SJC members assess the condition of a chemical toilet during a social audit in Khayelitsha.
The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) notes the City of Cape Town’spress statement responding to a social audit conducted last week to probe the performance of Mshengu Services – a provider of more than 5000 communal chemical toilets in Cape Town’s informal settlements at a cost of R140 million to the municipal fiscus. The full audit report will be released in the coming days. However, given the nature of the City’s response there are a number of issues that require immediate clarification.
The Purpose of The Social Audit
Contrary to the City’s statement, the exercise focussed explicitly on an outsourced provider of chemical toilets and the failure of that company to deliver the services outlined in its contract. While we understand the complexity involved in sanitation provision and informal settlement delivery more generally, the City in this case is obfuscating and failing to respond to the specific concerns raised – namely that public funds are being used to pay for a service which is not being delivered, and in the process violating the most basic rights.
The provision of essential services – including but not limited to chemical toilets and refuse collection – in informal settlements is increasingly outsourced to private service providers. When this is done, the municipal government is legally bound to ensure a service standard in line with national laws and regulations. This is particularly true for communal sanitation facilities, where close to one hundred people must share one toilet.
Instead of welcoming and committing to act on the findings, the City refers to the social audit process as “informal” and has openly questioned the methodology and motives. A social audit is a rigorous verification exercise where residents of a given community compare the delivery of services with the requirements set out in contracts and other documents between government and private providers. The model has been very effective in India, where government encourages communities to assist in monitoring by providing detailed information, training and reporting mechanisms. The Mshengu audit was conducted with the support of the International Budget Partnership (IBP) – an internationally respected leader in the promotion of transparency in government spending.
In short, the audit results show that the provider is seriously failing to meet obligations contained in its contract with the City. For instance, routine cleaning and maintenance is not taking place and the appropriate materials are not being used to secure the toilets to the ground. Residents are legitimately concerned that this is severely affecting public health and safety in their communities.
The SJC Has Been Engaging the City on Outsourced Services Since 2011
The City’s statement suggests that it is “disappointed” that the SJC has used “a public platform, rather than bringing the problem areas directly to the City’s attention”, and questions whether the SJC is indeed “working towards a common goal of delivering sanitation to those most in need”. This neglects to recognise the repeated attempts made by the SJC over many years to prompt meaningful remedial action by the City.
The SJC has been consistently engaging with Mayor Patricia de Lille and many other city officials on serious problems with various private contractors, including Mshengu Services, dating back more than two years. On many occasions city officials – including the Mayor – have agreed that the city is not doing enough to monitor performance, and have promised to take remedial action. In May 2012, Mayor de Lille stated publicly in reference to poor outsourced refuse collection services that “the quality of the service (in informal settlements) is dropping because there’s no monitoring from the City’s side”.
It is therefore surprising that the City’s recent statement neglects to comment on the performance of contractors, and what action is being taken to improve the city’s ability to monitor providers of essential services. Instead of sympathizing with aggrieved communities and offering to investigate Mshengu and other contractors, the City has instead chosen to criticize the SJC.
The City Should Welcome Social Audits
The social audit is a prime example of active citizens using information to assist government in ensuring that service providers offer value for money and deliver a suitable level of service. However, the City’s response has been all but welcoming or supportive. The SJC has experienced enormous difficulty over the past two years gaining access to contracts and service delivery agreements that by law should be immediately available. Furthermore, the City continues to refuse to release invoices, which would help us to verify whether public funds are being misspent, forcing us to take the unnecessary step of lodging a Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) application.
If the City is genuinely concerned about reducing wasteful expenditure and accelerating service delivery to poor communities, it would be well advised to study the SJC’s social audit report and act accordingly.
The full report from the social audit – including data, community testimonies, and resolutions – will be released in the coming days. For more information please contact Axolile Notywala on 0743861584.