When it comes to local government, then ‘local is lekker’ does not apply and the opposite is more likely. For many years municipalities have made concessions in terms of rates and taxes that apply to benevolent organisations, including institutions that care for traumatised children. Sadly, this has changed and one can only assume that municipalities do not embrace social responsibility as part of their corporate conduct or in business practise.
For many years, Abraham Kriel Childcare was exempted from paying property tax, albeit that this was subject to making annual application to the municipality for exemption. A decision was communicated that rates will be payable on a phased-in basis which is currently 25 percent of rates and taxes for properties. Due to the manner in which municipal affairs are being managed with administrative backlog, we are still being charged 100 percent of the applicable fee. The effort to be refunded 75 percent should the 100 percent be paid, is enormous with no guarantee of a refund. Of course, we are not delighted by the fact that interest is being charged on the 75 percent variance (’outstanding fees’) and no communication in the interim of when the matter will be remedied.
In a discussion document relating to the social responsibility of local government, it states that charitable institutions should receive discounts on services - in addition to rates. To date, this has not materialised. We also wish to echo the content of that communication: ‘The high cost of utilities has become a real threat to the sustainability of charitable residential care facilities.’ Surely this should inspire the local authorities to sharpen their pencils in the budget phase and reduce on unnecessary and wasteful expenditure of specific portfolios which has been published in various media. It needs to be reiterated that it should be a social responsibility to differentiate rates and services between commerce and industry and non-profit organisations.
Should the matter not be resolved, it is quite possible that traumatised children who are being cared for by professional childcare institutions may arrive ‘en masse’ on the doorstep of the municipality as the additional cost cannot be absorbed by the institutions. The mere thought of traumatised homeless children with placards stating ‘Local is not lekker’ should motivate a measure of urgency amongst municipal officials to embrace social responsibility in word and deed.
Hilda du Toit
Abraham Kriel Childcare
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- Every year without fail, the release of the Auditor-General results on municipalities and municipal entities is the only time that local government is consistently in the news. We are bombarded with news about the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ performing municipalities, but this is done in a manner that separates municipal financial management from the core business of local government- service delivery.
Local government is the sphere of governance that is closest to the people and is tasked with identifying land for housing purposes, with accredited metros fulfilling housing functions themselves. It is also tasked with delivering services such as primary healthcare, sanitation, water and electricity among other functions and responsibilities. As such, this sphere of governance is the key role-player in ensuring the realisation of socio-economic rights, not in policy but the actualisation thereof.
There is no doubt that local government requires financial resources and that these finances have a huge impact on its’ [local government] ability to go about its core business. So it is fair to say that poor financial management has an impact on service delivery, but it cannot be assumed that the opposite is true. Good financial management does not mean that the services are being rendered nor that they are done in an adequate manner.
To really understand this, one would need to breakdown municipal budgets to understand what its priorities are, which is reflected by how money is allocated. This can further be broken down by looking at spending per ward, assessing how it is allocated and weighing this up against the respective community needs. Understanding municipal spending per capita in the different wards, allows one to pick up if those with more needs are adequately prioritised.
‘Accountability’ is the current buzzword of choice but from a municipal perspective, the ability to adequately account for finances whilst communities remain underserviced- if even serviced at all- cannot be used as a full measurement of efficiency and effectiveness of a municipality.
And this is not to say that good financial management or that measurement does not have its place. It is a question of saying that what is deduced from good financial management should be done within the framework of the core functions of local government.
- Koketso Moeti is the national coordinator of Local Government Action, a loose alliance of South African organisations working to promote democracy, accountability and delivery at local government level.
- Barely three months into her new job, Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality’s newly appointed municipal manager, Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela, faces suspension. The United Democratic Movement (UDM) has applied to court to compel the municipality to place Msengana-Ndlela on special leave. Interestingly, unlike many similar court battles about municipal managers, there are no allegations of misconduct or concerns about performance but questions about whether she is in fact qualified to be a municipal manager.
The fact of the matter is that her qualifications and experience are impressive by all accounts. For seven years, she was the director-general of the national department, responsible for overseeing the entire local government system (the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA)). During her tenure, the department’s budget grew from R6 billion to over R24 billion and she achieved seven successive clean audits while managing these funds. She oversaw a range of major policy and legislative initiatives, including the passing of the Municipal Property Rates Act, No. 6 of 2004 and the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act, No. 13 of 2005.
Before assuming office as director-general she was as a senior civil servant in various provincial and national government departments for seven years. Msengana-Ndlela holds several degrees, including a Bachelor of Commerce, a Bachelor of Education, a Masters’ in Business Leadership and a PhD in Urban Governance, Leadership and Local Economic Development. There is little doubt that she is eminently suitable to take charge of the administration of a large municipality. So what is this about?
