Local government

2008-08-28 00:00

President Thabo Mbeki has often emphasised that of the three tiers of government — national, provincial and local — the last is the most important in the sense that it is closest to the people. Yet local government is the one that is faltering to the point of being virtually dysfunctional in some instances.

A report has been released by the South African Local Government Association (Salga) which contains the alarming information that 30% of municipal councillors cannot read or write. This is based on a survey of 7 000 of the country’s 9 300 councillors elected to office in the elections of 2006. These representatives cannot cope with agendas or reports or minutes, let alone budgets, all of which are part of the stuff and trade of local government. It is astonishing that any political party can allow illiterate people to be candidates for election, no matter how worthy their political credentials may be.

Alongside Salga’s report is another from the national treasury which indicates that at the end of December 2007 municipalities were owed R44 billion from unpaid rates and other sources. They have therefore become over-dependent on state grants and too little has been spent on maintaining existing infrastructure or on poverty alleviation and the stimulation of economic growth.

In this depressing atmosphere it is encouraging to note the positive turnaround in the Umgungundlovu District Municipality that has been notorious for inadequate service and corrupt administration. The enforced resignations of the municipal manager, Monica Mngadi, and her financial officer, Bongani Ndlovu, together with the departure under a cloud of the mayor, Bongi Sithole, paved the way for the provincial Department of Local Government to bring in Yusuf Bhamjee as mayor and Sibusiso Khuzwayo as acting municipal manager. Under this new personnel the crisis has begun to be resolved in a painstaking manner. This shows what can be done when a competent and trustworthy leadership is in place.

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