Beyond November 1, the people will need to insist on improvements in the provision of public services, say the writer. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Beyond November 1, the people will need to insist on improvements in the provision of public services, say the writer. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Developing communities need citizens to be involved

By Time of article published Oct 23, 2021

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Amos Masondo

Although the local government elections will give eligible voters the opportunity to choose leaders for their communities, the duty of ensuring the articulation of our community needs will require active citizens who will stay involved well into the future.

Over the years, we have witnessed several attempts to improve the state of our municipalities.

These have largely been driven by the national government, through policy and programme initiatives. Many of us would recall interventions such as Project Consolidate launched in 2002, the local Government Turnaround Strategy of 2009, Operation Clean Audit of2011 and Back to Basics of 2014.

Experiential lessons derived from the implementation of the initiatives are behind the crafting of the District Development Model (DDM) launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019.

At the core of the DDM is the attempt to enable all three spheres of government, that is national, provincial and local, to work together and with communities and stakeholders to improve service delivery outcomes.

Central to the efforts must be the empowerment of the people in order to influence the kind of development they would like to see in their respective communities. It is for this reason that the people should not vanish after casting their votes.

They must stay the course and actively engage their representatives to ensure democratic and accountable local government that ensures:

 The sustainable provision of services to their communities.

 The promotion of a safe and healthy environment.

 The promotion of social and economic development.

Our government is about the people. And it is in local government where this is more aptly expressed.

We see local government as being central to restoring and maintaining our human dignity. There are many examples of how this has been achieved in the past.

They include the conversion of dusty roads into tarred roads as a means to contribute to overall development, the building of decent and habitable environments, greening initiatives and the transformation of some of our areas into nodes of economic development.

This is consistent with the directive of our Constitution. Under our democracy, it is a constitutional requirement that each municipality gives priority to the basic needs of the community and promote the community’s social and economic development.

We have experienced setbacks in delivering on this constitutional injunction. Some of our urban centres have degenerated. There have also been failures; our surroundings have not been consistently kept clean and free of grime.

Many times, the intergovernmental system has not lived up to the expectation in terms of supporting municipalities to manage their own affairs, exercise their powers and perform their functions as required by the Constitution.

As a result, we have witnessed the collapse of good governance in some of our municipalities. This has been, among others, on one hand, the result of a lack of requisite technical skills, especially in poor municipalities, while, on the other hand, it has been pure thuggery or political squabbling that took hold.

Accordingly, the Office of the Auditor-General has raised serious concerns about the state of some of our municipalities. The challenges range from rising debt levels, which have made it difficult for some municipalities to pay for basic services such as water and electricity, the rise in fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and the weakening of procurement systems for nefarious ends.

In order to address these, it is imperative that we also strengthen the hand of councillors. An example is that Parliament, through the National Council of Provinces and the National Assembly, amended the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act of1998 to provide for the establishment and strengthening of municipal public accounts committees in municipalities.

In the main, the committees oversee the executive functionaries and ensure overall good governance.

Another significant improvement would be that the new law, which will come into effect from November 1 this year, will prohibit a councillor who has been found guilty of a breach of the Code of Conduct for councillors from serving for two years.

With the interventions and many more I have not mentioned, the pendulum will shift slowly to the role of the people. The people should demand better outcomes from their representatives.

Councillors ought to ensure that the public purse is used to address the needs of the people. Councillors exist in order to ensure that there is structured accountability and oversight of municipalities.

This, therefore, suggests that beyond November 1, the people will need to insist on improvements in the provision of public services. Fortunately, the Constitution enjoins local government to encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in matters of local government.

While this is the case, we are aware that one of the mechanisms for this, in the form of ward committees, has not always been an effective channel of communication and interaction between communities and municipalities.

Their role will, no doubt, need to be reviewed for the better. Since 1994, the character of our democracy has both been representative and participatory.

* Amos Masondo Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces and former mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

**The views expressed here may not be that of IOL.

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