A retrospective long-term financial assessment of sustainability at Cape Agulhas Municipality
The future existence of municipalities is determined by their ability to remain financially sustainable. This study is significant as municipalities need to ensure that they are financially sustainable for the continued provision and maintenance of quality and affordable services to all the residents within their jurisdiction. The primary objective of the study was to assess the financial performance of the Cape Agulhas Municipality over a period of ten years. A secondary objective was to identify factors that constrain or facilitate improved financial management in municipalities and that may have an influence on their sustainability. The focus of the study was limited to financial management aspects of the Cape Agulhas Municipality from 2003 to 2014 and was conducted at a macro or strategic level. The research is a longitudinal qualitative study as this methodology was deemed as the best to undertake in a study of this nature. The data collection process comprised of open ended semi- structured interviews with senior politicians and officials in the municipality. Financial data from the annual financial statements and the Auditor General of South Africa over the period of study were evaluated and analysed so as to produce financial ratios and establish trends. The financial data was assessed against the financial health measures as identified by the National Treasury to determine the financial status of the municipality. Analysing the financial performance of the municipality produced information that can be used as an early warning system to mitigate further deterioration of the financial situation and inform future decisions in terms thereof. This study was useful as the findings may contribute towards effective municipal financial management and the financial sustainability of municipalities. The study makes the following findings and recommendations: The municipality experienced liquidity tensions from 2006. Although the payment ratio had been increasing over the last two years of the study, consumer debtors had been increasing and limited amounts were budgeted for the writing off of bad debt. Electricity tariff increases were significantly above the inflation rate, and salaries, wages and allowances were the largest expenditure item over the whole period of the study. In terms of provision for maintenance and repairs, these were less than half of the norm for most of the study period, and lastly the cash reserves were severely depleted from 2006 as they were used to fund long term capital projects. It is recommended that the municipality stabilises the decline in current assets and continues with the diligent implementation of its credit control policy, not only to maintain the positive collection rate but also to curb the increase in consumer debtors. In order to enhance the affordability of rates and tariffs the municipality must perform a cost analysis of all rates and tariffs to ensure that they are cost reflective. The organisational structure must be reviewed annually to verify that only critical and legislatively required posts are approved and budgeted for, as this is the largest expenditure item in the municipal budget. Furthermore, a comprehensive infrastructure maintenance plan must be developed to guide decisions when the budget for maintenance and repairs is considered, not only to ensure that this budget item is closer to the national norm but that it is spent on and tracked to infrastructure with the highest priority. The municipality needs to develop and approve a long term financial plan with its related policies to curb the further decline of its cash reserves and which includes a capital funding mix that is aligned to the useful life of the infrastructure to be financed.