One of the strategic objectives of the Local Government Turnaround Strategy is to build clean, effective, efficient, responsive and accountable local government. While governance systems and structures are operational in municipalities, its quality and effectiveness is sometimes questionable. This is among others, the major reasons of why the Municipal public Accounts Committee (MPAC) has been instituted.
While South Africa’s Constitution gives expression to the principle of separation of powers by recognising the functional independence of the three branches of government (executive, legislature and judiciary), at local government level, however, a municipal council is vested with both legislative and executive authority. Subsequent legislation, in particular the Local Government: Municipal Finance Management Act, 2003, requires a certain level of oversight by the municipality over the executive authority. This entails amongst others, the annual report which includes the financial statements, the SDBIP, and also the performance of the municipal manager and other section 57 employees.
Since there is no neat distinction between the ‘executive’ and ‘legislative’ arms of council as it were, effective and proper oversight of the ‘executive’ at local level thus requires members of Council to fully understand the justifications and rationale behind accountable government and the purpose it serves. The oversight role is often seen as that of opposition parties alone, designed to police and expose maladministration and corruption. Such a view is limited and deficient. Oversight and accountability helps to ensure that the executive implements programmes and plans in a way consistent with policy, legislation and the dictates of the Constitution.
According to a South African Local Government Association (SALGA) document approved in March 2012, there is no prescription on the number of members elected to serve on the MPAC committee. This gives the municipality the authority to decide the number of members that are appointed, whilst considering the number of councillors in the municipality and the fact that no office bearers/ executive councillors in the municipality may serve on the committee. It is ideal that the members be appointed for the term of the council, to ensure continuity across financial years. However, this is subject to the right of the council to remove committee members by way of council resolution.
The chairperson of the MPAC is appointed in terms of a council resolution. The chairperson may not be an office bearer/ executive councillor in the municipality. The chairperson of the MPAC should be an experienced councillor, due to the important role to be played by the MPAC in the council. The chairperson can be from the ruling or an opposition party, at the choice of the municipal council.
The council must indicate whether it will allow the MPAC to co-opt advisory members, which are not councillors, but based on their expertise. This is informed by the experience and capacity of members appointed to the MPAC. In the event where such co-option is allowed, the council has to prescribe the number of members that may be co-opted, the expertise required, the manner of co-option as well as the payment of a stipend to such co-opted members.
Meetings of the MPAC should be open to the Public. Section 160(7) of the Constitution provides that a municipal council must conduct its business in an open manner, and may close its sittings, or those of its committees, only when it is reasonable to do so having regard to the nature of the business being transacted. As a principle, the meetings of the MPAC should be open to the public and the rules and procedures of the committee should specify in which instances the meeting can be closed to the public.
The MPAC reports directly to the municipal council and the chairperson of the MPAC must liaise directly with the speaker on the inclusion of reports of the MPAC in the council agenda. As the MAPC is a committee of the council, its reports are submitted directly to the council without being submitted to the Exco or Mayoral Committee. The chairperson of the MPAC liaises directly with the speaker on the inclusion of its report in the council agenda, and the committee staff ensures that the documentation is physically included in the agenda of the council meeting.
The functionality of the internal governance arrangements in a municipality is to a large extent determined by the effectiveness of its committee system and oversight in the municipality. Accountability and oversight can be most effective if recognised by those in power as promoting accountability and good governance, which in turn are there to enhance performance, effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery. Seen in this light the oversight function complements rather than hampers the effective delivery of services, which is the ultimate aim.
Cllr. Daniel Montoedi
Chairperson of the MPAC
Dr. Kenneth Kaunda District Municipality