Culture of consultation has dwindled

2009-10-23 07:53

I WOULD like to share a little bit of my experience as an ANC

councillor in the Brakpan Town Council and what I believe are the problems

currently facing councillors.

When South Africa heralded a new beginning in 1994, there was

excitement and party councillors went into local government with the single

purpose of ensuring a better life for all South Africans.

The very same councillors usually had run-ins with their seniors,

and that was in a way expected taking into account where this country comes from

and where these roleplayers also hail.

A typical scenario today: People would make a councillor aware of

lack of service delivery in the ward, then the councillor would report that to

the relevant senior official, who in turn would provide the standard answer: “I

do not work for a councillor but for the council.”

As councillors – the ANC, alliance partners and extended branch

executive committees – we had meetings on Mondays where we would discuss the

agenda of the council, discuss the misunderstandings or run-ins councillors had,

and we would get the mandate from these meetings which actually represented the

views of a larger part of the community. Also, we would add issues to the agenda

that needed urgent attention.

The senior officials would then take up such issues at the

executive meeting so that they could be discussed at length and acted

upon.

Having explained the above processes, what is happening with the

current crop of councillors is that they meet in caucus meetings somewhere in

the council chambers, discuss the agenda among themselves with no input from the

branches and the alliance partners. What then happens is that ward councillors

raise concerns from the people alone in these chambers with no input whatsoever

from other partners.

The outcome then leads to poor engagement or what can easily be

explained as loss in translation when the executive get to sit, discuss and to

act on issues raised. With this, common sense dictates that this would then make

it easier for people to form disgruntled groups because a vacuum has now been

created for them to voice whatever they believe is problematic.

The answers from the senior officials to the councillors’ requests

are now met with: “The councillors did have a workshop on the Handbook for

Councillors, and should therefore act according to the confines of the

handbook.”

What’s happening now is that councillors cannot ask their seniors

why roads are still in a bad shape and why water is always off on the second day

of each week.

Senior officials have since become a law unto themselves.

Here’s an example of what has become a norm – The City of

Ekurhuleni minutes of June 25 under the topic Finance Department: Credit Control

and Debt Collection Policy read as follows: “That the item be subjected to a

public participation process and that a report on the outcome thereof be

submitted to council.” Question is: Where are the branches and the alliance

partners in this?

Another notable example is: A ward councillor had a meeting with

interested people in Geluksdal, also in Ekurhuleni, to chart a way forward for

this public participation process.

While the above were in the planning stage, people in Geluksdal

were told by senior officials that they would not be able to get electricity

connected if they could not pay 10% towards an account that was usually R50 000.

Mind you, most of the people they were talking to are pensioners.

My contention with all this is that when people begin to protest in

the street, blockading roads with stones and burning tyres, damaging

councillors’ properties and God knows what else, the problematic senior

officials/the executive keep quite and hide under the rocks where they cannot be

reached leaving councillors at the mercy of an angry and uncontrollable mob the

executive created.

What is needed now after the meeting involving President Jacob

Zuma, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka,

city mayors and councillors is a culture of consultation with the branches,

sub-branches, alliance partners and the communities at large.

– JB de Klerk
Former mayor of Brakpan Town

 

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