Comrade Bongani Mkongi is a ANC member of Parliament in the National Assembly

This year we celebrate 15 years of our first fully democratic local government elections in 2000.

In the past twenty years we have made unprecedented progress in delivering water, electricity, sanitation and refuse removal to millions who were denied these services by apartheid.

Local government has been at the forefront of these tremendous achievements. Despite this, the governance of many of our municipalities is cause for serious concern.

Local government is the sphere of government that is closest to our people. Every single cadre of our movement must know his or her responsibilities to make local government function better by getting the basics right – wherever they have been deployed.

The Back to Basics approach is based on a comprehensive assessment of South Africa’s 278 municipalties. Criteria ranging from political stability through governance to service delivery were used in this assessment.

President Jacob Zuma convened a Presidential Local Government Summit held in September 2014. The summit agreed with the assessment presented by Minister Pravin Gordhan that that one third of our municipalities were doing well, one third were getting many things right but faced challenges and one third were dysfunctional.

The top group comprises of municipalities, which, in most cases, have the basics right and performing their functions adequately, to well. Within this group, there is a group of top performers that are doing extremely well. In these municipalities the basics are in place, and there are innovative practices to ensure sustainability and resilience.

The middle group comprises of municipalities that are doing fairly well. While the basics are mostly in place, and the municipalities can deliver on the traditional functions of local government, there are worrying signs of degeneration and decline in these municipalities.

The bottom third group is made up of municipalities that are dysfunctional, and face serious challenges in meeting their constitutional obligations. These municipalities require urgent intervention and support to enable them to get the basics right. The review found amongst others, endemic corruption, dysfunctional councils, no structured community engagement and participation systems, and poor financial management leading to continuous negative audit outcomes. They have a poor record of service delivery and service management functions such as fixing potholes, collecting refuse, maintaining public places, fixing streetlights, etc. Most of the problems are as a result of lack of capacity in administration, poor leadership and oversight by councils and political infighting and conflicts.

It is in these municipalities that the people of South Africa are being failed, and there is a need to intervene urgently.

The objective of the Back to Basics approach is to get the bottom third of municipalities into the second category, the second category into the first category and keep those in the first category there.

The Back to Basics approach is based on five pillars:

  • Putting people first
  • Delivery of a basket of basic services
  • Ensuring good governance
  • Ensuring sound financial management
  • Building capable and reslient institutions.

The priorities for implementing the Back to Bacis approach are:

Priority 1: For those municipalities in a dysfunctional state the objective is to get them to perform at the very least the basic functions of local government. This will achieved through the enforcement of current policies and legislation, the systematically managing of their performance and accountability, and ensuring that there are consequences for underperformance. Minimum performance requirements include ensuring the proper functioning of council structures and council processes, the provision of basic services, and the appointment of competent staff – these are non-negotiable;

Priority 2: For those municipalities who are functional but are not doing enough in critical areas of service, a support programme will be developed to progress to a higher path. Here the focus will be on building strong municipal administrative systems and processes, and to ensure that administrative positions are filled with competent and committed people whose performance is closely monitored. The oversight system for local government will be improved through creating real-time monitoring systems. Measures will be taken to ensure that municipalities engage properly with their communities;

Priority 3: Municipalities that are performing well will be incentivized by giving them greater flexibility and control over their resources and grants, and encourage them to move beyond the basics and transform the local space economy and integrate and densify its communities to improve sustainability.

Back to Basics also means ensuring that our municipalites have the basic capacity required to manage South Africa’s rapid urbanisation and to transform apartheid spatial patterns.

Apartheid forced the majority of our people to live far away from economic and social opportunities and services. This legacy of separation, division and exclusion must be defeated.

We need a new deal for our cities and towns. The legacy of apartheid spatial patterns and the challenges of rapid urbanisation must be confronted through integrated urban development that is linked to the development of our rural areas.

We must de-racialise communities so that a new and more cohesive society can be built. All residents, black and white, must equally enjoy the benefits of development.

The Integrated Urban Development Framework and the National Spatial Development Framework will be implemented to ensure effective alignment of national economic, environment and social programmes with those of the municipalities.

Priority 4: There will be a targeted and vigorous response to corruption and fraud, and a zero tolerance approach to ensure that these practices are rooted out. Supply chain management practices in municipalities will be closely scrutinized. Where corruption and mismanagement have been identified, we will not hesitate to make sure these are decisively dealt with through provisions such as asset forfeiture and civil claims. CoGTA and its stakeholder partners will also work to change practices in the private sector and enlist the support of civil society to change the national morality.

For ANC structures and cadres deployed in government Back to Basics means working tirelessly to ensure that municipalities provide water, electricity, parks, street lighting, refuse removal, repairing of potholes, dealing with the frustrating interruption of services and problems with billing systems.

Getting back to basics means providing these services in a professional and caring manner that recognizes the human dignity of each resident.

We are here to serve the people; the people are not here to serve us.

Getting back to basics means actively communicating and interacting with the community in every ward.

Getting back to basics means fighting fraud and corruption and reviewing tendering systems in local government.

Slowly but surely these objectives are being achieved.

The most recent report on local government audit outcomes by the Auditor General shows a steady trend towards good governance and sound financial management.

Of our 278 municipalities, 148 (53%) now have unqualified audits – up from 120 (43%) last year.

198 (58%) of all 335 municipalities and municipal entities received unqualified audit opinions for their financial statements. This is up from 165 (49%) last year.

What is particularly significant is that 76% of the total local government expenditure of R315 billion is being spent by municipalities and municipal entities with unqualified audit opinions.

What this means is that almost eight out of every ten rands spent by local government is properly accounted for.

It is also encouraging that 96% of municipalities and municipal entities submitted their financial statements on time. This is an improvement over 93% in 2012-13 and a massive improvement from 78% in 2007-08.

All provinces showed improvement in their audit outcomes. The biggest contributors to the number of clean audits are Gauteng (13, or 39% of their auditees), KwaZulu-Natal (20, or 28% of their auditees) and the Western Cape (18, or 55% of their auditees).

Limpopo deserves a special mention. For 2012/13 only one of its 32 auditees received an unqualified audit. The others received qualified (19), adverse (3) and disclaimed (9) audits. This has improved dramatically to 15 unqualified audits for 2013/4.

These results were achieved through hard work, dedication, leadership and consistent hands-on engagement by, with and in municipalities.

Clear Back to Basics benchmarks have been set for municipalities to perform their basic responsibilities.

Joint national-provincial Back to Basics Task Teams have been established in all provinces. These teams have developed support plans that are integrated into municipal Integrated Development Plans.

Municipalities are submitting monthly reports to a CoGTA National Monitoring Centre on the implementation of Back to Basics performance indicators. MECs report regularly on Back to Basics implementation in provinces.

Notwithstanding this tremendous progress we must all be disappointed that 68 municipalities received qualified audit opinions. We must be even more disappointed that 50 municipalities received disclaimed audit opinions. It is completely unacceptable that 25 auditees have had disclaimed opinions for the past five years. There must be consequences for this.

Getting the basics right will require leadership and commitment at all levels of our organization and across government. We must be at the forefront of mobilizing all sectors of society in a campaign to get back to basics.

Cde Andries Nel is Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs responsible for Provincial & Local Government

Posted in Phambili
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