It’s your mess too

2010-10-13 00:00

WE have to accelerate service delivery. We have no choice. For, as much as we have made significant progress since 1994, we have simply not done enough. And the people, who are the ultimate judges, have announced their verdict repeatedly through the constant service-delivery protests and in other ways. The government as a whole is being accosted by the people, but it is local government that is being most directly confronted. That is understandable, given that people have the most direct access to local government.

But it would be wrong to think that local government alone is responsible for service-delivery failures. Yes, local government councillors and administrators must take their fair share of blame for the failures. But so too must politicians and administrators in provincial and national government. The service-delivery protests reflect the failures of co-operative governance as a whole, not just local government. In fact, many of the issues that the protesting communities raise are not primarily the responsibilities of local government, such as housing, jobs, crime and education, but are provincial and national government functions.

However, it is not government alone that is responsible for the service-delivery inadequacies. The people are too. We are a developing democracy. We are a developmental state. In our context, the state is nothing without the people. And we simply will not be able to deliver effectively without the active participation of the people in governance, especially in the local-government sphere.

But how many residents are active in ward committees or school governing bodies or community policing forums? How many residents attend public meetings of the municipality? How many residents respond to requests from municipalities for comments on draft policies?

Of course, many municipalities do not encourage public participation. Some even fear it. Most municipalities do not allocate resources to ensure effective public participation. But then people should demand their right to participate. That right is the law. And that right was won by ordinary people through titanic struggles before 1994.

The government often delivers in a top-down bureaucratic manner, with people being passive bystanders, instead of taking a measure of responsibility for delivery. This has served to demobilise people and encourage a sense of dependency on the state. And when people mobilise, they do so not so much to gain access to the state and take some responsibility for ensuring service delivery and development, but to make demands of the state. It is partly this approach that is reflected in the burning down of schools, clinics, libraries and halls during protests, even if the frustrations of people are understandable, and their rage obviously difficult to control. In a significant sense, it reflects people making demands of the state without assuming a measure of responsibility. Sometimes it may be that it is easier to destroy a building than painstakingly take part in ward committees and other structures of public participation to get what you want.

Destruction cannot be the basis of a vibrant, effective developmental democracy. The state has to do more to create space for ordinary people to become more active in service delivery and development. And the people have to wage the necessary struggles to ensure that they create their own space too.

To accelerate service delivery, we have to have clearer targets, more effective monitoring and greater integration and co-ordination across the spheres of government. The unprecedented performance agreements, which contain targets and deadlines and are signed by ministers with the president, and the delivery agreements the ministers concluded with delivery partners, are significant in this regard.

To improve service delivery significantly, there has to be an improvement in technical skills, such as planning, project management, engineering and finance.

We are to establish minimum qualifications for senior municipal managers and professionalise municipal administrations. We have introduced the Municipal Systems Amendment Bill to Parliament as part of this.

For service delivery to be accelerated, the political factionalisation of municipalities has to be significantly reduced. But also, the more councillors and administrators focus on service delivery and development, the less likely they are to become factionalised. The more that ward committees and other structures of public participation are strengthened the greater the prospects of reducing political infighting.

To improve service delivery, corruption has to be tackled far more effectively. The more we reduce corruption the greater the prospects of improved service delivery, and the more we improve service delivery, the greater the prospects of reducing corruption.

Aspects of the local government model may also be impeding effective service delivery and need to be reviewed. For example, increasingly, the value of the current two-tier model of district and local municipalities is being questioned. There are other aspects of the local government model that might be too cumbersome and may have to be simplified to facilitate more effective service delivery. There is also a lack of clarity in some areas of service delivery about what precisely the respective functions of provincial and local government are. These issues need to be addressed expeditiously.

A major review is taking place of legislation passed since 1994 that has had the unintended consequence of impeding service delivery. The lack of alignment of legislation between departments, and between spheres of government has resulted in conflicting legislation, overbureaucratisation and onerous processes that serve to undermine effective service delivery. We have identified over 60 pieces of legislation that need to be amended.

Municipalities need to make more productive use of their current resources, but if they are to accelerate service delivery, they will also have to be given more funding by national government. The review of the local government financial system currently under way needs to be expedited.

The establishment of the National Planning Commission and the finalisation of the country’s overall national development plan will also accelerate service delivery and development.

Time is fast running out. We have to act. The government mainly, but all of us too.

• Yunus Carrim is deputy minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. This is an edited version of a recent speech to the Institute of Municipal Finance Officers.

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