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Response on support to Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality by the Office of the Deputy President

The Office of the Deputy President has noted the unfortunate and misleading statement issued by COSATU in the Free State, regarding efforts to support the Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality to provide basic services to the residents of Phuthaditjhaba and surrounding areas.
While the frustrations on the ground, as a result of the disruption of basic services and livelihoods are understandable, the statement by COSATU bears misrepresentations around this matter.
In fact, it lacks basic facts on the chronology of events and the work that has been done in dealing with issues of provision of basic services in the Municipality. In its statement, COSATU unfairly attacks the person and Office of the Deputy President and further disregards ongoing negotiations towards the finalisation of the Active Partnering Agreement between Eskom and Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality.
This agreement is aimed at assisting the Municipality with maintenance of infrastructure and revenue collection to enable payment of the bulk electricity account and reduce escalating debt while restoring reliable electricity and water supply.
Contrary to claims that the Deputy President was mandated to intervene, he made a promise in Parliament as a response to two Parliamentary questions in November 2020 respectively in the National Council of Provinces and the National Assembly, on the government’s efforts in resolving electricity and water provision challenges faced by the residents of Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality. Therefore, the COSATU statement is not correct that the intervention began after the protests of 2021.
The unfortunate assertions in the statement lack appreciation for intergovernmental relations and their complexities. The Provincial and National COGTA Departments have a constitutional mandate to intervene in the event of a municipality's collapse. However, the legislation is also clear on a need to first identify the challenges facing a municipality in order to provide the necessary support, before rushing to interventions.
In the case of Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality, the role of the convener is to bring together the key players to look at the best ways to assist the municipality get back to full operation so that it can serve the people and meet the needs of the community as a whole.
That is why the Deputy President began by holding engagements with the Premier and the Municipal Council at the time, including various local stakeholders, community representatives, business leaders, labour leaders, and traditional leaders. In these engagements, it was established that the municipality had a myriad of challenges that had brought municipal operations to a halt, leading to sporadic protests and unrest.
The Deputy President then appointed a multi-sectoral team of technocrats under the auspices of the then Eskom Political Task Team to facilitate a resolution on the challenges in the Municipality as raised by Parliamentarians. This intergovernmental process entailed a series of engagements by the three spheres of government to implement measures to mitigate service delivery challenges in Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality, while a sustainable solution to the municipal debt was being finalised.
The adopted immediate intervention measures and roadmap to stabilise the situation and address governance and operational deficits, included an electricity supply improvement framework, a better mechanism to deal with the Eskom debt, a water supply intervention framework, revitalisation of the Industrial Parks and Special Economic Zone, and promoting commercial, solidarity economy, and informal business initiatives.
To date, a framework for improving water supply is being implemented by a multiple stakeholder team. The water resources are being upgraded, and bulk water infrastructure has been laid, including a line connected to the Sterkfontein Dam to augment local sources. The provincial government, in collaboration with relevant national departments, has developed a framework for unlocking local economic development, which includes establishing an investment incentive regime aimed at promoting investments and allowing SMMEs and informal businesses access to industrial area infrastructure.
Interventions on the electricity supply are at an advanced stage, including the construction of a new substation.
These efforts both at political and technical level were premised on fostering collaboration between government and social partners in order to get the municipality to full operation.
Notwithstanding the complexities of intergovernmental structures and processes, the negotiations between the Municipality and Eskom have resulted in an Active Partnering Agreement, which will be signed on November 25, 2022. Any delays in the signing of the agreement would be a matter of operational processes between the parties involved and would not reflect on the support provided by the Office of the Deputy President, as the Constitution is clear on the separation of powers between the three spheres of government.
This poses the question of why the statement had to be issued in the manner that it was.
The Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality is an important intervention in the context of the Multi-disciplinary Revenue Committee, and will be used as a model for how to assist municipalities in distress, especially in the context of building a capable state.
Taking into consideration the progress made through this intervention, we believe that we have not reached a point of total collapse for the municipality.
All these developments shared above have been communicated to COSATU through the NEDLAC processes. The Office of the Deputy President appreciates that COSATU has taken the matter through these processes and looks forward to future constructive engagement in this regard. The unnecessary attack on the Office of the Deputy President undermines the work done thus far and is therefore concerning.
The Deputy President remains committed to the process, as evidenced by the three visits to the municipality with a delegation that included the Premier of the Free State Province, members of the provincial and national governments, and senior executives of Eskom and the affected water boards.
Furthermore, the Deputy President assigned two special advisors to continuously monitor the process and provide regular reports to the Deputy President on the developments of the Multi Stakeholder Forum, which is chaired by the Director-General of the Free State Province and where relevant national and provincial departments, agencies, and labour, including COSATU, participate. The role of this team is to observe and provide advice on the process where necessary without meddling with the legislated processes of running a municipality.
The Office of the Deputy President remains encouraged by the municipality's progress in normalising its operations; what is required of all of society is to provide support to the unfolding processes rather than politicking, thereby undermining social cohesion and nation building.
Media enquiries: Matshepo Seedat on 082 679 9473
Issued by: The Presidency