OPINION PIECE: Communities have the power to hold municipalities accountable

Commission should act swiftly

30/04/2019 11:53:39

OPINION PIECE: Communities have the power to hold municipalities accountable

“An educated, enlightened and informed population is one of the surest ways of promoting the health of a democracy” - Nelson Mandela

Public participation is a constitutional right that should be exercised by all South African citizens. The Municipal Systems Act clearly states that a municipality consists of three parts:  political structures, administration and the community.  These three “legs” are critical in making service delivery a success. Community members can hold municipality officials and elected politicians accountable for non-performance, maladministration and poor service delivery in their towns by attending Integrated Development Plan (IDP) meetings and taking part in decision making.

Local government has literally been firing on only two of the three cylinders and is now grinding to a halt, as is clear from the most recent Auditor General’s report for 2016/17. Audits of the majority of the 257 municipalities in the country had regressed. The announcement, made in August 2018 by Dr. Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Co-operative & Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), also confirmed that local government had failed to provide even basic services (as prescribed by section 152 (1) & (2) of our Constitution) to many communities. 

Provincial CoGTA and Treasury have a crucial oversight responsibility over municipalities and should have raised the red flags long ago to start the intervention process to avoid the rot and demise of municipalities. The two departments responsible for oversight and accountability have failed in their legislative mandate.

Local government intimately touches every citizen’s daily life. Communities have lost faith in their local authorities and often out of frustration have damaged and destroyed public property. The destruction leads to even more pressure on public funds, further limiting the amount of money available for service delivery.

The time for community driven intervention is now! Communities cannot be excluded from the decision-making process any longer. Their right to public participation is enshrined in both the Constitution and the Local Government Municipal Systems Act which deals with public participation in local government. 

OUTA as a civil society organisation with local communities, businesses and stakeholders, must play an important oversight role to ensure local government’s responsibilities and duties, as per the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, are enforced.

We all want a democratic and accountable government. Services must be rendered in a sustainable manner and there must be a well-defined and practical social and economic development approach. We also want a safe and healthy environment, and to be involved in the decision making and management of our local government/municipality. Sadly, citizens often don’t know about the importance of their involvement in the IDP. 

The Integrated Development Plan (IDP) is a five-year plan, outlining the service delivery objectives of the municipality. This should be a bankable business plan that could be submitted to a financial institution for funding. The IDP must be reviewed and aligned with the budget annually to ensure that the outcomes are in line with the strategic objectives as set out in the plan. 

The IDP must be drawn up in consultation with relevant forums and various stakeholders within a municipality’s boundaries. The  IDP and budget consultation meetings are held twice a year.  Firstly, to engage with the public to ascertain what the needs of the community are, and secondly to present the drafted copy of the IDP and the budget. The final IDP document must be approved by Council and thereafter made available to be published in local newspapers, the official municipal website. Copies of the plan must be available at public buildings, such as libraries.

Due to the number of dysfunctional municipalities countrywide, there has been a rapid decline in service delivery – this demands urgent citizen intervention. It has become crucial for rates payers, business owners and community members to become involved in the direction of municipalities.

An opportunity exists for citizens to not only question but also monitor the performance of local government. Citizens are encouraged to attend council sittings and portfolio meetings. It is vital to find out the facts! For example, if the municipality has contracted a company to build a stormwater drain or upgrade a park, ask who is responsible for the management of the project, how much money will be spent and how long will it take to complete the project. Also demand a copy of the scope of work, the contract or service delivery agreement. Ask to see how much work has been completed before the first payment is made to the contractor. Answers or information emanating from these questions will ensure the community is empowered and has enough information to monitor the progress of projects and hold the administration accountable. 

Public participation is crucial in building an effective, inclusive and representative democracy. Citizens have the right to MEANINGFUL consultation and engagement with local government. The administration has an obligation to communicate and publicise its activities, giving the citizens ample time for consultation and feedback, prior to the council making decisions. Inputs from the community must be reflected in council resolutions. The power lies with the people.

OUTA is a proudly South African civil action organisation, that is purely crowd funded. Our work is supported by ordinary citizens who are passionate about holding government accountable and ensuring our taxes are used to the benefit of all South Africans.