Pupils pay price as subsidy row leads to libraries’ closure
Eastern Cape council shuts 12 down after grant is withheld over poorly managed finances
The department of arts and culture has put four municipalities in the naughty corner for running their finances so poorly – but now the libraries will suffer.
The four Eastern Cape municipalities have received disclaimer audit opinions from the auditor-general, meaning they could not account satisfactorily for their finances and spending. As a result, the department has decided to withhold their library grants “until they show they can manage the money better”.
One of the four, Dr Beyers Naude Municipality, decided to close down all 12 of its libraries, citing a lack of funds. They have already issued notices to schools and public offices. The staff will be redeployed in the municipality as a temporary measure.
The municipality receives a R2.4m grant every six months.
The Walter Sisulu, Enoch Mgijima and Mnquma municipalities have all indicated their libraries will keep operating.
This week, schools in the area indicated that their pupils were struggling since the municipality closed its libraries.
Municipal spokesperson Wilca Smith confirmed that the libraries serving a population of more than 79,290 had been closed, and would remain so until the department paid the subsidy.
Clifort van Staden, principal of Elmor Senior Primary School in Willowmore, said the closure of the libraries had affected pupils because many relied on them for research.
“Many of our learners come from disadvantaged areas and do not have laptops or computers. This issue needs to be resolved quickly. Even our school libraries do not have enough books to cater for our learners’ needs,” Van Staden said.
A teacher at Nqweba High School in Graaff-Reinet, who didn’t want to be named, said the closures might affect their matric results. “If this is not solved quickly our learners will be badly affected ... ” she said.
A teacher at Asherville Secondary School in Graaff -Reinet said: “Our leaners are affected badly as the public libraries are the only source of information. Most of our students are poor and most do not have internet access at home.”
Department of arts and culture spokesperson Andile Nduna confirmed that municipalities who received disclaimers would not receive their library grants.
“The department took a decision to withhold the grant until the financial management of these municipalities improves,” he said.
His department had transferred R29m to date to municipalities for libraries for the 2018/19 financial year.
“Every year these municipalities have to comply and submit necessary documentation to receive the subsidy. Dr Beyers Naude Local Municipality did not submit the required documents on time and this has delayed its subsidy for this current financial year,” Nduna explained.
He said the department had 207 libraries in the province, serviced by 33 municipalities, to offer vital resources to address community needs.
“This is standard practice as the department always strives to pay the subsidies in July every year when the financial year of the municipality starts.”
Documents requested included a signed memorandum of agreement, an annual report, an audit report, an Audit Intervention Plan, Audited Financial Statements, confirmation of internal controls, a business plan and an expenditure report on the previous subsidy.
Nduna said the municipality did not submit the documents until the department sent officials to collect the documents.
“On verification of the documents, it was found that the municipality submitted an incomplete set of documents and had a disclaimer of opinion.”
Nduna said a detailed business plan was also requested to help the department closely monitor the expenditure with regards to the library subsidy.
He said should all the documents be received they expect to make payment before the end of the week.
“Our libraries currently employ 31 staff members. Our actual expenditure by the municipality is R7m but the grant funding received is R2,308m,” Smith said.
Smith also disputed that her municipality did submit documents, saying the only reason that was given was that the municipality has a disclaimer.
DA MPL Nomvano Zibonda called on the department to ensure that the subsidy is paid since many of the pupils in the municipality depend on the libraries.
“The cash-strapped municipality has been carrying the costs of the libraries but has reached a point now where there are no longer funds to cover operating costs or pay staff, which has led to the municipality announcing the shutdown until further notice,” Zibonda said.