ANALYSIS | Covid fallout, unemployment and local elections: Will DDM fly as the solution?

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The author examines how DDM could assist with service delivery at municipalities. (Photo: Alfred Grobbelaar)
The author examines how DDM could assist with service delivery at municipalities. (Photo: Alfred Grobbelaar)

The District Development Model has been touted as the solution to many problems in local government. Mike Roussos examines what these issues are and whether the DDM can, in fact, assist.

The economic impacts of the Covid pandemic have been devastating.

Businesses have closed, many people have lost their jobs, domestic violence against women and children has increased, and stress levels have rocketed. Our economy was already in trouble, and our unemployment rates were very high - then Covid struck and made everything much worse. 

This is a worldwide problem, but the solutions must be local - how can we rebuild after this brutal blow?

We're going to have a local government election soon when the politicians come knocking on our doors again - asking for our votes - while telling us all the wonderful things their party will do for us.

We all know that the Auditor-General's report on the state of local government has, once again, detailed the horrible conditions that exist within most of our local authorities.

"The financial statements show increasing indicators of a collapse in local government finances - we assessed 79% of the municipalities as having a financial health status that was either concerning or requiring urgent intervention," the AG's MFMA consolidated report 2018-19 said.

Just to be clear, they assessed the situation as having deteriorated over the past three years.

Local issues 

Local government elections are meant to be about local issues and not about national politics. 

Are we getting the services we need? How effective are the local officials at managing the funds and the delivery of these services? What role are our elected representatives (i.e local councillors) playing in overseeing the provision of services and are the right people being appointed to provide these services? Do we have the right skills within our local municipality to allow for the effective and efficient provision of the range of services our municipality is meant to provide to us?

READ | Constitution doesn't allow for postponement of elections IEC tells parliament

The AG's report seems to show a desperate situation in most local authorities, despite many efforts to assist and advise on improving the situation. Does this mean that the problem is rooted in something more basic - something related to how local government is structured or financed?

For the uninitiated - the country is divided into 44 districts (that encompass anything from three to eight local municipalities each) and eight metros.

If we count the district municipalities and the local ones and the metros - that makes a total of 257 municipalities (205 of them are local municipalities).

Each council can elect between three and 90 councillors and metros can elect up to 270 councillors. Each district also has a council - with between three and 90 councillors on it - but only 40% of these are elected directly (at the same time as the councillors for local municipalities are elected - via two ballots for the voters in those local municipalities - one for their local council and one for their district council).

The other 60% are appointed onto that district council by each of the local municipal councils comprising that district - in proportion to the number of voters in each of their local areas. The district municipalities also have a staff - of varying size.

What do the district municipalities do, as opposed to the local municipalities?

Broader function

Well, that is a big question. They were designed to provide a broader function than that of each local municipality. So anything that pertains to the general area covered by the whole district should be theirs, as well as any support function that a local municipality may request of them.

In practice, the development of the IDP (integrated development plan - that covers clinics, schools, roads and many other services) is their primary function - and local councils are meant to integrate their IDP's into the broader district plan. 

Some district councils act as facilitators in providing water and electricity for the local councils - some provide those services directly to the residents in some, or all, of their local councils. This means that some district councils have access to funds that were paid for such services and others must rely on national subventions only.

The original concern, when the Constitution was drafted, was the creation of many new councils to provide services to the large number of our people who had been excluded under the previous regime - but to do so in a way that provided integrated development services that made sense to the specific conditions in that district.

The district municipalities were there to bring those local municipalities together - the old ones that existed under the old regime - and the new ones created to cater to those previously excluded.

The problem is that no details were provided in the Constitution - or in the subsequent legislation that followed - about who was in charge and how to ensure that the local councils worked together, and worked with the district council, to ensure that the people in the district got the best possible deal.

Those local councils who want to cooperate will do so – but those who don't - will argue that the Constitution protects them from interference and gives them local autonomy.

Although it is up to the Constitutional Court to ultimately decide on this, it seems clear to me that the "local autonomy" spoken of in the Constitution refers to the need to be clear on the division of powers between national, provincial and local authorities - and does not create a divide between two parts of the local authorities, namely the local councils and the district councils.

They are both elected by the voters in those local areas at the same time - with some being delegated onto the district council after being elected onto their local council - so local decision-making is protected.

This remains the case even if the district's powers become more clearly designated and assume authority over certain functions.

District Development Model 

What about the DDM - the District Development Model - that has been touted as the solution to many of these problems?

The DDM speaks of One Plan - One Budget - and of the realisation of governmental co-operation and coordination. What does all this mean?

It may seem obvious that different parts of government should work together and plan together, but think of a big corporation with staff spread all over and many different initiatives/programmes happening simultaneously. Multiply that chaos by a factor of between 10 and 20 and you may come close to understanding the problems faced by government.

Plans originate from some 30 different government departments at national level - some eight to 10 different government departments in each province - around 12 to 18 different State-Owned Entities at national level and another three to four province-owned entities in each province - and any number of development programmes and projects initiated by a large number of NGO's and development groups (both local and international).

READ | R50 million a year for govt's District Development Model -Dlamini Zuma

All of these have their own budgets and strat plans and targets or objectives. Bear in mind that the private sector also has any number of different projects, business ventures, marketing campaigns etc - that will also impact what happens within a local area or District.

The DDM concept notes this profusion and then targets the district as the desired focal point of all this planning and budgeting - based on the material conditions prevailing in that district such as what is there already? What could conceivably develop within that context? What local resources might be utilised as the foundation of any new initiative? What attracts people to this area? What might become the focus of a new job-creating venture in this district?

It also wants the budget process to use the district as the focal point of its planning - rather than having all of those hundreds of different budgets impacting tangentially (or not at all) on each district - start from the carefully assessed prospects of each district and work your way up.

Bottom-up budgeting and planning.

This raises some interesting questions and potential conflicts - but has a lot of potential as a new paradigm. I think this approach could open up many new avenues and opportunities and create many new arguments.

- Mike Roussos is with Manto Management Consultants.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24

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