The Northern Cape permanent delegates to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) were shocked to learn that the province’s municipalities had the highest vacancy rate in the country, their irregular expenditure had increased to R624 million and their debt to Eskom stands at R1.3 billion.

The municipalities are facing spiraling debt, political instability in some municipalities and high vacancy rates in critical managerial positions.

Seventeen of 31 municipalities have no Chief Financial Officers (CFO) or municipal managers or both.

This is according to the provincial department of Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs.

Department Head, Bafedile Lenkoe, says 30 of the 31 municipalities are dependent on government grants and are unable to fund their annual budget.

Lenkoe says this, coupled with vacancies in critical positions, has impacted service delivery.

“Where there is a vacancy rate, the stats indicate that there’s under expenditure, zero expenditure and most of those areas are where there are no technical directors. So, there is a correlation between vacancy rate and performance of a municipality.”

NCOP Deputy Chairperson, Sylvia Lucas who was premier of the Northern Cape for the past five years, says municipalities had been showing improvement during the past two to three years.

However, she says municipalities  particularly those in mining areas  are showing decline.

“Two or three years ago, it was Kgatelopele for instance, but if you listen to the report, Kgatelopele is one of the more compliant municipalities. But Tantsabane and Gamagara, there is a possibility that if we just change our style of governance and management, we might see an improvement in those specific municipalities.”

During the state of the province address in July in which the state of municipalities was highlighted, the provincial African National Congress (ANC) vowed to come down hard on those contributing to the waste of municipal funds.

“Fruitless and wasteful expenditure, there’s no reason to incur that so we’ll be strict on that. Those who are caught with their hands in the cookie jar. We’ll kick them out of the ANC. That’s the bottom line. That’s the message from the ANC. We are unequivocal about that. We are not ambiguous. That’s the message we are sending out to all councillors but also officials in the municipalities,” says party Provincial Secretary, Deshi Ngxanga.

The provincial government says it is exploring ways to create a single structure to coordinate all monitoring of municipalities.