The UDM is arguing that Msengana-Ndlela actually does not have the skills, expertise, qualifications and competencies prescribed by law. They base the argument on the National Treasury’s 2007 Municipal Regulations on Minimum Competency Levels. These regulations are part of government’s drive to professionalise local government administration. In very general terms, professionalisation can be achieved in two ways. Government can determine and enforce competencies, skills and ethical standards or it can allow a profession to regulate and enforce its own. When it comes to senior managers in local government, it clearly is the first approach that is being followed. National government determines minimum competency standards and expects municipalities to enforce them. If they fail to do so, anyone can challenge an appointment in court.
It is an ironic twist to this tale that government commenced this version of professionalising local government under Msengana-Ndlela’s watch as director-general. In 2006, CoGTA (or the Department of Provincial and Local Government as it was then called) issued regulations determining managerial competencies which senior municipal officials must have. Later legislation (the Municipal Systems Amendments Act of 2011) paved the way for further competence standards and outlined requirements for recruitment to ensure that senior officials are appointed on merit. It also demands corrective action when appointments are made in contravention of legal requirements.
In 2007, the National Treasury weighed into the professionalisation effort with regulations requiring municipal managers to possess qualifications, experience, management competencies and financial competencies. These have now become Msengana-Ndlela’s nemesis. For the post of municipal manager in a city like Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality the Treasury’s regulations require at least –
- A bachelor’s degree and a higher diploma in a relevant field or, alternatively a certificate in Municipal Financial Management (as shown above, Msengana-Ndlela has more than a bachelor’s degree and a higher diploma);
- Five years’ experience at senior management level, a requirement she easily satisfies with her seven years’ experience as a director-general;
- The management competencies required by the Municipal Performance Management Regulations of 2006 (passed under Msengana-Ndlela’s tenure as director-general); and
- Competence in the unit standards related to finances and supply chain management, which can be obtained by completing the Municipal Finance Management Programme put together by national government.
These regulations are part of an elaborate suite of laws, policies and plans to improve the capability of the state and local government in particular. The National Development Plan contains capacity building proposals for local government. These cover the improvement of management, technical skills and organisational systems within municipalities. The Plan says that South Africa needs to make local government a career of choice by building a professional management that is sufficiently autonomous to be insulated from political patronage. To make local government a career of choice, the National Planning Commission has proposed a formal graduate recruitment scheme for the public service based on merit-based selection assessments; a career path for local government; making adequate experience a prerequisite for senior posts; and improving the systems for skills development. The most recent initiatives on the professionalisation of the public service are the reforms proposed by the Minister of Public Service and Administration Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu. The Minister plans a ban on public servants doing business with the state, a new school of government and a central tribunal to process disciplinary matters faster, to mention but a few. On the professionalisation front, the Minister plans to amend the Public Service Act to set a higher bar for appointment into the service and providing for career development, fighting corruption and managing discipline. A Draft Bill has been published for comment. The Bill seeks to professionalise the public service by standardising the recruitment of accounting officers and senior managers across all levels of government.
How does our ironic tale, of the former director-general possibly falling victim to rules she herself helped design, fit into this new policy on professionalisation? The case brings into question whether the approach whereby government determines and enforces standards is indeed the right one. Is a legislated, one-size-fits-all standard necessarily the best way to achieve professionalism? The above scenario exposes some unintended consequences because few would argue that the intention of the scheme could have been to disqualify a former director-general with an impeccable record from becoming a city manager.
The law elevates the Certificate in Municipal Finance Management to a sine qua non. Officials without a single degree or diploma have no problem as long as they complete this Municipal Finance Management Programme. However, the converse does not apply. No matter how many degrees an official may have accumulated or how many years of experience he or she has, the Certificate in Financial Management remains compulsory. This is how a former director-general with a PhD can be deemed unsuitable. Can local government really afford to exclude high calibre individuals such as Msengana-Ndlela from the pool of eligible candidates? On the other hand, assuming for a moment that the UDM wins its case (which remains to be seen), could it be argued that the sacrifice is worth it? It would at least mean that an objective minimum standard for capability is upheld throughout the country.
What makes this case suggestive of fault lines in government’s approach to professionalisation is the fact that the story line suggests that the rules are invoked for political reasons, rather than out of concern with service delivery. Msengana-Ndlela was appointed by a unanimous council decision. The UDM councillor who is now challenging the appointment in court, Cllr Bobani, was part of the interview panel that recommended her appointment and is a member of the council that unanimously appointed her. The change of heart is remarkable and begs the question as to what has changed in the last three months.
