Municipal leaders get to grips with financial oversight

An accredited municipal leadership, finance and oversight capacity programme led by the Vuthela Programme strengthens the oversight of municipal leaders in the iLembe district writes Zama Soji, Key Expert for the Vuthela Public Finance Management Component.

The dysfunctionality of some municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal is to an extent attributed to almost 300 councillors not being able to read or write, according to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) Skills Audit Report issued last month.

The Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme conceptualised an accredited ‘Municipal leadership, finance and oversight capacity programme’ to strengthen the oversight capacities of Councillors and senior managers of municipalities within the iLembe district in 2022. The training was implemented by Tachfin Management and Training Consultants (Tachfin), an accredited training services provider with the Local Government SETA. The skills programme involved 65 Councillors serving in various oversight committees, including Municipal Public Accounts (MPAC), Finance Portfolio (FPC) and Budget Steering Committee (BSC)) as well as 35 senior officials, those being Section 57 and 56 Directors, Executive Directors and Municipal Managers) of all municipalities in the district.

The training covered modules directly addressing aspects of oversight capacity, leadership, emotional intelligence, policy making, financial management, performance management, monitoring and evaluation as well as ethics and governance.

Much as the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996, the Municipal Structures Act 117 of 1998 as amended by Act 3 of 2021, the Municipal Finance Management Act 56 of 2003 and other relevant pieces of legislation make specific provision for structures and mechanisms of oversight, the question has remained about the extent to which these structures understand their role and are fully equipped with the knowledge, skills, and tools to effectively exercise their roles for effective and efficient service delivery.

Key participants

Consequently, portfolio-based oversight committees were key targeted participants as they have among their primary focus areas oversight on service delivery and policy implementation as well as oversight on public financial management and accountability in municipalities. Thus, the training sought to enhance effective financial management and controls, and to strengthen the role of portfolio committees in exercising their legislative oversight on the in-year municipal reports when they are tabled.

The training provided the necessary tools for participants to improve audit outcomes by effectively exercising their leadership, oversight and policy-making role in delivering services efficiently and effectively in line with their Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) and budgets. Due to the generally reported weakness of in-year reports, including the Section 71 and 72 reports in the local government sphere, there was also a need to capacitate senior managers who are leaders in their own sense and mostly work on the reports and assist Councillors with implementing the IDPs through their Service Delivery Budget Implementation Plans (SDBIPs).

The training emphasised the responsibility of Councillors and senior managers to serve what has been described as the “higher purpose” of government related to issues of representative democracy, oversight, integrity, and ethical leadership.

Packaged by Tachfin into four Unit Standards per cohort (Cohort 1: Councillors and Cohort 2: senior managers), the skills programme followed a blended learning approach which combined traditional physical classroom place-based methods and online educational methods with opportunities for interaction online and five-day contact sessions. These ran from 7-11 November 2022 and 14-18 November 2022 for Cohorts 1 and 2 respectively with physical follow-up sessions taking place from 23-27January 2023. The contact training sessions involved facilitator-led discussions and formative (classroom-based) activities. Formative activities were used to gauge learner progress individually and in groups. After the five-day contact sessions, participants had four weeks to gather workplace evidence and prepare summative assignments where they provided evidence of the knowledge gained and how this practically influenced their approach and attitude in the workplace.

The e-learning component of the training comprised of online reflection activities done on the Tachfin Learner Management System (LMS). On the Tachfin LMS, participants reflected on what they learnt in every module and how that could be applied practically in the execution of their daily duties at work. The participants were also given one-on-one virtual support and guidance as they worked on their Portfolios of Evidence (POEs), both hard copy and online. This was done through Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp.

Impact assessment

A post-training impact assessment was conducted from 11-23 July 2023 through interviews with 10 and nine competent participants from Cohorts 1 and 2 respectively. Since the conceptualisation of the training was on the premise that municipalities through their Councils are responsible for the design and execution of service delivery projects that have a direct bearing on the enabling business environment and citizens’ welfare and therefore needed critical oversight skills, it was critical in the end to assess the effectiveness and the impact of the training in fostering oversight, accountability and transparency.

The assessment examined the extent to which participants were equipped with knowledge and tools necessary for effective, ethical and responsible leadership, oversight and policy making as well as more effective local governance. The data gathered from the participants reflected that the training was largely impactful in strengthening oversight, leadership, emotional intelligence, financial management as well as policy making among other factors which in turn facilitates better service delivery.  Most participants appreciated the delivery approach used by Tachfin and indicated that the training needs to be extended to other beneficiaries in and outside their municipalities.

Awards ceremony

The project culminated with the handover of certificates to competent participants on 11 August 2023 in Ballito at an event attended by various invited guests, iLembe District Executive Mayor, Cllr T Shandu, and Mayors. Speakers were Cllr Thobane Shandu, Mayor of iLembe District Municipality, Cllr Dolly Shandu, Speaker of iLembe District Municipality, Cllr Chief Whip Cllr H Mbatha on behalf of the KwaDukuza Mayor, Zama Soji, PFM expert from Vuthela, Takua Chamuka, Tachfin CEO and Project Manager, Richard Clacey, Vuthela Programme Manager, Beryl Sewpersad, CoGTA, Cllr Nelsing Sewraj for Cohort 1, Adv Themba Yengwa for Cohort 2 , and Philile Dlamini for the Skills Development Facilitators.

In his remarks, the iLembe District Executive Mayor expressed his appreciation to Vuthela for such a training initiative, sentiments also echoed by Beryl Sewpersad of CoGTA. The Vuthela Programme Manager Richard Clacey reminded the delegates that the real impact of the training has to be seen in material changes in the persistent challenges that the municipalities were facing around non-technical water and electricity losses, revenue and debt management as well as Unauthorised, Irregular, Fruitless and Wasteful expenditure (UIFWE) and capital budget under expenditure.

Tachfin CEO and Project Manager, Takura Chamuka, in applauding the competent participants, said that the recently acquired skills, tools and knowledge, need to be coupled with the conscience and emotional capacity to shoulder the burden of liability when things do not go as expected, the same way that people want to glow in the glory when things go well, for that is true accountability.