On 24 August 2007, the Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG) met with various civil society organisations (CSOs) in Johannesburg to review the ‘Policy Process on the System of Provincial and Local Government'. The gathered organisations were asked to provide inputs that will help develop and review the process of formulating a new White Paper on provincial government.
The meeting followed the launch on 31 July 2007 of the White Paper process by the Minister for Provincial and Local Government, Sydney Mufamadi. This policy review process is aimed at helping the government to deliver quality services.
Speaking at the meeting, DPLG Director-General, Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela, argued that the DPLG is currently experiencing various problems instead of solutions. In light of this, she called on civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to fully participate and help enrich the process with their experience and ideas.
Responding to this call, Vincent Hlungwe, a Decentralisation Manager at Khanya-African Institute for Community Driven Development (Khanya-AICDD), urged the government to provide ‘techniques and tools’ to ensure effective civil society participation in this exercise.
Hlungwe argued that for the NGO sector to remain engaged and for the engagement to be sustained, the government must involve stakeholders in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation processes.
While most gathered CSOs welcomed government’s willingness to engage with them in this process, others felt that civil society should initiate such processes that will meet government half-way.
Girlie Njoni, the South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID) Director for Social and Economic Development, called on the NGO sector to work together to develop systems that will result in the development of communities. Njoni declared that SAWID will organise forums for women to engage with this process before the end of August 2007.
Although the DPLG views working with NGOs as vital, David Takoules of the Vukani-Ubuntu Community Development Projects, noted that such partnerships may face various problems. He highlighted the unfortunate fact that NGOs rarely share their experiences and expertise amongst themselves.
Takoules, who argued that sharing experiences and learning from each other can help NGOs avoid duplication, urged NGOs to look for the best practices in the sector and infuse them to their work. He added that CSOs should serve as access point to communities.
Addressing the Capacity Problem
A few civil society groups represented at the meeting also raised the issue of capacity within local government structures, arguing that these structures are not capacitated to meet service delivery requirements.
According to Terrence Smith of the Local Government Resource Centre in Contemporary Research, “Capacitating these structures will transform them into good agents of development”.
Smith urged government to strengthen local government structures, to build communication capacity for ward committees, to provide ward-committee members with incentives, and also to provide financial support required in carrying out their work.
While the capacity problem remains a huge issue within the DPLG, NGOs have warned against the danger of appointing political party members to key positions, as this adds to the problem. They argued that political appointees fail to deliver as compared to “pure” professionals because they do not have the necessary skills to perform at that level.
In light of this, Msengana-Ndlela assured NGOs that government is “Mobilising, deploying and retaining capacity and resources whilst improving accountability and performance systems”.
Call for Comments
In her closing remarks, Msengana-Ndlela noted that local government structures are required by law to involve communities in the review processes. In this regard, the meeting with civil society was the first of many engagements on the White Paper process with the DPLG’s stakeholders.
Msengana-Ndlela invited members of the public and experts to submit interest papers on any issues they would like this policy review to consider and to respond to the questions found in the Government Gazette.
Main picture courtesy of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar & his People