CITY PRESS SPONSORED CONTENTThe SA Local Government Association (Salga) held the inaugural Council of Speakers (CoS) forum in Durban last week.This newly created platform, intended to improve and enhance the role of speakers in local government, came about as a result of amendments to Salga’s constitution.It is aimed at strengthening the capacity of speakers so that they can better discharge their roles and functions in municipalities.The forum brought 180 speakers out of 257 councils together to consult one another on matters of common interest in an effort to improve governance and service delivery.“Local issues are assuming a global character, with development challenges that are no longer just the domain of developing nations.”“The world is changing rapidly,” said keynote speaker and Salga president Parks Tau.“In South Africa, that means implementing the new urban agenda, which requires the partnership of all stakeholders. Community engagement is vital. Our people are not just recipients of municipal services, they must also take a direct role in government. Residents must own municipal initiatives that will fast- track delivery and narrow the gap of inequality.”According to the Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000, the role of the speaker in municipal councils was largely left to each municipality to work out for itself. Despite certain designated roles, many speaker duties were at the discretion of council.The CoS forum decided to keep this practice intact, as municipalities differ widely in terms of the number of councillors, the demographics of residents, the challenges of service delivery and the disparities in budgets.What did emerge, however, was that the role of the speaker had taken on new significance over the past 10 years as South Africa’s democracy has matured.This Council of Speakers was convened to discuss this new role, and to allow speakers from different municipalities to share problems and experiences, network with each other, and discuss their challenges and successes.