Officials must be accountable

This week the world came to know that two Catholic nuns had, for years, been stealing millions from a school where they worked, only to splash out on travel and gambling, the story serving to confirm once again that things (and people) aren’t always what they seem to be at face value.
The Catholic Church worldwide, not just in Los Angeles, is still reeling from the shock of how sisters Mary Margaret Kreuper and Lana Chang did what they did, for so many years, and got away with it.
About 17,094km from Los Angeles, the SA Local Government Association (Salga) had brought together in Durban a few hundred of SA’s top councillors and officials from 196 municipalities, “to reflect” and “critically examine” their stance on, among several other burning issues, accountability and consequence management.
In his tone-setting opening address to the gathering, President Cyril Ramaphosa did not mince his words: “If local government is to succeed, it needs effective leadership.
“It needs mayors and councillors that inspire confidence, that are respected in communities and that have a clear vision.
“Local government needs leaders within the council and within the administration who are not corrupt, who do not dispense patronage, and who will not tolerate the theft or wastage of public resources.
“Those who are corrupt must be removed from their positions and must face the full might of the law.”
Ramaphosa was still delivering his speech when, just more than 876km away in Polokwane, Limpopo premier and ANC provincial chairperson Stan Mathabatha announced that following an investigation, the party’s provincial executive committee had taken a resolution to ask seven mayors implicated in the VBS Mutual Bank scandal to resign.
“It is also recommended that steps be taken against municipal managers and chief financial officers,” Mathabatha added.
The seven municipalities are on the brink of insolvency and could soon be placed under administration, after losing hundreds of millions of rands in illegal investments in the now defunct VBS Mutual Bank.
The bank was placed under liquidation following an order by the Pretoria high court last month.
How ironic that two of the mayors who were being fired and some of their officials were at the Salga meeting.
As they left Durban in a huff, Ramaphosa aptly concluded his speech: “We therefore look to you – the members of Salga – to give meaning and effect to the new dawn that the South African people need and deserve.”
It was then left to local government minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, deputy finance minister Mondli Gungubele, Salga president Parks Tau, parliament’s standing committee on public accounts chairperson Themba Godi and National House of Traditional Leaders chairperson Sipho Mahlangu to lead a two-hour discussion on why accountability was such an intractable problem in local government.
Tau was blunt: “We must own up to the objective reality that in many of our municipalities we have failed to serve our people with integrity; there is a state of maladministration and a high number of reported incidences of corruption; lack of implementation of service delivery and accountability and consequence management.
“This is an image that we cannot be proud of; as this erodes the confidence of our people in the system of local government.”
Local government practitioners could no longer afford to be indifferent, Mkhize added, when it was clear that some among them “are loyal to their own interests”.
It’s taken so long for the politicians to even talk the talk.
One wonders whether the walking of the talk we are now beginning to see, will last.
Let’s hope it does.
After all, it took a very long time for Catholics to even acknowledge the widespread abuse that was so endemic in the church.
And when it was eventually acknowledged, it was ascribed to a few rotten potatoes.
One hopes that the two criminal sisters who have made the church famous again for another wrong reason not only belong to a minority, but an example will be set for such offenders in future.
We deserve better leaders – politically, religiously, in fact in every sphere of our lives – than the nuns, the politicians and administrators who grabbed the headlines this past week.
We need leaders, not pretenders who continue to betray our trust and faith in them.
Let there be consequences for those that refuse to be accountable.

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