There is no doubt that government is right to pursue the professionalisation of local government administration: it will go a long way in addressing the problems in local government. However, the law now appears to be counterproductive: it is used to try to exclude precisely the kind of personnel required to achieve excellence. Elevating minimum qualification over proven capability and competence might backfire and undermine government’s intentions. In our view, qualifications ultimately offer no guarantee for excellence. However, proven capability comes close.
- Phindile Ntliziywana is a researcher for the Multi-Level Government Initiative and Professor Jaap de Visser is director at the Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape.
- South Africa’s municipalities are a contested terrain. Divisions within (and between) political parties are overflowing into the life of municipalities, rendering some of them dysfunctional. Factionalism, patronage politics and corruption, maladministration, cadre deployment, political interference and a conflation of the party and the state have all contributed to the erosion of democratic, accountable and effective local government in some municipalities, while it has hindered service delivery provision in others. The King Sabatha Dalindyebo Municipality is one glaring example: its main town, Mthatha, is regularly hit by power blackouts and water shortages, while piles of uncollected rubbish, line the town’s potholed streets. The municipality is reported to be rife with factionalism, with assassination plots and corruption blamed for the breakdown in services.
There are countless other examples across the country. For many citizens, local government is failing to carry out its basic functions - the hundreds of service protests that take place across the country each year, bear witness to the frustration and dissatisfaction of ordinary citizens with their local officials. Signs that the elected leaders are part of the problem are widespread: from the dissolution of executive committees torn apart by struggles for mayoral nominations in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) municipalities of uMgungundlovu and Msunduzi; Gauteng’s Midvaal, subject of a damaging report of conflict of interest in a supposedly model municipality; to a series of murders in KZN, Mpumalanga and North West, which have been linked to power struggles within political parties at the local government level.
Assessments conducted by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) in 2009, confirmed that political party factionalism is a major contributor to the deterioration of functioning municipal government. More recently, National Treasury’s 2011 Local Government Budgets and Expenditure Review, directly attributed failures in municipal performance to failures in local political leadership rather than a lack of capacity in municipalities. Municipal governments, by their very nature, are political structures, the stage for various forms of contestation and conflict between people with different interests, ideas, skills and ambition. Yet municipalities are not identical with the affairs of the parties that govern them. They are state entities: public institutions with mandates and tasks to fulfil in the collective interest. It is the challenge of ‘marrying’ political objectives with state priorities that gives rise to some of the chronic problems in municipal councils. Local administration has the difficult task of governing for all, while simultaneously advancing a political agenda and translating the municipal budget in line with the priorities of the municipality’s majority political party. Any dominant political party in a municipality is bound to use that power to its advantage. What other way of doing so other than ensuring that the municipal budget (drawn by the administration) mirrors or addresses the political objectives of the majority party?
Political contestation in and of itself need not be a concern; it is a positive sign of vibrant local democracy and as such should be nurtured. But two prerequisites need to be in place if it is not to prevent good governance. First, it needs robust and resilient institutions that can withstand the potentially eroding effects of contestation. Secondly, it requires neutral, clear and transparent mechanisms to manage contestation and to allow recourse for those who feel that their issues, concerns and complaints are not attended to. Evidence across the country shows that the absence of either (or both) of these is proving to be highly divisive and destabilising. The (local) state appears ill-prepared and ill-equipped to take on the roles and responsibilities expected of it, including managing competing (and often conflicting) interests for limited resources and opportunities. This leaves the door open to unhealthy political interference and exploitation, whether for personal, factional or party gain. There are rules guiding municipal administration in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996), the White Paper on Local Government (1998), the Municipal Structures Act (1998) and the Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Act (2011) among others. The last of these, designed to remedy some of the failings of local government mentioned above, sets out mechanisms to enable the professionalisation of local government.
The Act’s intent to prevent undue influence by political officials or political parties over the administrative function of a municipality has been welcomed by many different stakeholders, though many note that there are limitations to the extent to which legislative provisions can address political culture and behaviour.
Some of these are in the realm of role clarification, awareness raising and capacity building, whereas others fall within the domain of political education. The institutional design of local government needs to be assessed, to interrogate whether it does not contribute to or exacerbate negative contestation. For example, there is a concern that the two-tier system of local and district municipalities’ fuels factionalism at times, as political dynamics between the district and local systems manifests itself in municipalities. Only political parties themselves can ‘govern’ how politics plays out in state institutions like municipalities. The responsibility lies with parties, especially the Africa National Congress (ANC), to manage the contestation that comes with contradictions of a growing society. Political parties have to discuss the ‘thin line’ between politics and administration, as a failure to respect this distinction leads to problems. Parties must make an honest assessment of their practices and find ways of professionalising themselves for the benefit of state institutions and citizens.
