Local elections: the real issues of concern

2011-03-18 00:00

WITH the local government elections set to take place on May 18, the media is abuzz with political point scoring between supporters of the different parties that are contesting the elections.

Inspired by international “best practice”, South Africans will continue to dwell on the sensational and the so-called swart gevaar, and whatever other scare-tactic opportunities that present themselves.

Behind all this sensational stuff, there is a low-intensitydebate raging about the real stuff that we should all beengaging in.

Over the past few Sundays, some of our very prominent thinkers have been contributing to valuable writings in themedia.

They include contributions by Moeletsi Mbeki, Jay Naidoo and Mamphele Ramphele, to name a few. Their views have had a common theme, the fragility and/or sustainability of our socio-economic wellbeing.

Mbeki rightly claims that our social spending, which of course includes the 15 million grants we pay out, can never be sustained by our 5,9 million tax payers. He also rightly points out that when the demand for our minerals such as gold, coal abd iron ore, is diminished, we will be unable to sustain our social spending. He claims that we could face this dilemma as early as 2020, when the current industrial giants of the world — China, India, Russia and Brazil — stop buying our minerals. If by then we have not become more productive and globally competitive, our social spending will be severely threatened. Mbeki proposes a robust entrepreneurship development programme and a far more focused investment in human capital.

Naidoo once again warns us about the negative impact of corruption in the public and private sectors. But he also goes on to remind us of the “52% of our population who are below the age of 25 and half of them are not employed, or as he suggests, belong to Neet, an acronym for neither employed, educated or trained.

Naidoo goes on to give various very innovative and practical suggestions about how we could invest quantifiably in human capital that would help us produce the skills needed to produce goods and services that are globally competitive. He also suggests that social grants should be linked to some form of economic activity, rather than be a mere hand-out.

In the same edition, Ramphele emphasises the need for a focused, world-standard education and training programme. She goes on to say that “South Africa has to take a stand against embedding mediocrity and low expectations in our education and training systems.”

I believe that this is the debate that we should be engaging in before the 2011 local government elections, which could or could not be the turning point for the growth, development and sustainability of the so-called developmental localgovernment.

Our MEC for Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs, the Honourable Nomsa Dube, MPL, was on the button when she recently spoke in the legislature, pointing out that the creation of jobs by a robust and co-ordinated effort to build and maintain infrastructure, the promotion of food production and the various other developmental priorities can only be implemented within the wards and boundaries of the local municipalities.

The best vision, mission or strategic plan, together with an appropriate budget from national or provincial government, will amount to naught if local municipalities do not have thecapacity. We have thus far succeeded in accepting glorified spending patterns without objectively and quantifiably measuring the outputs achieved.

Our municipality, like many others, is not sustainable. We are a sphere of government, which unlike the other three spheres, does not get its total operational income from the national fiscus and moreover, our budgets are informed by expenditure (i.e. service delivery needs), rather than an income-driven budget that is guaranteed by a national or provincial grant.

In terms of our current needs, we need an operating budget of over R3 billion per annum, escalating to over R4 billion by 2014. We can only raise about R2,2 billion with a 10% escalation annually, to give us just under R3 billion in 2014. Only 25% of our income is from rates and national grants. The rest has to be raised by our trading services. For example, we buy and sell about R55 million worth of electricity in summer and about R110 million per month in winter. We buy and sell R25 million worth of water per month. We have over 3 500 workers and have five functional departments. In order for us to succeed, we need an average growth of over seven percent of the local GDP to achieve sustainability. This requires professionalism and innovation.

Let us not forget, then, that we are a business and the second largest behind eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal.

• Babu Baijoo is the speaker in the Msunduzi Municipality

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