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Local govt takes services to communities

Written by SAnews
Significant advances have been made over the last 20 years to establish a single local government system from the fragmented, undemocratic, unaccountable and racially divided apartheid system.

“It is impressive that a number of municipalities which had little or no preexisting institutional foundations, have been able to deliver basic services to thousands of people who did not have them before in the past two decades,” President Jacob Zuma said during the release of the Twenty Year Review recently.

The review, records the achievements that the country has made since the dawn of democracy in 1994, states the challenges that have been experienced, mistakes that have been made in some instances and takes a look at possible recommendations.

President Zuma said some of the municipalities were geared towards serving a minority before 1994. The focus is now on reaching communities that are still waiting for services, like those in remote rural areas and in informal settlements.

More importantly, he said, the focus is on improving the technical and management expertise of municipalities so that they can function better and also be able to maintain key infrastructure that supplies water and electricity to communities.

The 1998 White Paper on Local Government paved the way for a modern local government system with clear developmental objectives.

The number of municipalities was rationalised from 843 before 2000 to 283 just before the 2011 municipal elections and a new fiscal framework was introduced that guaranteed local government a share of national revenue. Policies and support structures were put in place with the aim to build the capacity of local government to deliver municipal services.

Government is improving the technical and management expertise of municipalities to improve their delivery of basic services such as electricity.In the past two decades, municipalities have delivered basic services to millions of households that did not receive them before.

“Given that a number of municipalities had little or no pre-existing institutional foundations on which to build, and where these existed, they were geared towards serving the needs of a minority, this is a remarkable feat. However, local government is still in the process of transformation and many challenges remain for local government service delivery,” notes the review.

It says remaining backlogs and unevenness in the quality of service delivery contribute to deep-seated dissatisfaction in some communities, as evidenced by the rise in service delivery protests.

Research shows there is a significant decline in public opinion of government’s performance in delivering basic services, together with an increase in the number of major service delivery protests.

“These trends highlight the importance of effective engagement with citizens in order to ensure that concerns are heard and addressed, as well as the need to maintain and strengthen government’s focus on improving the quality of service delivery.”

Municipal support

Many municipalities have been affected by a shortage of technical skills, resulting in difficulties in delivering on their mandates.

The Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA) was established in 2011 to support municipalities with planning, management and other technical expertise to rollout infrastructure more efficiently and effectively - especially in weaker municipalities.

The review notes that MISA is currently providing technical capacity support to 107 municipalities with a total of 77 technical experts (engineering and planning professionals) assigned to support these municipalities.

“Signs of improvements in project implementation, spending of allocated conditional grants funds ... and infrastructure maintenance and refurbishment are evident in the municipalities that are being supported.”

Municipalities have been delivering basic services such as water to thousands of South Africans who did not have them before 1994.National government has allocated substantial funds to build municipal capacity since 1994. The Siyenza Manje Programme spent about R933 million in the period 2006/07 to 2009/10. Almost R5.8 billion has been allocated for municipal capacity support between 2013/14 and 2016/17.

Going forward, this support will need to be continued and improved as some municipalities are still struggling to build, refurbish, operate and maintain the infrastructure needed for reliable and sustainable service delivery.

Management and operational capabilities in key areas will need to be strengthened, says the review, adding that this is especially true in some rural municipalities, which have a weak rates base and are often unable to recruit and retain critical skills.

Deepening participatory democracy

South Africa has made great strides in creating mechanisms for citizens to participate on an on-going basis and not just during elections. Participatory governance and advisory structures, consultative forums and grievance mechanisms have been established to enable citizens to participate in and inform governance processes.

Protests are typically prompted by a range of concerns, including access to services, the quality of services and the perceived nonresponsiveness of local government.

“The priority is therefore to ensure that mechanisms for promoting participation, accountability and responsiveness are used effectively ... Attention needs to be given to improving accountability mechanisms for routine day-to-day interactions between citizens and the state, particularly at the point of delivery.

“More emphasis needs to be put on engaging citizens in their own spaces rather than only expecting them to use forums and structures established by the state,” reads the review.

At local government level, there is a particular need to ensure that participation in the Integrated Development Planning (IDP) processes is deliberative, with citizens being involved in identifying and resolving trade-offs rather than simply developing shopping lists of needs.

Traditional leadership

One of the objectives of the White Paper on Traditional Leadership and Governance was to ensure that traditional leadership structures are in line with the principles of the Constitution.

The National House of Traditional Leaders was established in 1997. In 2004, after consultation with the traditional leadership institutions in the country, government established an Independent Commission, commonly known as the Nhlapo Commission. The purpose of the commission was to address disputes and claims on traditional leadership.

In 2009, the Department of Traditional Affairs was established to support the institution of traditional leadership.

The Traditional Affairs Bill has been drafted to consolidate national legislation dealing with traditional leadership and make statutory provision for the recognition of the Khoi-San communities and leaders.

The National Khoi-San Council, consisting of 30 members drawn from the five main groupings of Khoi-San society, was established.

The Traditional Courts Bill, which was intended to affirm the recognition of the traditional justice system and its values and to regulate the role of traditional leadership in the administration of justice, faced strong opposition from a range of civil society groups and ordinary citizens, especially women in rural areas resulting in its withdrawal in December 2012.

The Bill is perceived by some as undermining equal citizenship rights and of imposing a segregated legal system on those living in the former homelands.

As a result, the statutory deadline of 30 December 2012, by which the Bill should have been enacted into law, has not been met and consultations on the Bill are on-going.