It’s simple

2011-08-17 00:00

GOOD luck to the Midlands Rugby Sub-union with sorting out its electricity and rates woes with Msunduzi Municipality over Woodburn Stadium. At least there may be some resolution with heavyweights like SA Rugby Union boss Oregan Hoskins involved. Not so lucky are the many ordinary residents who have absolutely no clout and who are told: “You owe, so pay up”, whose correspondence disappears into a black hole, and who are given empty promises over the telephone, when they are lucky enough to get through and find someone to speak to. There are the queues of people at 333 Church Street, many of whom just want their records checked to find out if there has been a mistake and to receive an adequate explanation. Requests are met with blank stares and impatience.

Those of us involved in the municipal beat know this because the next step for many helpless and frustrated residents is to call The Witness. There’s Rashida who, for weeks, complained about dumping outside her property in the city centre. The next thing she knew she was given a R500 fine for littering. She’s the complainant, yet she got lumped with the fine. Julie, who works for a large company, has over 20 pages of correspondence going on for over a year about the non-collection of rubbish for over eight months from a skip outside her workplace. The body corporate at Derek Hall has also spent over a year trying to resolve a water bill with the municipality and Glenda, whose own reading of her electricity meter gives a vastly lower reading than that which appears on her monthly utility bill, has tried for months to resolve the problem.

These are people who have some idea of how the system works. They know they can write or try to speak to somebody at the city hall, yet they still get nowhere. More disheartening is going down to 333 Church Street and seeing the faces of poor pensioners, tenants and residents of sub-economic houses who are trying to make sense of something on their utility bills. What’s weird is that they pay the salaries of the unhelpful city hall employees who give them the runaround.

Lest poor city hall gets all the blame, this is not the only place where helpless citizens feel powerless. There are the queues at the public hospitals where files can so easily go missing, or queues of people trying to solve a grant issue at the Department of Social Development or obtain an ID from Home Affairs.

Why in a democracy do so many people feel like outsiders marginalised in a system that blocks their ability to negotiate and find solutions?

How do we overcome this intransigence, this feeling of banging one’s head against a brick wall? Well, I learnt last week that the solution is really simple and surprisingly this enlightenment came from none other than the country’s auditor-general (AG), Terence Nombembe. Nombembe, who was in the province last week, reminded us that while business is there to make profits, government is there to serve the people.

He said that the simplest way to start getting service delivery right is by keeping proper records and filing systems that are accessible. This record keeping would include correspondence and actions on the matter. So when the Midlands Rugby Sub-union or Rashida, Glenda or the Derek Hall body corporate have a problem there are records kept of what happened, the correspondence on the matter and what action, if any, was taken. This will not only help hold officials accountable, it will also assist others who come later to know the history of the issue.

According to Nombembe, together with record keeping and filing, there has to be constant monitoring and evaluation of the work being done.

It is all about having systems in place and having staff willing to do what they are paid for. A criticism of the National Health Insurance (NHI) is that it is just a case of throwing money at a problem when more needs to be done about changing attitudes, instilling a work ethic and paying attention to the smaller details like the filing.

The AG’s office wants to use KwaZulu-Natal to conduct a performance-audit pilot project. Perhaps his office could choose Msunduzi Municipality as one of its sites. This will help this municipality, currently under administration, to get systems in place, get its filing right and train a responsive and proactive staff. In this way, organisations like the Midlands Rugby Sub-union or Mrs Radebe standing in the queue at the electricity-account office, will get prompt responses to their queries.

It’s time the municipality of the capital centre moved out from under its current cloud and became a leading light in local government service delivery.

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