Let’s evaluate candidates

2016-06-07 06:00

SOUTH Africa is yet to have an issue-based election, with a proper evaluation of candidates.

The focus of this year’s local government elections thus far has been the race to get onto election lists.

Candidate lists had to be submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) this week amid fierce competition within political parties for the chance to be councillors.

In some cases, internal party rivalries have been marred by violence and killings. This is obviously not just about jobs. It reveals the desperation to ascend into positions of power and influence where resources can be accessed.

Municipalities are central to local economic activity and those who have the ability to influence the awarding of contracts and decide how money is spent wield enormous power in their communities. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe described the process of compiling the list of candidates as similar to handling “a nuclear time bomb”.

He was addressing the media at the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, while disgruntled ANC members staged a protest outside.

“What is a new thing though is that people are going to war to be a councillor, where you bus people to Luthuli House, where they must be visible for you to be a councillor,” Mantashe said.

One major grievance in the ANC list compilation process was the 50% quota for women candidates and a rule that 60% of its present councillors be retained for continuity. But cross-cutting this and every other issue plaguing the ANC are factional battles and the quest for power and wealth. People on the losing end of factional battles or those who have been left off the lists have threatened to contest the election as independent candidates.

Now that the lists have been submitted to the IEC, a new phase of the election campaign kicks off with contestation between political parties and against those who are standing as independent candidates.

There are fears that levels of violence might escalate, with tensions brewing over the past few weeks and clashes between party supporters in some areas.

Sadly, in the heat of the election battle and contestation for positions, candidates do not seem to be evaluated on the basis of how they intend to solve local problems. South Africa has among the highest rates of protest action in the world, with communities demonstrating over the delivery of basic services, houses and better living conditions.

People have been angered by how their mayors and councillors have neglected their responsibilities and allowed services to degenerate. But it is not easy to hold these people accountable, particularly if party dynamics and factional interests ensure that they keep their jobs.

A report released by auditor-general Kimi Makwetu this week shows that only 54 out of the country’s 278 municipalities received clean audits. While the 2014-15 local government audit shows much better results than five years ago, with clean audits rising from just 13 then, it is still unacceptable that the majority of South Africa’s municipalities are not properly managed. Only three of the country’s eight metros — Ekurhuleni, eThekwini and Cape Town — have a clean bill of health, with Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City being the worst performers.

Irregular expenditure across the country’s municipalities more than doubled in the past five years to R14,75 billion. Unauthorised expenditure increased threefold to R15,32 billion. Makwetu said the main reason for unauthorised spending was that budgets were not overseen properly, leading to overspending.

The local government elections on August 3 present South Africans with the opportunity to elect higher calibre leaders in their councils. Candidates should be interrogated on how they intend to improve the management and efficiency of municipalities rather than on the basis of party affiliation and which factions they belong to.

Now is the time to elect councillors who can make a difference in municipalities, ensuring higher quality services and better financial management, and who are accountable to those who elect them.


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