Does the Municipal Solidarity Fund serve its purpose?

Columnist Cuma Velile Dube
Columnist Cuma Velile Dube
Police keep a close watch as residents of Mdantsane's NU16 and NU17, Buffalo City Metro's ward 23, protest for food parcels and vouchers on Tuesday.
Police keep a close watch as residents of Mdantsane's NU16 and NU17, Buffalo City Metro's ward 23, protest for food parcels and vouchers on Tuesday.

The SA Local Government Association took a decision on April 26 to establish Municipal Solidarity Funds as a response to President Cyril Ramaphosa's call to raise money to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Most people would like to help those less fortunate, but let’s not get carried away. More and more we are seeing solutions looking for problems, and that will complicate things for us later.

As I read Salga's resolution, articulated in circular 16/2020, I'm persuaded we may be heading towards a festival of funds — and it is going to end in tears. I believe the resolution is a really bad idea.

First, the fund is being set up with no clear idea as to what problem it seeks to solve. When there is no clear objective, the objective often becomes abuse.

The stated mandate of this fund, as captured in council resolutions, simply says that the fund must “mobilise and co-ordinate financial and in-kind contributions from councillors, municipal officials, stakeholders and civil society … to both ameliorate the Covid-19 pandemic and the social consequences of the pandemic."

This mandate is rather vague for it to carry an initiative that would require councillors to give up their 4% increases and senior managers their increments to fund the start-up of this initiative, as proposed. With the National Solidarity Fund, we knew exactly what we were contributing to. We needed to help the government procure personal protective equipment (PPE), beds and ventilators, needed for an inevitable spike in new cases and hospitalisations. These beds, PPE and ventilators have subsequently been allocated to all provinces. Provisions have been made for children, the unemployed and employees of companies in distress. Food parcels have been made available and will continue to be. We just need some councillors to stop stealing them and hoarding them in their homes. 

We don’t need another reason to be suspicious of our leaders and doubtful of their intentions

With the above in mind, what I expected was that the NEC of Salga would recommend that councils conduct an assessment of which areas in their jurisdiction were not being catered for by any of the other mitigating programmes in place. Is there a way of responding to those within the funds available to the councils? Is there money in the coffers  that could be redirected from programmes no longer possible this year because of the lockdown? If such an assessment exists already, bring that to us first before the collection plate.

My second concern is about governance. The NEC resolution recommends a governance structure in the form of an independent board. Herein lies the problem. They have prescribed representation on that board like this:

  • The chair of the board is to be the mayor of the municipality;
  • Two councillors from the municipality;
  • Two representatives from organized labour;
  • Two representatives from a local civic movement (presumably Sanco);
  • The chair of the municipality's audit committee;
  • A representative from the local business chamber (in BCM this is Border-Kei);
  • Local religious leaders are represented by a member; and 
  • A representative from local traditional leadership.

This list is the classic composition of every committee, forum or council ever formed by a local authority and is no more than a council of municipal insiders. Lastly, in case you missed it, chairing the board is the mayor. This begs the question: of what is this board independent?

I support any initiative that seeks to help us all through this uncertain time and I agree we need to respond positively to the co-ordinated efforts of our government to lead us through this and provide us with the help we need when we need it. However, I don't think we need this Salga initiative. It sounds like it was  launched just for the sake of being seen to be “responding to the call of the President”.

We don’t need another reason to be suspicious of our leaders and doubtful of their intentions. We don’t need a municipal solidarity fund until the leadership can tell us exactly why we need to mobilise funds independently of the initiatives already in play.

Some of the focus areas proposed by municipalities include food security. However, a legitimate question to ask is does this mean more food parcels but this time directly from the municipality, and if so why? Will it stop councillors in some parts from using these parcels as leverage against the communities they are meant to serve?  Another proposal is to combat homelessness. Again the question: are there gaps in the interventions announced already in this regard? If so, how exactly are we going to respond instead of throwing money at the problem?

I hope the councillors that voted to approve the resolutions that establish this fund have answers to some of these questions, particularly since they’ll be financing its start-up. As for me, I would need to know more before contributing to the fund. It isn't the only way we can respond to the president's call. 

Cuma Velile Dube is the Eastern Cape secretary of the Black Management Forum.