The day the mayor arrived early . . .

2011-10-22 10:30

I hate being late for meetings and I certainly have no respect for tardy characters, especially disrespectful public servants who, despite enjoying taxpayer funded blue-light brigades, think it’s “cool” to arrive late for public meetings.

So when the mayor of Joburg, Parks Tau, invited citizens and stakeholders of the “smart city” to attend a public consultative event at the Sandton Convention Centre on September 29, I arrived just more than an hour early for the event.

This was the third time I had attended a series of such consultative events since they were launched in August, but it was the first I had attended where the mayor was scheduled to participate.

The primary purpose of these events was to solicit input towards the city’s revised 2040 growth and development strategy (GDS).

The strategy is a framework that sets out the city’s long-term vision for addressing priority areas, including economic development and job creation.

It is against this plan that our mayor challenges us to hold him and his administration to account.

The fact that the city’s consultative process took place well after the elections, involved members of opposition parties and encouraged robust debate from participants seems to suggest that the city’s first citizen has his heart in the right place.

But like any healthy cardiac organ, the GDS’ worth and efficacy depends entirely on the proper functioning of the sum of all its parts.I had barely registered at the Sandton event when, to my muted elation and pride, I noticed Mayor Tau saunter into the venue.

For a South African politician, not only did he arrive very early for the event but his soft though business-like demeanour conveyed a deep sense of purpose and respect for his subject.

It was therefore unsurprising when the event started on time.

When he expressed his disquiet about the pomp surrounding his office and protocol, I was completely blown over. How I wish all self-serving Mzansi politicians could emulate him!

However, if our mayor is to succeed, his charm and unquestionable commitment to do good can only help him go so far, as a lot also depends on the performance of his team.

And herein lies his Achilles’ heel.

He has inherited an administration sprinkled with insolent bureaucrats.

Their pitiful conduct is at variance with this city’s new administrative DNA and the stated objectives of the growth strategy.

Just as small businesses and entrepreneurs are cajoled into contributing to economic growth and reducing the high levels of unemployment facing the inhabitants of the city, the city’s administration must desist from becoming a sanctuary for non-performing executives and bureaucrats whose actions are inimical to economic development.

My foreboding about bureaucrats, especially insolent city officials, and political systems received an unwelcome boost when, during an earlier presentation at one such public event, the chief executive in the office of the Public Protector, Themba Mthethwa, delivered an analysis of the municipal landscape with his presentation on the state of corruption in local government.

If the growth strategy is to live up to small business’ expectations, the mayor could start by ensuring that his team gets the basic things right.

These include ensuring that his officials return messages, business licence applications are attended to expeditiously, malfunctioning traffic lights are fixed sooner than usual, city business-zoned property leases or purchases are processed with more urgency, buses run on time, and officials arrive at work on time and are doing what they are being paid to do.

Then only can citizens decide whether or not Joburg truly deserves its self-proclaimed “world-class African city” status.It was fascinating to note that the office of the Presidency has taken an interest in the development of GDS 2040 as it also made its own submissions thereto.

Attempts to align the strategy with the objectives of the national growth path are also a welcome tonic as they signal rare collaboration by different spheres of government.

But the lack of urgency from President Jacob Zuma in dealing with the likes of Sicelo Shiceka is not helpful when it comes to efforts aimed at creating an environment conducive for a better life for all.Nonetheless, Mayor Tau seems to have started on a good note and possesses the right qualities needed for the job.

» Khaas is the founder and president of the SA SMME Forum, which advances the interests of small business 

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