case, an oil pipeline which runs from Durban in the neighbouring KwaZulu-Natal to Bethlehem, cutting through the rural village, was damaged allegedly after the municipality excavated a local site for a failed sanitation project without consulting the traditional authority. It was alleged that the municipality attempted to hold the traditional authority liable.
Adv. Mkhwebane referred the issues to Cllrs Mokotso and Motloung, and the Municipal Manager, who has been tasked with developing a plan of action. He must furnish the Public Protector South Africa (PPSA) with a copy for monitoring purposes.
The visit to Makholokoe followed an engagement on Monday with provincial government authorities in Mangaung, during which Adv. Mkhwebane appealed to Speaker of the Legislature Hon. Ntombizanele Sifuba to help enforce remedial action meted out to cure acts of maladministration and redress prejudicial conduct identified during investigations involving provincial government departments and municipalities.
Under section 114 of the Constitution, a provincial legislature must provide for mechanisms to ensure that all provincial executive organs of state are accountable to it and to maintain oversight of the exercise of provincial executive authority including the implementation of legislation.
Speaking at Raadsaal Building during the meeting attended by Hon. Sifuba, Acting Premier Mxolisi Dukwana, other Members of the Executive Council, the provincial Director-General and Heads of Departments, Adv. Mkhwebane cited several investigation reports containing remedial action whose implementation remained outstanding.
These included one concerning failure by the provincial Department of Education to comply with a 1998 order of the erstwhile Industrial Court to reinstate a school teacher, who was unfairly dismissed five years earlier, on the same terms that were applicable at the time of his dismissal.
As a direct result of the failure to comply with the court order, the teacher in question retired in 2014 on far less a pension payout than he was entitled to after 10 of his 26 years of service were not taken into account when the benefits due to him were calculated. The HOD was to have implemented the remedial action that could have addressed the prejudice the former teacher suffered.
Also speaking during the session, Adv. Gcaleka told Hon. Sifuba that the PPSA was keen to appear before relevant provincial portfolio committees to present investigation reports whose remedial action remained unimplemented for the purposes of having the responsible departments account for their failure to give effect to the directives of the independent constitutional institution.
She called on public servants to develop a conscience in relation to service to communities, adding that no law or the constitution would prevail if the ethos of ethical leadership is not infused in governance and administration.
In addition, Adv. Mkhwebane pleaded with Hon. Sifuba and MECs to avoid litigating over investigation reports, explaining that opportunities to engage on potential adverse findings and remedial action during the course of investigations in terms of section 7(9) of the Public Protector Act should be taken advantage of to ensure that remedial action is implementable and avoid expending much-needed resources on unnecessary court action.
She reiterated her call for organs of state to establish in-house complaint units which should serve as complaint resolution structures of first instance, with the PPSA remaining the complaint body of last resort. That way, communities would be able to take up issues with their government and be their own liberators.
Other challenges that the PPSA encounters during investigations include delayed responses to allegations, submission of insufficient information by respondent organs of state and failure to adhere to subpoenas.
The PPSA provincial office in Mangaung currently has 158 pending investigations into among other issues the provision of water, sanitation, electricity; issues relating to residential sites; the processing of Unemployment Insurance Benefits; procurement matters; impropriety involving senior officials; and irregular staff appointments.
Most of the service delivery and conduct failure complaints are against Metsimaholo, Maluti-A-Phofung, Kopanong, Mafube, Mantsopa, Mangaung Metro and Matjhabeng Municipalities, and the provincial Human Settlement department.
Adv. Mkhwebane and Adv. Gcaleka are on a Stakeholder Roadshow during which the office interacts with parties interested in the PPSA’s work in fulfilment of the office’s constitutional obligation to be “accessible to all persons and communities”. The roadshow moves to the Northern Cape later in the week.