SERVICE DELIVERY

Ten "IQ tips" for Pravin Gordhan

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All eyes are turned on what the new Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Pravin Gordhan's, top 10 priorities might be. Have a look what Municipal IQ experts are suggesting, writes Nilo Abrahams.

The new Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Pravin Gordhan, has his work cut out for him in terms of ensuring improved service delivery in South Africa. The increasingly violent nature of service delivery protests is becoming a growing concern for both local and national government, with civilians and businesses often bearing the brunt.

Municipal IQ is a unique web-based data and intelligence service specialising in the monitoring and assessment of all South Africa’s 278 municipalities, owned and run by Kevin Allan and Karen Heese. Allan is a local government analyst and specialist consultant and was previously special advisor to the former national minister for provincial and local government. Karen Heese is an economist who has worked in local government and development finance and developed ratings of southern African economies during her tenure at BusinessMap. Together they have more than 30 years' experience in the local government sector.

Municipal IQ’s Hotspots Monitor collates major protests staged by community members (identified to a particular ward) against a municipality, as recorded by the media or other public domain sources. Such protesters raise issues that are the responsibility or perceived responsibility of local government (such as councillor accountability, the quality and pace of basic service delivery, and in metro areas, housing).

These protests may be violent or peaceful, but there is a clear dissatisfaction with the management of a municipality. Not included are issues falling outside of local government’s service delivery mandate, such as demarcation, industrial relation disputes or clear party political issues (including candidate lists). Where protests are sustained over several days or weeks, these are recorded as a single entry. Unlike the SAPS crowd-incident data, protests pertain only to local government service delivery issues.

The Hotspots Monitor shows that there have been 134 major service delivery protests staged against local government since 1 January 2014; still occurring roughly at a rate of slightly more than one protest every second day. 2014 now accounts for 15% of protests registered on Municipal IQ’s Municipal Hotspots Monitor since 2004.

Protests

Heese notes, “Many of the recent, winter protests, such as the one in Mossel Bay last month, dealt with electricity connections. "Pressure on this demand may drop off. However, another prominent concern is access to water, which is likely to accelerate in summer. Neither of these concerns is likely to be quickly resolved, notwithstanding gradual gains suggested in the Stats SA Non-financial Census. This means there is likely to be a continuation in the high rate of protests witnessed so far this year.”

Allan argues: “It remains of grave concern that so many protests – almost four out of five – is violent and can be deeply compromising to communities. An example is the halt to schooling in areas surrounding the Northern Cape town of Kuruman.”

With a new minister at the helm of local government, all eyes are turned on what Gordhan’s top 10 priorities might be. Municipal IQ suggests the following:

1. Bringing decisive leadership to the sector by consolidating Gordhan’s authority and leadership as a champion of local government. His new term follows tenures by Ministers Shiceka, Baloyi and Tsenoli – an astounding turnover for a single term; with the various ministers all (inevitably) imposing distinctly different personalities and plans on local government. While it is not necessary, or even desirable, to craft new strategies from that of, say, the Local Government Turnaround Strategy devised five years ago, it is important for Gordhan to stamp his own priorities on a department that has been subjected to regular and destabilising institutional upheaval in the past.

2. Addressing service delivery protests: Gordhan’s deployment to Cooperative Governance is presumably intended, at least in part, to address the very worrying and continuing phenomenon of service delivery protests. While many protests are founded in fundamental constraints – deep-seated backlogs in rural areas and rapid in-migration in urban areas (which require complex solutions, listed in points 3 to 7 below) – there is a growing need to be able to respond to individual protests so that crises such as those seen in Olifantshoek, Bekkersdal and the like do not spiral beyond control.

3. Integrate responses across government, especially around human settlements: Gordhan is in a position to leverage off his insight into government’s operations across spheres to address blockages that undermine infrastructure and housing development. A significant portion of local government protests are prompted by the need for either housing or better housing. While, aside from recently accredited metros, it is unfair to hold local government accountable for this function, local government is the face of housing delivery and its image very much hangs on its ability to coordinate the planning and execution of bulk infrastructure and housing developments. Work with provinces, human settlements and water departments is crucial in this area.