The legal definition of a municipality includes political structures, professional administration and a third leg the local communities themselves. Citizens are not bystanders in the running of their municipalities, and their urgency is increasingly being witnessed in the form of ‘stay-away voters’, the rise of independent candidates, and of course service delivery protests. Alongside elected officials who pursue their political agendas while maintaining a clear sense of their ultimate responsibility to serving the electorate, South Africa’s municipalities also need strong and vigilant communities who will fight to make real the statement that, “The people must govern”.
References: This opinion piece is extracted from Isandla institute’s discussion document titled “Local politics and factionalism: Local government as a site of contestation”. Visit www.isandla.org.za to view the references used for this article.
- Pamela Masiko-Kambala is local government policy researcher at Isandla Institute. This article was first published on the Afesis-corplan website.
The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty say corruption and a lack of legislated decision-making powers are the biggest obstacles to improving local government.
The two organisations say corruption, along with municipalities’ lack of legislated decision-making powers, are the largest obstacles to the improvement of local government in the country.
SAIRR research, Lerato Moloi, says that three of the four major drivers of poverty identified by local councillors in a survey of municipal officers in SA’s eight largest metropolitan councils - access to services, incomes and poverty levels, healthcare and education - are outside their scope of influence.
To read the article titled, “Municipalities ‘lack power to fight poverty’,” click here.Source:Business Day
The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) says that climate change is affecting the way in which municipal spaces are managed.
Speaking at IBSA Local Government meeting for knowledge sharing on Climate Change response, SALGA deputy chairperson, Mpho Nawa, says that SALGA’s view is that climate change is causing severe natural consequences in our communities.
He says the meeting shared experiences and perspectives about climate change before the upcoming conference in Durban.
To read the article titled, “Climate change affecting how municipal spaces are managed: SALGA,” click here.Source:SABC News
Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, says that municipalities could have saved R27 billion in the previous financial year - that is R74 million per day by cutting down on unnecessary expenses.
Gordhan urged new council members to, “Cut down on non-essentials and get your planning, budgets, service delivery and bureaucracy right.”
Speaking at the launch of the Treasury’s latest financial municipal oversight report, Gordhan said that new council members have to “forget about fancy extras like brand new Mercedes-Benzes.”
To read the article titled, “Municipalities wasted R27bn – report,” click here.Source:News24
The Constitutional Court has dismissed an application by residents of Moutse, who challenged two laws that relocated parts of their municipality from the Mpumalanga to Limpopo.
The matter involving Moutse, once a cross-border municipality straddling the Limpopo-Mpumalanga border, is the last of the cases where the Constitutional Court has had to decide on the constitutionality of the legislation on cross-border municipalities and the question of public participation.
Constitutional Court has had to decide on the constitutionality of the legislation regarding cross-border municipalities as well as public participation.
Similarly, an application from the Khutsong residents falling on the Gauteng- North West cross-border was once dismissed by the court with the Gauteng legislature stating that they have fulfilled their duty of public involvement facilitation.
The Moutse residents believe the relocation laws are irrational.
To read the article titled, “Constitutional Court dismisses Moutse residents’ cross-border challenge,” click here.Source:Business Day
- Afesis-corplan, an Eastern Cape-based NGO contributing to community-driven development and good local governance in the Border-Kei region, has embarked on initiatives aimed at holding public officials accountable.
The organisation’s contention is that despite extensive legal and policy provisions geared towards ensuring the practice of good local governance in South African municipalities, the reality of local governance practice often falls well short of the policy ideals.
It further warns that because of this gap, there is an increasing danger, especially in many semi-rural areas, that municipal governance could be regarded as a superfluous, wasteful institution whose operations depend on extensive support from other spheres of government.
To read the article titled, “Plan by NGO to hold local government officials accountable,” click here.Source:Sowetan
Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, has announced that the local government elections will take place on 18 May 2011.
Addressing the National Council of Provinces, Motlanthe, who is acting president while President, Jacob Zuma, is abroad, said the term of municipal councils will end soon.
In addition, Motlanthe has called upon all South Africans to make full use of the last voter registration weekend of 5-6 March 2011, set by the IEC to ensure that their names appear correctly on the voters roll.
To read the article titled, “Municipal election date set,” click here.Source:News24