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
Visit our blog here.
- 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
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has announced that an additional R4.9 billion will be allocated for housing and municipal services over the next three years.
Gordhan stated that, “Realising this outcome will require speeding up service delivery, eliminating regular patterns of underspending in certain provinces, and improving the efficiency of local government housing processes.”
He is of the view that building adequate and safe human settlements raise living standards and create job opportunities.
To read the article titled, “Budget provides additional R4.9bn for housing, municipal services,” click here.Source:The Citizen
Residents of Moutse in Limpopo are angry that government has delayed the finalisation of their demarcation case.
An affidavit filed by Moutse residents in the Constitutional Court sets out how the state has delayed the finalisation of its demarcation case since 2008.
The residents in the once cross-boundary municipality between Mpumalanga and Limpopo will once again, as in the 2009 elections, face the choice of voting or not voting in a municipality of which they do not consider themselves a part.
To read the article titled, “State strung out case — Moutse residents,” click here.Source:Business Day