Creating a better life for all

Thursday, September 18, 2014

By Acting Director General of Communications Phumla Williams

South Africa this year celebrates 14 years of local government. This period has been marked by seismic changes, which were necessary to overhaul the dysfunctional administrative and political structure the apartheid government had imposed on our nation.

In effect, we went from a zero base in large areas of the country to the present situation where every municipality throughout South Africa provides services to meet the basic needs of our citizens, and is at the forefront of improving their quality of life.

We are confident that a strong foundation is in place to ensure the realisation of Nelson Mandela’s vision for the provision of services to everyone.

Under apartheid, the majority were provided with inferior basic services. This changed in 1994 when services were rolled out to all South Africans. In fact, the Constitution states that everyone has the right of equal access to public service.

Our immediate task now is to build on this foundation; the progress in the past 14 years has been immense but more must be done if we are to move forward.  

If we are to overcome the legacy of the past, communities must also stand up and take responsibility for the performance of their municipalities.  The government has built several avenues for the public to participate in decisions impacting their lives. Communities must play their part in using these avenues to ensure that their voices are heard as policy is formulated and implemented.

They must also hold municipal councils to account and ensure that they deliver on their promises. We need partnerships between government, citizens and civil society to better deal with issues that affect people daily.

Today, President Jacob Zuma is meeting with all role-players at a specially convened Presidential Local Government Summit to map out a plan to address challenges of service delivery in the local government sphere. This is in line with his vision that people's experience of local government must be a positive one.

During his State of the Nation Address in June, President Zuma emphasised that local government must be at the forefront of improving people’s lives and creating conditions for inclusive economic growth and job creation. 

He pulled no punches and indicated that while there had been successes in many municipalities, there were also challenges.

Today’s Summit at Gallagher Estate in Midrand, under the theme: “Let’s get back to basics to build a responsible and accountable Local Government", is an opportunity for all role players to frankly and openly discuss the details of an action plan to strengthen local government.

The Back to Basics Strategy was crafted in a response to an assessment report on the state of local government by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs earlier this year. Their assessment highlighted the weakening of institutional and organisation abilities of some municipalities, which hampers their ability to fulfil basic responsibilities.

It was based on key indicators such as: political stability, governance, service delivery, financial management, institutional management and community satisfaction. It sought to identify municipalities that are (1) doing well, (2) reasonably functional, (3) almost dysfunctional, and (4) regarded as in need of immediate intervention.

Some might argue that this state of affairs is ample proof that the government is failing in its duty to provide services. On the contrary: It is proof that the government will not shy away from challenges and will continue to seek solutions.  

The strategy provides a step-by-step plan of what needs to be done in the intergovernmental sphere to improve the performance of municipalities. Ultimately it should improve people’s lives, ensure decent living conditions and close the gap between the government and communities.

This plan calls on municipalities to play a developmental role in their communities and ensure that people’s dignity is restored. They must promote a culture of human rights and ensure that their actions and those hired to provide services comply with all the legal requirements. It calls on municipalities to ensure that traffic lights work, potholes are filled, water is delivered, electricity is supplied, and refuse and waste management takes place.

Most importantly, it places open communication at the heart of what we all we do by insisting that they establish platforms through which communities can interact with officials. However, it goes even further as these interactions must ultimately result in a timeous response to challenges.  

In particular, officials must take the initiative and regularly update their communities about developments in the area and provide compelling reasons in instances where they are unable to deliver.

There will be enhanced municipal performance monitoring, reporting and evaluation. This will allow government to address blockages and backlogs; it will also assist us in identifying municipal officials involved in tender corruption and unauthorised expenditure.

A vital part of this plan involves developing new infrastructure at a faster pace to transform our communities, create jobs and strengthen service delivery.  The new infrastructure will expand access to healthcare facilities, schools, water, sanitation, housing and electrification.

Enormous progress has been made in the sphere of local government since 1994. Wherever one looks there is evidence of change. The government is proud of municipalities that stand out for consistently good performance in audits, expenditure on municipal infrastructure grants and service delivery. Municipalities such as the Nkangala District Municipality; Cacadu District Municipality; Zululand District Municipality and several others are beacons of excellence that can and should be emulated.  

The government’s plan is therefore simple: It is to improve the lives of all South Africans. It will not rest until all municipalities are fully functional, effective, efficient, responsive and sustainable.


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