Professional, community-focused local government can overcome the service crisis – SAHRC

The lack of development, operation and maintenance of well-established infrastructure within local municipalities remains a major impediment to service delivery and the full enjoyment of constitutional and human rights by citizens.

These challenges can, however, be overcome by transforming local municipalities into professional, non-partisan entities committed to serving their communities, says South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) Commissioner Philile Ntuli.

This message was provided, along with a summary of the myriad challenges that local municipalities face in providing, operating and maintaining infrastructure and providing basic services, and the serious problems faced by citizens in lack of services, by presenters at the SAHRC webinar on local government services. delivery through infrastructure development and management.

Speakers who participated in the webinar, which focused primarily on water, wastewater and sanitation due to the severity and urgency of these issues across South Africa, pointed out that multiple reports and consequent recommendations of the SAHRC and other statutory and research organizations to address the challenges of water and sanitation service delivery have been ignored or only partially implemented by local municipalities and communities. national government services.

The reasons for the reluctance and/or inability to implement remedial recommendations are also manifold and include a lack of technical skills in local municipalities to plan, design, develop, operate and maintain infrastructure; a lack of incentives and disincentives to support professional conduct; a lack of planning capacity and long-term planning; and rigid budget rules, as well as unsustainable revenues from basic service delivery, among others, said the Deputy Director General of Infrastructure Delivery Management of the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (Misa) Pati Kgomo.

The complexity and interrelated nature of the identified issues impeding effective and efficient service delivery require the collaboration and cooperation of all three spheres of government and all stakeholders, including communities, civil society organizations and the private sector. , to be solved.

“For example, a SAHRC survey of water supply and sanitation challenges in Tshwane and Roodepoort found that the reasons why sewage treatment plants were dysfunctional are similar across all nine provinces. of South Africa, including insufficient budget allocations, continuous changes of municipal managers and a lack of skills and human resources to maintain sewage treatment plants,” said the SAHRC researcher on economic and social Sinethamba Memela.

“Through the investigation report, the commission found that there is an urgent and urgent need to develop and enhance the skills of people working in municipalities, as well as that municipalities should employ people not only on the basis of their skills, but also on their integrity and commitment to serving the community,” she stressed.

This SAHRC finding coincides with the National Development Plan’s goal of promoting the professionalization of municipalities, which essentially means that local municipalities are less partisan and instead focus on hiring the right people with the right skills to provide services to their communities, she added.

“South Africa, as a water-scarce country, must take a multi-faceted approach to ensure that the constitutional guarantee of adequate access to water for citizens is upheld, and simultaneously ensure that such a scarce resource is carefully managed for the benefit of future generations,” she added. said.

However, encouragingly, there has been a significant willingness from all sections of society to help improve the performance and effectiveness of local governments, said the City Manager of the District Municipality of Waterberg. Gemstone Raputsoa.

“Non-governmental organizations, business enterprises, civil society organizations, government agencies, state bodies and communities have signaled their willingness to help support the transformation of local municipalities into effective and efficient authorities that have the well-being of local communities and the provision of services as their priority encompassing culture,” he said.

Waterberg District Municipality is one of three districts, along with eThekwini and OR Tambo Municipalities, piloting the District Development Model (DDM).

Raputsoa noted that the problems of inadequate governance, a high degree of instability, fraud and corruption compound the problems in many local municipalities, not only in the Waterberg district, but across South Africa. However, these issues also compromise monitoring and service delivery, and contribute to outages and the collapse of related infrastructure and services.

“While municipalities are required to allocate 7% of their budget to operation and maintenance, this is not the case in most municipalities, and these challenges are also exacerbated by poor revenue collection in local municipalities.”

Additionally, there are capacity challenges in the municipalities, with most municipalities in the Waterberg district not having enough people to perform their duties, he said.

“Furthermore, when we engage companies to partner with us on certain initiatives and provide funding, they raise legitimate concerns that a lot of the money is being returned to the tax department by municipalities that aren’t spending enough. This return of subsidies due to non-spending is like a result of human capital constraints,” he noted.

The combination of constraints, instability and challenges has led to a trust deficit between communities and city councils, but these issues are meant to be addressed through the DDM, Raputsoa says.

“DDM can, in many ways, be a practical intergovernmental relations mechanism through which all spheres of government can work with communities and stakeholders to plan, budget and implement infrastructure delivery in a more coordinated way” , agreed Ntuli.

The role of stakeholders is of paramount importance, added Raputsoa, ​​and Waterberg District, as part of the DDM pilot, rolled out leadership training for city officials and civil society organizations in collaboration with civil and commercial partners. People are trained to be solution-oriented and civil society organizations are encouraged to present ideas and solutions to problems they have identified.

“Many people are raising their hands to help us build local government capacity, with the National Business Initiative and mineral producer Exxaro providing training and mentorship, and have appointed experts to mentor municipal officials in areas. that they operate.

“Additionally, UN agencies have also joined us and are helping us put in place results-based monitoring processes and systems. Higher education institutions are helping us gather and analyze information to that we can do better planning in the municipalities of the Waterberg,” added Raputsoa.

DDM must go beyond coordinating spheres of government to collaborating with stakeholders, as well as optimizing information and communications technologies and investing in appropriate tools to support effective planning. In addition, there must be sustained investment in the personal development and capacity of all civil servants, ensuring that they perform their duties as they should.

“We believe that with all of these elements, we will be able to effect a bold and resilient transformation of municipal leadership so that local governments can serve people effectively and efficiently,” Raputsoa said.