Umm Muhammed Umar
Political parties have been using the lack of service delivery as one of the key election promises. Voters, however, may be excused for being cynical about these promises, considering the hundreds of municipalities that have collapsed, with potholes littering the roads, and with raw sewage running down streets. Residents talk about being unable to access electricity and water on a regular basis. Radio Islam addressed the question of why our municipalities failing, with political analyst, Professor Amanda Gouws.
Gouws said that there were various reasons for the state of disrepair, the first being that those who have been recruited to become officers, or members of council, in these municipalities, are not people who have come in with a certain skill set. Gouws said, “If you want to work at a local level where service delivery is of utmost importance, because that is the level of government that’s closest to the people, you have to have skill sets: how to fix roads, how to maintain water installations, electricity, and so on.” She explained that people who were recruited were teachers, social workers, etc, but not the type of people that had the necessary skill set for the job. According to Gouws, the reason people wanted to be in local government was because they saw it as a place where they could access a salary, and could become part of patronage networks. She added, “so it’s a way of making money. And we see that, in these political assassinations, people are so determined to get into local government that are actually killing each other. So, it’s not about the people and it’s not about service delivery.”
The report of the Auditor General indicates that only 13% of our local governments are financially viable. The rest had all received qualified audits, indicating wasteful expenditure, such as holding parties. In other words, using the money for what it was never meant to be used on. Add corruption to this equation and there is no money left for delivering services. Gouws says if people do not have the necessary skills, neither would they have the know how to, for instance, gather finance for electricity. She said, “Municipalities, owe Eskom around R36 billion. Those are uncollected payments. So, those payments, in effect, have to contribute towards money for service delivery.”
Gouws said that people also believe that boundaries weren’t correctly drawn, and so some people didn’t want to be in certain municipalities. They wanted the boundaries to be redrawn. She said that that led to a lot of conflict between the municipality and the voters.
Gouws said, “So I think it’s a combination of these factors but it makes for a very dismal situation.”
With regard to whether any party had a workable plan for rectifying the situation at municipal level, Gouws said, “with the bigger parties we have the same old promises that we always have.” She said,” And the problem here is that you can promise a lot, but the dysfunctionality is of such a nature that you will have to actually clean out those municipalities and start over.” Gouws added that in municipalities run by the ANC there was huge factional infighting and differences, so that already paralyzed service delivery. According to Gouws, the only party that’s actually managed to deliver on its promises was the DA. She said that the DA has named municipalities and stated what they intended to do in those municipalities, and had thus set themselves up to be held accountable, which was very important. Service delivery has been good in municipality’s governed by the DA. Gouws said that there needs to be an accountability mechanism, “”these people who are supposed to fill the potholes, who make sure your garbage is collected, how do you keep them accountable?” She added, “It cannot be that difficult, but parties don’t actually design some type of accountability mechanisms.”
Gouws said that in order to use this election to ensure that service delivery improves at municipal level, the people of South Africa should not vote for the party that has not been delivering to them the necessary service. She said, “If you don’t think you want to vote for any other party, vote for an independent candidate.” Gouws said that independent candidates don’t come in on some ideological platform, but that they know the local communities, and may contribute to changing some of the ‘very bad behaviour’ of the local councils. She said that part of the problem of local councils was that they were usually politicized, when, in order to deliver service, they were supposed to be nonpartisan, .
Significantly, Gouws said that she did not think there was anything noteworthy that any political party was offering, that stood out in the run up to the local elections, since the last elections in 2016.