Residents losing trust

2010-10-11 00:00

A SIGNIFICANT event happened on Friday. Mayors in the province signed performance agreements and were told they would be axed if they did not meet required service delivery targets.

As a battered Msunduzi Municipal resident, my immediate reaction was one of scepticism. When the time comes, will anybody face the chop? Perhaps there may be selective axing, with a politically well-connected mayor who failed to meet his or her targets conveniently overlooked.

This loss of trust has a lot to do with the Msunduzi debacle. When the turnaround team arrived and the municipality was put under administration, reams of information poured forth from City Hall.

Residents were told how grossly mismanaged the situation was and how the coffers had run dry, and there were undertakings that heads would roll. Well, more than eight months later hardly a head has rolled. While Operation Pitbull has been unleashed on the public (and with good cause because of massive electricity theft in the city), there appears to be very little happening to bring errant councillors and officials to book.

One may well ask: while the pitbulls are out in the streets, what has happened to the bloodhounds sniffing out the graft and incompetence at City Hall? Instead, we have a few suspended officials being paid while they sit at home for months on end.

Their salaries, as many letter writers to this newspaper have pointed out, are being paid by ratepayers, who are also under pressure to cough up more and more to fill up the empty coffers. The only news from the executive committee (Exco) is that disciplinary hearings are under way.

There remains a deafening silence around the roles of those who were in charge and under whose watch the city was brought to its knees. What of former mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo and municipal manager Rob Haswell? While no one is accusing them of corruption, enough evidence has emerged that they can be charged for their poor management, either under the Municipal Systems Act or the Municipal Finance Management Act. Both acts have provisions that allow for censure for dereliction of duty.

Attend any gathering in the city and the topic of conversation invariably is about the demise of the city. People started off having a lot of goodwill when the turnaround team first arrived. Residents took to heart Premier Zweli Mkhize’s call: ask not what your city can do for you, ask what you can do for your city.

However, recent developments — all sorts of electricity charges coming to the fore, intransigent officials and such underhand activities as officials standing at your gate whistling to see if you have any dogs before fining you — is seeing a lot of goodwill being squandered. Residents want to know why they are being made to pay to replenish the city coffers and what is happening to those who brought about this situation.

It seems the growing loss of goodwill can be stemmed by better communication from City Hall.

Citizens need to be brought into the process and trust needs to be established. At a recent Exco meeting, councillors talked about the scourge of illegal dumping in the city and said there have to be some prosecutions to show residents that council means business. So too with the mismanagement at City Hall — some people have to be brought to book to show that government is more than just hot air.

If you read reports coming out of both the provincial and national departments of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) you find that really good work is being done. There is effort on all fronts to put systems into place to improve service delivery.

However, these initiatives are going largely unheralded because ordinary citizens are losing faith. Fortunately I am not such a hardened hack and I happen to quite admire Nomusa Dube, who strikes me as being an MEC who means business. So I will watch the performances of mayors with interest, and like the women during the French Revolution do my knitting while I watch the guillotine fall. Let’s hope it does not come to that and that mayors and councillors heed Dube’s words. She told them that they are embarking on a journey to re-evaluate their world with a view to confronting the “awkward and deepest truths” encountered in the management of municipal finances. Perhaps Dube, mayors, councillors and officials can also be reminded that managing also means having to carry out awkward and tough actions. This has to be done to stem the erosion of confidence in local government so that initiatives currently being planned and rolled out are given a chance.

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