Service Delivery Protests: People Need Services

politics ngos accountability
Wednesday, 31 March, 2010 - 11:21

Government should act fast to provide basic services to the people. 16 years into democracy, the majority of South Africans are fast becoming impatient with government for failing to provide them with services as guaranteed in the Constitution. Corruption, cadre deployment, nepotism and tenderpreneurs contribute to the increasing number of non-performing municipalities. It is critical that municipalities start engaging communities and civil society groups as partners in the delivery of services. They should create room for communities and other roleplayers to contribute in finding solutions to problems that hinder service delivery at the local government level

The ongoing service delivery protests paint a negative picture of South Africa locally and abroad. The protests leave one with an impression that government is failing to deliver basic services to the people, especially at the local government level. Voters want to see government living up to its election promises to improve their lives. Similarly, communities have the right to demand basic services from government.

At local government level, most municipalities are failing to deliver basic services. There is no doubt that the culture of so-called cadre deployment and nepotism is contributing a great deal to municipalities’ inability to service communities. Cadre deployment and nepotism are common in that skills and experience is not a requirement for one to be appointed. The sad reality is that beneficiaries of both ‘nepotism and cadre deployment’ are appointed to key strategic positions. It is a fact that majority of these people fail to perform.

Corruption is rife in our municipalities. Unfortunately, government is failing to take disciplinary action or to prosecute corrupt officials because they have political connections. Speaking at a recent South African Communist Party anti-corruption seminar in Johannesburg, Judge Willem Heath, cited a case he investigated in the Western Cape, involving a corrupt mayor. Heath describes it as shocking the fact that the culprit was promoted to premier and was not prosecuted.

Lack of proper monitoring and evaluation systems within municipalities have also created space for ‘tenderpreneurs’ to loot millions of rands from taxpayers. I am one of the people who are appalled by the amount of money that government inject into tenders because they in turn get sub-standard services.

‘Tenderpreneurship’ and the allocation of tenders is fuelling corruption within municipalities. There is little transparency in tendering processes as tenders are awarded to inexperienced companies under directorships of individuals with political connections. These are the companies that continue to build roads that are bumby and full of potholes even before being exposed to heavy rains. The awarding of tenders to companies should be transparent and based on their ability to carry out the tender.

Communities should continue to demand basic services from their municipalities. In the same vein, municipalities should also develop a culture of fostering relationships between communities and civil society organisations as ‘partners in service delivery’ instead of viewing communities as the ‘recipient of basic services’. For instance, residents of the Madibeng municipality in the North West had to form the Concerned Ratepayers Association and withhold rates payments in protest against the municipality’s failure to provide them with basic services.

If democracy means ‘government by the people for the people’, municipalities should create platforms through which they engage the communities on service delivery issues. Such platforms will help communities to make municipalities aware of their immediate and long-term service delivery expectations. Most important is that consultations will empower the municipalities to provide feedback to the communities, promote ‘checks and balances’ and provide space for communities to hold their local government officials accountable. The feedback from communities will also help municipalities to develop basic delivery targets and channel budgets accordingly.

Politicians should not take communities for granted. Service delivery protests should provide an opportunity for the African National Congress (ANC) and opposition parties to acknowledge the problems that exist within the municipalities.

It is unfortunate that most service delivery protests take place under conditions characterised by damage to public and private property and the looting of shops. It is imperative for municipalities to speed up the implementation of the so-called ‘local government turnaround strategy’. If government spokesperson, Themba Maseko’s assertion that the turnaround strategy will ensure that the local government is strengthened to attend to the service delivery concerns of the communities hold truth, municipalities will be transformed for the better.

However, municipalities cannot find solutions to their own problems without involving communities. The absence of communities and civil society groups as service delivery partners in municipalities means that our local government is missing out on an opportunity to promote ‘checks and balances’ and also empower residents to hold their local government officials accountable.

Political parties have much to learn from each other if they are serious about improving service delivery. Both opposition parties and the ANC have a lot to learn from each other’s successes and failures. They should create a platform through which they can share their experiences with the view of finding new ways of doing things. Currently, their interaction is centred on unnecessary public spats aimed at scoring political points. These public spats do not result in the provision of basic services or help municipalities to improve in their effort to provide basic services.

I am tempted to commend the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Sicelo Shiceka, when he says local councillors with no skills will be fired. However, I am curious to know the strategy he will be using when axing non-performing officials and when capacitating/retraining those who need to be empowered to perform better.
As we prepare for the 2011 local government elections, it will be interesting to hear what politicians will promise the electorate. I hope they tell the masses how they intend addressing their concerns and to improve the delivery of services. Similarly, I wish communities will continue the culture of exerting pressure on government to deliver, but not through violent protest or damage to public and private property.

- Butjwana Seokoma is information coordinator at SANGONeT

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