IT might be a long forgotten incident now – but the image of jubilant ANC comrades and cabinet ministers carrying a jail bound Tony Yengeni on their shoulders like a conquering hero of sorts continues to define the ruling party’s attitude towards wrong doing.
The scene outside the Pollsmoor prison back in August 2006 was reminiscent of a celebration marking a really significant achievement. Comrades sang in jubilation, carrying Yengeni, who was to begin serving a four year jail term after being convicted of misleading parliament.
Cabinet ministers and senior ANC leaders rushed to the jail’s entrance to give Yengeni a hero’s send-off behind bars.
Just six months later, the former uMkhonto we Sizwe commander and MP was a free man.
Fast forward to 2020 and the country’s municipalities are in ICU. Parliamentarians are throwing their hands up in frustration at the seemingly endless decline into the abyss of poor governance.
Last week parliament’s chairperson of the select committee on cooperative governance and traditional affairs, water and sanitation and human settlements China Dodovu expressed his frustration at the continuing poor performance by municipalities before a sitting of the National Council of Provinces.
The committee had heard from a presentation by the office of the Auditor General advocate Kimi Makwetu that of the 183 municipalities that sought consulting services, only 15 had achieved clean audits.
Dodovu was clearly frustrated and this was understandable given that this was not the first time parliament was being presented with this kind of shocking evidence of the rot in municipalities.
Last year Makwetu’s audit report yet again laid bare the mess at local government level.
The AGs 2017/18 report showed that only 18 of the 257 district and local municipalities received an unqualified audit opinion with no findings.
If this was not enough reason for drastic action against those implicated in running municipalities into the ground then perhaps the powers that be are waiting for a time when municipalities to grind to a complete standstill.
Dodovu raised the issue that the same problems being discussed by the house, which included deteriorating accountability and lack of consequence management had been dealt with in the same institution the previous year.
He further indicated, rightly so, that if this is not dealt with the house will sit yet again to face the same issues.
Fed up and frustrated residents associations are increasingly resorting to the courts to force municipalities to meet their constitutional obligations. In a recent ruling the Grahamstown division of the Eastern Cape High Court ordered the Inxuba Yethemba municipality to pay power supplier Eskom a debt of R127 million.
The case had been brought by the Cradock Business Forum, Middelburg Ratepayers Association and Cradock Ratepayers Association to force the municipality and Eskom to sort out their troubles to avoid having their electricity supply cut off.
Why should residents be forced to endure the rigours of a court process in order to force municipal officials to do what they are employed to do?
Residents in the beleaguered Lekwa local municipality are also contemplating similar action to get their municipality to act on its debt to Eskom and other service delivery failures including raw sewage flowing into homes.
These are just but two examples but when citizens are forced to turn to the courts to get politicians and bureaucrats to account for service delivery failures – it can only mean somewhere the centre is not holding.
There was much fanfare and hope last year when president Cyril Ramaphosa finally signed amendments to the Public Audit Act giving the AG’s office more powers in the fight against financial mismanagement, lack of accountability and consequence for poor performance.
Among the powers the amendments gave to the AG’s office include referring suspected material irregularities arising from an audit performed under the Act, to a relevant public body for investigation. These include the offices of the Public Protector and the SAPS.
The AG is also now empowered to issue a certificate of debt where an accounting officer or accounting authority failed to recover losses from a responsible person and to instruct the relevant executive authority to collect the debt.
Makwetu’s office can also take binding remedial action for failure to implement his recommendations for material irregularities.
This is clearly the kind of action required to ensure that those who mismanage public funds don’t simply get away with these callous acts that deny millions of citizens their rights pertaining to service delivery.
But so far, we have not seen transgressors dragged to the courts to account.
Perhaps that’s still coming our way.
And hopefully Makwetu, who has for years raised frustration over the lack of consequences for failures to adhere to the audit act, will move with speed.
But what does the Yengeni moment has to do with this issue of rogue civil servants?
Well, it is perhaps a perfect metaphor for how the ANC has come to treat its truant cadres in local government.
Instead of cracking the whip and ensuring that they are punished for failing the test of good governance and running clean, accountable administrations, they are more likely to be rewarded with positions that require an even higher level of skill and accountability.
Like a convicted fraudster being carried shoulder high to jail, they are revered within party structures and allowed to hop from one position to another only to jump once their inefficiency becomes impossible to conceal.
Years from now scholars may look back at the Yengeni moment as a catalyst to the high levels of tolerance and acceptance of wrong doing that have come to be synonymous within local government especially.
While there is nothing wrong with comrades showing support to one of their own in trouble with the law – it sends a rather disturbing message, especially to those in the junior ranks that actually, wrong doing is fine and is worth adulation and reward.
Until we start seeing errant municipal officials prosecuted and made to pay for failing in their duties – the rot in local government will continue to be business as usual.