‘Back to the basics’ for local government - Zuma

BY TAI CHISHAKWE - SEPTEMBER 18, 2014

Johannesburg - Local government needs to go back to basics, President Jacob Zuma, told delegates gathered at the Presidential Local Government Summit 2014, Gallagher Convention Centre, Midrand, Johannesburg on Thursday.

“We must leave this place with an action plan that identifies what each sphere [of government] will do to improve local government with clear actions and time frames. Every single individual in our three sphere dispensation must know his or her responsibilities to make local government function better.

“We must go back to the basics in the real sense,” said Zuma in his opening speech.

He urged delegates - who include by Mayors, Speakers, Chief Whips, Municipal Managers and Chief Financial Officers from South Africa's 278 municipalities, to ensuring that municipalities are able to provide water, electricity, parks, street lighting, refuse removals, repairing of potholes, dealing with the frustrating interruption of services and billing problems affecting households.

“Going back to the basics also means a recommitment to provide these services in a professional and caring manner which recognizes each resident as a valuable client,” he emphasised.

“Going back to the basics therefore will mean that each municipality will actively interact with the community and promote ongoing two way communication in every ward.”

He said that municipalities must ensure that all programmes which are implemented at local level are clearly communicated and reported to communities.

“Going back to the basics means reviewing tendering systems and dealing with corruption systematically within the supply chain system in local government.

“Going to the basics also means working harder to expand poverty alleviation programmes such as the Community Work Programme, which provide skills and work opportunities for our people,” said Zuma.

“Going back to the basics enjoins municipalities to boost rural development by supporting small enterprises, co-operatives and smallholder farmers in rural towns and villages.”

He said that from this Summit onwards, local government will indeed become everybody’s business.

While praising the achievements of municipalities to date, Zuma also called for a clearer separation between the roles of the political principals and the administrative heads of municipalities.

“In addition, accountability and oversight in local governance must be improved or reinforced.  Management systems must improve,” he said.

“There should be better audit reports for each local authority each year from the auditor-general.”

He said government has responded to improve professionalism and the management of local government by introducing amendments to local government legislation, for example the Municipal System Amendment Act.

“There should be no compromise in ensuring that officials possess the necessary minimum skills,” Zuma emphasised.

“Chief financial officers should be skilled in what they are doing, engineers and other technical staff should also be experts in what they have been employed to do. That is a key solution to the problems facing local government.”

He also pledged government support for ailing municipalities.

“We also commit to support all struggling municipalities. Every municipality must be fully functional and efficient, for the sake of our people who need reliable and efficient services.

“However, if municipalities do not improve in spite of support, we will have no alternative but to use all constitutional powers and legislative opportunities in the quest to ensure that our communities are served better,” Zuma said.

“Compatriots, local government exists to serve the people. That is the bottom line.”

He said a Roundtable on service delivery held by the CoGTA Ministry in April this year deliberated on the possible causes and reasons for protests by communities. It had identified many reasons including the impatience when communities see services being delivered to their neighbours but with no sign of these coming to them as soon as possible.

“Other results include demands for municipal infrastructure, anger against corruption, nepotism and non-response from government.

“Reports also include the manipulation of communities by aspirant politicians or by businesses that want tenders or to influence discussions,” he said, adding that, “In some cases, people protest against municipalities even if the issues at hand do not fall under their mandate.

“Local government should thus be in a position to respond or coordinate responses to these grievances.”

Photo caption: LOCAL GOVERNMENT MUST GO BACK TO THE BASICS... President Jacob Zuma told delegates gathered at the Presidential Local Government Summit 2014, Gallagher Convention Centre, Midrand, Johannesburg on Thursday. Image: file photo from GCIS.