NELSPRUIT - All managers of Mpumalanga's 21 municipalities have agreed to either improve their performance or face dismissal, a Sapa correspondent reported on Friday.
The managers submitted their written commitment to premier David Mabuza at a co-ordinating forum in Mbombela this week.
"The managers committed [to] improving their work and, in the event they get the disclaimers [bad audit reports], they voluntarily allow the authorities to release them from duty with immediate effect," said Mabuza's spokesman Zibonele Mncwango.
A disclaimer of opinion is issued when auditors cannot form an opinion on an entity's financials and thus refuses to give any opinion on the financial statements.
The meeting also involved managers, mayors, MECs, department heads and representatives of the office of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Lechesa Tsenoli.
In 2012/13, the Msukaligwa, Nkomazi, Bushbuckridge, Lekwa, and Thaba Chweu municipalities received disclaimers.
Early this year, Mabuza called on municipal managers with disclaimers to freely resign from their positions, but only one did so.
"The commitment letters already have the signatures of the municipal managers but have no dates. The dates would only be filled in by the authorities once the municipal manager has received a disclaimer," Mncwango said.
He said the co-ordinating forum was part of Mabuza's efforts to ensure that all spheres of government in Mpumalanga achieved clean audits by the 2014 deadline.
Democratic Alliance leader in the provincial legislature Anthony Benadie criticised Mabuza's move to make municipal managers sign commitments.
"One does not fix finances of a municipality by making managers sign such ridiculous commitment letters," he said.
"This is nothing more than a political ploy which Mabuza uses to make people think he is serious about service delivery."
Meanwhile, an administrative support team has been sent in to prevent the total collapse of the Thaba Chweu municipality in Mpumalanga, a Sapa correspondent reported on Friday.
While the municipality had been placed under administration twice in the past eight years, this time it had been decided to send in a support team instead.
"The municipality will not be placed under administration. However, the provincial government will dispatch an administrative team to beef up the administration of the municipality which is now close to total collapse," said Mncwango.
The team of experts would work closely with officials from the municipality, which sits in Mashishing (formerly Lydenburg).
The municipality has been facing problems since 2005 when it was first placed under administration.
In 2009, it was again placed under administration after residents of Marambane township attacked police, damaged former mayor Clara Ndlovu's house, and burnt tyres in protest against poor service delivery and the disappearance of R3.2 million from council coffers.
One protester was shot dead. Social grants offices, as well as the kitchen of the local police barracks, were set alight.
After the protests, Ndlovu and 10 councillors were dismissed.
In a February 2012 report by the human settlements portfolio committee, Thaba Chweu was mentioned as one of the most bankrupt and dysfunctional municipalities in South Africa.
In October last year, the municipality was again under the spotlight when the Hawks finally arrested four municipal officials -- three years after the R3.2m went missing.
Mncwango said the municipality lacked financial management capacity because it had been without a permanent chief financial officer for a while.
"Due to the seriousness of lack of funds, the municipality was now shockingly utilising the municipal infrastructure grants to pay salaries," Mncwango said.
"Such funds are not to be utilised for anything else but should be ring-fenced and used solely for the public infrastructure projects."
He said the municipality owed Eskom R147m for electricity. Eskom has threatened to cut off power to the entire municipal area on October 16.
The co-operative governance and traditional affairs department, the provincial treasury, and the Ehlanzeni district municipality had been asked to intervene urgently.
Selling electricity was the main problem for many municipalities in the province.
"There are municipalities that we must persuade to stop selling electricity because they do not have the capacity. Instead this creates even more financial problems for them. Our municipalities in total owe Eskom R488 million for electricity."