How to fight corruption: Get the basics right first

2014-09-22 06:45

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There has to be a targeted and vigorous response to corruption and fraud, and a zero tolerance ­approach to ensure that these are rooted out

The core services that local government provides ­– clean drinking water, sanitation, electricity, shelter, waste removal and roads – are basic human rights and essential components of the right to dignity enshrined in our Bill of Rights. As the results of Census 2011 show, we have made tremendous progress in improving access to these services over the past 20?years, and municipalities have played a key role in this effort.

We have a decentralised system of developmental local government supported by a transparent system of intergovernmental grants that enables municipalities to perform their roles. Some of our municipalities are top performers, using innovative solutions to create cities and towns in which we can raise our families, happily live our lives and fulfil our ambitions.

But there are also serious challenges with the local government system. A recent review of South Africa’s 278 municipalities done

by my department shows that about a third of municipalities are frankly dysfunctional, with endemic corruption, councils that don’t function, no structured community engagement and poor financial management. In these municipalities, there is a collapse in core municipal infrastructure services and inadequate responses to service-delivery complaints from communities.

This is compounded by widespread instances of rent-seeking and corruption among public representatives and business, reflecting a broader breakdown in values and good governance principles.

Not surprisingly, there is a breakdown of trust in the institutions and councillors by communities in several instances.

In these municipalities, we are failing our people dramatically, and we need to be intervening urgently to correct the decay in the system.

Developmental local government is the building block on which the reconstruction and development of our country and society is built, a place in which the citizens of our country could engage in a meaningful and direct way with the institutions of the state.

Our National Development Plan makes it clear that meeting our transformation agenda requires functional municipalities and a capable machinery at a local level.

Over the years, we have implemented various programmes aimed at giving strategic and operational support to local government. We must now build on these foundations, but we also need to do things differently if we want different solutions.

Almost a century ago, Albert Einstein wrote that “we cannot solve today’s problems with the same level of thinking that created the problems in the first place”. So we must change our paradigm to focus on serving the people and not elites.

Municipalities are responsible for our basic human rights, including access to safe roads. Picture: Eugene Arries

A back-to-basics approach aims to establish a minimum level of acceptable performance for municipalities. They must:

.?Put people and their concerns first and ensure constant contact with communities through effective public participation platforms;

.?Create conditions for decent living by consistently delivering municipal services to the right quality and standard;

.?Be well governed and demonstrate good governance and administration – cut wastage, spend public funds prudently, hire competent staff, and ensure transparency and accountability;

.?Ensure sound financial management and accounting, and prudently manage resources to sustainably deliver services and bring development to communities; and

.?Build and maintain sound institutional and administrative capabilities, administered and managed by dedicated and skilled personnel at all levels.

Changing strategic orientation requires bold leadership and political will. We will support and educate those willing to change, as well as clamp down on illegal and improper behaviour, and ultimately name and shame those who are not willing to change.

There has to be a targeted and vigorous response to corruption and fraud, and a zero tolerance approach to ensure that these practices are rooted out. Supply chain management practices in municipalities will be closely scrutinised. Where corruption and mismanagement have been identified, we will not hesitate to make sure these are decisively dealt with through provisions such as asset forfeiture and civil claims.

We will also work to change practices in the private sector and enlist the support of civil society to change the national morality.

We don’t recognise and reward good performance adequately, nor are there sufficient consequences for underperformance. We will develop and finalise a set of indicators as per the pillars of the back-to-basics approach. These indicators will measure whether municipalities are performing in terms of the “basics”.

Our aim is to give all South Africans a basic set of tools by which they can hold their municipalities to account and measure whether they are living up to their promises. Councils are meant to exercise oversight over the municipalities for which they are accountable, and citizens in turn need to have the tools and forums in which they can hold the councillors they have elected accountable for the electoral promises they have made.

We will support greater accountability and transparency by collating and publishing the back-to-basics indicators for public use. We will also conduct regular national citizen satisfaction surveys, and assist municipalities in developing community engagement plans targeting hot spots and potential hot spots.

Where necessary, we will not hesitate to fulfil the constitutional and policy mandate for national and provincial government to intervene and guide municipalities. Through the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Service Delivery, the key national departments will coordinate their approach to local government service delivery, and increase their level of oversight of service-delivery functions.

The department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs is establishing a national monitoring system to track and, if necessary, intervene on municipal performance on key aspects.

We are also working with provinces and municipalities to establish equivalent structures with respect to their own areas of influence and responsibility.

The back-to-basics programme has been discussed and agreed by all role players at Thursday’s Local Government Summit. We have agreed what each sphere of government is required to do, in order to address the service-delivery challenges we face, and ultimately in order to rebuild the trust of our people in the system of local government.

For the campaign to sustain the momentum, it will need champions at every level of government, as well as in our communities and the private sector. It is ultimately around visionary and responsible leaders that coalitions for change will develop.

We call on all South Africans to be partners with us in this change. Let us go forward together and build the developmental local government system that our people deserve.

Gordhan is minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs

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