We all have a part to play in local government

2009-10-28 00:00

THE City Summit, which was organised by the Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute and took place on October 20 and 21, explored important matters relating to local government leadership in the city and participation in such leadership by the citizens of the city.

The city council also needs to realise that citizens judge them not by what they say but by what they do. This means that in ­order to gain the respect of the citizenry, the infighting between the various factions ­within the council needs to stop and the struggle between these factions and the ­municipal manager must cease There needs to be a united front pushing forward a strong ­strategic policy with outcomes that are pursued by a stable and trusted ­bureaucracy.

In defining strategic outcomes the city then needs to be creative. It must be unconstrained by the inevitable prejudices and fears that are inclined to plague public ­service institutions. Perhaps the best way of doing this is by taking the public into its confidence, explaining the nature of the many problems faced by local government in this city and demonstrating what the ­alternatives are and why one and not the other was selected for implementation.

Further, the council needs to use its ­budget to achieve its creative and strategic vision and needs to take responsibity for the implementation of this vision, freely admitting to its mistakes and explaining its moves to repair these where necessary. In so doing it involves the citizens in an ongoing dialogue which makes them feel part of the process of government rather than excluded outsiders whose only recourse is either criticism or indifference.

No municipality can lead if it does not ­occupy the moral high ground. This means that a visible and credible effort must be made to end corruption, cronyism and nepotism. Already these are ingrained in local government all over the country and they will need time and hard work to eradicate. These factors are destroyers not only of ­effective and efficient local government, but greed and a sense of entitlement have no place in the culture of public service which any successful local government must have if it is to be respected by its people.

Possibly the most difficult issue which ­local government will have to address is the question of trust between itself and stakeholders in the city. Once again the question of trust must be dealt with internally as well as externally. Currently there appears to be little trust between politicians and their constituencies; between the political level and the management level; between managers and employees; and between ratepayers and citizens and municipal staff. Given the above mistrust which is reflected on a daily basis in the press, the municipality needs to understand that the community of the city will be watching its attempts to rehabilitate itself with a certain scepticism and that such scepticism will surface whenever the municipality slips along the way.

If, however, with each slip, the error is admitted and people are told how such a slip will be put right, the trustworthiness of the municipal institution will be underlined and each slip will in fact become an opportunity to build trust with its constituency.

The above is the municipality’s role, but it cannot achieve a successful outcome unless it receives assistance from various sections of the community itself. The citizens of Msunduzi must realise that they have a ­civic duty to the municipality and that they need to assist it in making the changes that have to be made. They must also take partial ­responsibility for the quality of governance in the city. Businesses must not engage in the giving of gifts or money for services ­rendered and the Chamber of Business has a role to play in offering its members a course in business ethics in this new South Africa.

Citizens also need to stop responding to every last piece of information which comes out of city hall negatively. Negativity communicates itself to others and manifests itself in a feeling of hopelessness and alienation. It also does little to encourage those who are faced with the job of making huge changes to both the fabric and philosophy of local government.

The Msunduzi community needs to join hands with the local rulers, develop a new understanding about what is occurring in the city and become a strong creative force dedicated to improvement and urban development. What has come out of the summit is that we can criticise local government, which in many parts of our country is a broken reed, but we cannot shrug our shoulders and walk away from the problems which our cities are facing. Matters have to be put right — we have no choice about that.

The meeting, which has occurred over the past few days between the president and the mayors and municipal managers of local government from all over South Africa, is the commencement of the process of restoration. For this restorative action to be ­successful, we must all of us at local level play a part and that part must be defined through local government leadership.

• Brian Bassett was previously in charge of planning in the city and is a member of the staff of the Msunduzi Innovation and ­Development Institute. The views expressed in this article are his own.

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