4. Addressing wasteful spending and a culture of non-compliance: Local government is tainted by the image of wasteful parties, high-flying mayoral vehicles and general pilfering through corrupted supply chain management (Mothutlung’s alleged sabotage of water infrastructure to motivate for the supply of water via ill-suited water tankers through a dubious outsourcing arrangement stands out as an extreme example of this). Gordhan’s budget speeches motivate for keener oversight of supply chain management and procurement processes and standards. Work by the AG’s office will clearly complement any such initiatives. It is also crucially important that the Department of Cooperative Governance (CoGTA) ensures the implementation of regulations that promote professionalism in the sector and blacklisting of rerring officials.

5. Unlocking infrastructure: The phrase “to unlock infrastructure” has become very hackneyed with overuse but remains pertinent. Growing the municipal bond market, leveraging off the asset base of Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and integrating expertise contained in the relatively new Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA) remain arguably underutilised strategies for developing local government. The recent partnership between Sasol and the DBSA to develop areas in which the former operates, for instance, could serve as a template for mining houses (such as Lonmin in Marikana) and other larger industrial players. In this respect, Gordhan’s familiarity with bond markets, the DBSA and development finance will be extremely invaluable in promoting dynamic financial avenues for the sector.

6. City development: Urban development is a major challenge, not only for housing (as indicated in priority number 3) but for the proper functioning of the economy, with environmental imperatives a growing concern to factor in. In this respect, work already undertaken by the Integrated Urban Development Framework is important to fast-track and integrate with other policy thinking. Issues like accessible and sustainable energy sources, for instance, will not only promote more sustainable city structures but work towards alleviating some of the grievances displayed in many metro service delivery protests.

7. Integrating National Development Plan (NDP) objectives: Priorities 3-6 all speak to the thrust and objectives of the NDP, Gordhan’s mandate in the new Cabinet. But ensuring better governance, rooting out corruption, implementing a better urban form and laying well-thought out infrastructure – as ambitious as they are – will be inadequate in addressing the NDP’s imperatives to dent poverty and inequality. To this end, targeted support for failing municipalities, firstly by identifying vulnerability through indicators such as those that are used by Treasury, is important to ensure that municipal development does not leave the most poverty-stricken communities of South Africa untouched.

8. Improve audit outcomes: Gordhan’s obvious and core strength is likely to come to the fore in the area of financial governance. It has been seen in previous years’ outcomes that top-level commitment to improved audit outcomes at the provincial level can drive improvements in the area. It will be difficult for officials to underperform in this area with financially savvy leadership and it is likely to represent an area of targeted improvement which will bolster the sector’s image in the public eye.

9. Tackling debt: Gordhan is not a politician who is afraid to tell his fellow citizens to pay their bills. This will be an important attribute in the run-up to 2016’s local government elections, when free basic services are said to be exaggerated and wrongly conflated with financial indemnity on the ground by local politicians. Improving collection rates will also require focus on municipal billing systems and revenue collection, and there is very likely to be pressure exerted on metros, with Gordhan’s experience at SARS providing him with insight into workable and efficient revenue collection systems.

10. Restructure grants: While restructuring grants is a complex and technical process that is not well understood, there is a widely-held view that smaller municipalities are compromised and that demographic challenges are not well incorporated into grant formulae. Gordhan will be familiar with these debates, as well as the Treasury’s collaborative work to restructure conditional grants and can play a role in translating these reforms into accepted practice at a political level. The importance of this priority is that it will remove financial constraints as an excuse for failure to deliver services and return the spotlight to governance and managerial shortcomings.

Heese argues: “It is evident from this that there are wide-ranging and complex priorities awaiting Gordhan in his new role. But his experience of inter-governmental processes, including financial arrangements and his driving role in reforming financial governance, with especial focus on supply chain management, all under the umbrella of a leaner, more efficient public service honed in on meeting the vision of the NDP, make him an ideal Minister for the complex set of tasks facing local government," Heese concludes.

Nilo Abrahams

 

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