July 19, 2019

Cape Town lagging behind in upgrading informal settlements

The Committee on Human Settlements wants to know why the Cape Town metro consistently fails to spend the Urban Settlements Development Grant, which is supposed to be used to upgrade and improve informal settlements.

A delegation from the City of Cape Town was sent packing by the Chairperson of the parliamentary committee on Human Settlements for failing to deliver a satisfactory report on how it has made use of the Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG) in the Western Cape metro.

Committee Chairperson Ms Nocawe Mafu told the delegation to return in one week with a comprehensive report explaining why Cape Town ranks lowest out of the eight metros considered in a report on spending of USDG allocations. The committee was told by the department’s Director-General that the city has spent only 25% of the allocated grant.

The USDG was introduced in terms of the 2011 Division of Revenue Bill to top up the budgets of South Africa’s metropolitan municipalities or metros, mainly for the construction and upgrading of housing in informal settlements, and improving basic municipal services for their residents.

Committee members repeatedly pointed to Cape Town’s consistent underspending when it comes to informal settlements, expressing strong dissatisfaction with the metro’s performance. The message from the committee was loud and clear: explain to us why you have failed these citizens and come back with a plan on how you intend spending this grant to improve the lives of those living under the appalling conditions in these areas.

Committee members said the money is available through the USDG, which is a fund issued directly from Treasury to individual metros for upgrading conditions of the very poor. They expressed anger and some disbelief that the city of Cape Town was failing to spend this money on these desperately needed services.

The city has spent only 25% of the grant allocated for upgrading housing in informal settlements and improving basic municipal services for their residents.

Members were largely unimpressed by the City of Cape Town’s presentation, which ran to nearly 50 pages of detailed strategic management frameworks and timelines, including pages of maps, photos and detailed diagrams showing performance indicators, risk factors and screening processes. What the committee wanted to know was why the city continued to fail in spending this grant.

Chairperson Mafu expressed “concern” that the Cape metro had never managed to spend 100% of its USDG. She explained that the committee had called the metro to appear before it in order to learn what obstacles the metro faced in providing these much-needed services to the growing informal settlements. Mafu said the committee wanted to find out how it could assist the city to improve its delivery and overcome its challenges.

One of the problems that became clear in the discussion that followed is that provision of services in these areas did not fall under one authority and that the grant’s recipients were spread across different categories, including small, rural farmers; back yarders; those living in rental stock; and the unplanned informal housing which comprises 75% of the total.

This was further complicated by the spread of informal settlements across land that does not belong to the city, or that was situated close to public transport routes and Cape Town International Airport. Much informal settlement had emerged on land that the city considered “non-developable” such as wetlands or natural storm drainage areas. The delegation also pointed to resistance to new development from existing communities and the challenges of working in “gang-controlled areas”.

Recent statistics showed that Cape Town had spent R364.3 million or 25.6% of its USDG allocation, compared to Buffalo City, for example, which registered expenditure at 51.4% of its USDG allocation and the city of Tshwane at 49.9% over the same period.

The USDG was created through amalgamating the old Municipal Infrastructure Grant and part of the Provincial Human Settlements Development Grant in a government policy shift to attempt to devolve housing authority to metropolitan municipalities. In 2014, the eradication of the bucket sanitation system was identified as a priority for these authorities.

Concern was expressed at the committee meeting that underspending of the USDG could result in the funds being diverted to other areas in cash-strapped municipalities. About R200 million of Cape Town’s allocation was already being redirected back to the fiscus.

The newly appointed Minister of Human Settlements, Nomaindia Mfeketo, and the Deputy Minister, Ms Zou Kota-Fredericks, attended the meetings. In her first appearance as Minister in this portfolio, Ms Mfeketo reminded the committee that her experience, which goes back to her years as a community activist, has always focused on delivery and upgrading at local government level.

“I have been in this business of local government for a long time,” she said, and the fight has always been for what she considered “the most basic thing, which is a house and the services that go with it.” She gave the committee her promise as Minister that she would engage and interact with it to secure delivery at local government level.

MECs of Human Settlement and the DG of the department were also present at the briefing, which was specifically called to address the challenges of metros that under-spent their USDGs.

The minister made the point that she did not care for fancy reports with clever graphics and maps. What she was looking for was a plan, even if it was laid out in a couple of pages, that promised delivery. The Cape Town delegation, which arrived late due to a misunderstanding over starting times, missed that comment.

The Ethekwini metro from KwaZulu-Natal was also called in to explain its underperformance at a reported 26%, but it won over the committee by demonstrating a surge in spending that now exceeds 30%.

Listing clear reasons for underspending and non-achievement of its targets. the Ethekwini team gave an entirely different presentation, showing up Cape Town as defensive and unwilling to learn from or comply with committee requests.

One of the biggest challenges Ethekweni metro faced was protest action by what it referred to as business forums, which largely comprised unemployed local citizens who demanded work stoppages and strikes and forced contractors off development sites. This delayed delivery by months and the metro delegation explained that it was engaged in efforts to negotiate with these disgruntled citizens to find some kind of compromise solution, the committee heard.

Moira levy

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Wednesday, 07 March 2018 19:21

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