Minister has catch-up job on settlements…
With a budget of nearly R31bn to be spent this year on human settlements issues to improve the lives of South Africans in the area of housing and more recently sanitation, the department of human settlements (DHS) says it has to come to grips urgently with the situation regarding informal townships in South Africa.
This is according to parliament’s own research team when briefing the new portfolio committee on human settlements on the housing backlog under its new ANC chairperson, Ms Macwene Semenya.
The briefing also touched on government’s plan to achieve eradication of sanitation backlogs by 2014, set at one year prior to the target specified by the UN’s millennium development goals.
Good track record
These and other major problems add to the catch-up pressure upon the new minister of human settlements, Connie September, who has a long-standing relationship with Parliament serving in the past on the trade and industry, water and joint rules portfolio committees and who has played an important role in the development of COSATU.
The portfolio committee was told that DHS worked to a difficult framework in terms of various policies, constitutional and legislative aspects, to assist and enable municipalities to manage housing developments within their areas of jurisdiction.
DHS does not build houses as many assume, they said, but attends to the finance in terms of appropriations transferred to 250 municipalities through provincial government on an accredited basis to make this happen, parliamentarians were told.
Finance for municipalities
Within three years of finance being received from DHS in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA), each municipality has to plan, implement and maintain housing in the terms of a national integrated plan but first the municipality plans had to be perused and accredited by DHS in order to receive funding.
This is a complex process that needs long-term projects, major reforms and needing a strong political will, the committee was told. It is here that DHS is experiencing its main problems, or “challenges” as put by the parliamentary briefing expert, Leepo Tsoai.
The Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC) was reported as having noted in a report which went to the cabinet that the increases in the human settlements budget are not linked to increases in delivery on the ground, a fact which had been the responsibility of the outgoing minister.
The FFC had also noted that the effectiveness of the many human settlements grants to municipalities, over and above standard appropriations, were diverse and “segmented” and there was a serious need for “alignment and sequencing”.
Also the Auditor General, although having given an unqualified report on DHS for the 2012/3 figures and again for this year, a note was added by the AG that the vacancy rate on professional and skilled staff within the department is far too high, indicating a large vacuum where it is most needed despite funds being available. Also far too many staff were “acting”, reported the AG, indicating that their posts remained unsubstantiated.
Lack of skilled staff was therefore one of the main reasons, said the parliamentary profiler, for the slow rate of approvals aside from the lack of skills at provincial level.
Nevertheless, the current target for DHS remained to accelerate the delivery of household opportunities and upgrading of 400 000 households in informal settlements so that there was access to secure tenure and basic services.
Back to finance problems
In this regard, DHS was also responsible for a subsidy programme for households unable to find mortgage finance or should their monthly income exceed the maximum income limit for a government free basic house.
It was noted in the parliamentary briefing, however, that many strides in terms of accelerating access to water and on sanitation matters had been made, with some 3m South Africans gaining access to adequate sanitation services since 1994, although 2.2m were still without water, bringing SA close to non-alignment with UN goals.
Also it was noted that DHS also had a target to establish a mortgage insurance guarantee scheme to deliver 600 000 housing finance opportunities.
Committee members were briefed on the two Bills passed last year; the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Bill and the Community Scheme Ombud Service Bill – the Rental Housing Amendment Bill being withdrawn but now re-introduced. In the pipeline were the Consumer Protection Measures Bill and Housing Development Property Bill.
Backlog title deeds
Insofar as the previous government was concerned, the legacy report of the last committee was reviewed which had asked for a total review of DHS funding models on projects and programmes and a way of regulating for the registration and issuing of title deeds for state subsidised houses.
Also, the legacy report stated, there was a major problem on the issue of “backyard dwellers” in urban areas to be dealt with.
As far as budget allocations were concerned the briefing showed that budget for 2013/14 was R20.2 billion, increasing in 2014/15 to R30.5 billion, with projected increases thereafter to R32.8 billion in 2015/16 and R34.4 billion in 2016/17.
At the end of the last financial year, DHS administration had under-spent 74% of budget at the end of the financial year, a major factor contributing to this the inability to fill senior management posts with the right qualifications.
At the time of this report, the committee was awaiting the annual strategy report from DHS prior to the budget vote.
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