Local Government Turnaround Strategy Sets New Course

Pretoria - Government has admitted something is fundamentally wrong with the way in which municipalities operate - a worry it says could threaten the success and development achieved in South Africa thus far.

Policy, legislation, weaknesses in the accountability system, capacity and skills constraints and weak intergovernmental support and oversight are some of the factors that have lead to a break down in service delivery at local government level.

But there is a ray of hope in the form of the Local Government Turnaround Strategy, which Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister, Sicelo Shiceka, is adamant will turn the tide of service delivery in South Africa.

The ambitious Local Government Turnaround Strategy, approved by Cabinet last year, aims to turn municipalities into responsive, efficient, effective and accountable structures. It further addresses management challenges faced by municipalities and finds ways to help them achieve clean audits by 2014.

Shiceka believes these targets set to turn things around will be met.

"There is no doubt that we will reach the targets set. We have identified what needs to be done. It is now a question of execution. By 2014, local government will be different in terms of what it does; the tasks that it performs and the services that it delivers," he told BuaNews.

Strides will be made in the areas of water, electricity, sanitation and waste management provision.

"There is no reason that in South Africa today, 64 percent of its residents still receive poor services. We need to reach 100 percent provision in those areas. The basic services need to be provided," he said.

He explained that every municipality has their own turnaround strategy where they have identified their own problems and solutions. "We knew when we started this process that the one-size-fits-all solution would not work. We are in the process of implementation and we are handling matters quite well. The tide is turning."

In recent months, violent protests have rocked communities across the country, with residents mostly demanding better services at local government level, but the minister believes that the implementation of the turnaround strategy will help restore the public's faith in local government structures.

Strengthening ward committees was a major priority, according to the minister, who added that the department was coming up with a revised model for ward committees that would look at giving them more say and power in the running of their municipalities.

Beyond the turnaround strategy, Shiceka says amendments to the Municipal Systems Act have been submitted to Parliament in an effort to tighten and strengthen administration and "to ensure that we professionalise the public service at local government level".

"We need to remove petty politics and party politics at local government level," said Shiceka.

The department is also conducting an audit in terms of skills. "[This is aimed at] looking at what is the skills gap in municipalities and at what level in the effort to re-train people who are re-trainable."

He said government would no longer tolerate incompetence. "Those who cannot be re-trained, unfortunately we will have to ask them to excuse themselves," Shiceka said firmly.

The department also hopes to amend the Municipal Financial Management Act to close that loopholes and gaps that permit corruption. Operation Clean Audit would also be one of the mechanisms that will be used to ensure that municipalities have clean audits by 2014.

"By 2011-2012, we must have reached 65 percent, by 2012-2013, 75 percent and by 2013-2014, 100 percent. It's an ambitious target, but we have put systems in place to ensure that we reach them, working together with the Auditor-General," he added.

Meanwhile, Shiceka's department is currently working on a policy that will regulate initiation schools with the hope of curbing the high number of deaths and amputations that occur at them. He said the department will be presenting it to Parliament in September.

"The intention is to ensure that before the end of the year, when schools are closed, initiation schools and parents will be able to utilize the policy. The intention is also to restore the dignity of the custom, the culture and its sacredness. It will equally save lives of the young boys who experience a lot of trauma," he said.

Shiceka said the departments of health and education, as well as the traditional communities themselves, would also be mobilized to ensure that those involved in the process are able to look at the hygiene and safety aspects.

"Traditional surgeons, who are able to perform this act, must be people who are certified. They must also be able to look after them [the boys] and their conditions. We've looked at all the loopholes and believe that we must close them and where they are violated, the law must take its course," he warned. - BuaNews