Salga gets pat on back from Ramaphosa: ‘Local govt has improved millions of lives’

President Cyril Ramaphosa gave his local government colleagues a pat on the back and a pep talk when he addressed the South African Local Government Association (Salga) National Members assembly. He told the assembly that government is now in a long and difficult phase of reconstruction. He commended local government for substantial improvements in the lives of millions of people. Ramaphosa reminded Salga members  that many municipalities still fail audits with only eight percent of municipalities receiving clean audits. The president also reiterated that the mandate of Salga is constitutionally derived and vitally important to the growth of the country. – Melani Nathan

From The Presidency:

Thank you for the invitation to address the Salga National Members Assembly. It is almost 20 years to the day since we held the first fully representative local government elections in democratic South Africa, on the 5th of December 2000.

Since then, the mission of local government has been – in the words of our Constitution – to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person”. We meet today to reflect on our progress over the last two decades towards the realisation of that mission and to outline the tasks ahead.

We are doing so in the midst of a profound crisis brought about by the global coronavirus pandemic. This crisis has had a devastating impact on human health, on our economy, on livelihoods, on businesses and indeed on service delivery.COVID-19 has been a setback for all spheres of governance, and the great task before us is not only to regain lost momentum, but to rebuild with added urgency.

We are now in the phase of recovery and reconstruction; a phase that will be difficult and long, and will require the utmost effort. Local government is the nerve centre of service delivery, of socio-economic development and of driving our efforts to build a truly democratic, integrated, prosperous, non-sexist and non-racial society. As Salga, you are at the forefront of transforming local government to make it fit for purpose, and to serve our people and meet their needs. Yours is a constitutionally derived mandate to bring development and opportunities to the people of South Africa.

As we mark 20 years of democratic local government, there are a number of questions we must ask ourselves. Firstly, has local government been effective in overcoming the injustices of the past? Secondly, what progress have we made in improving the quality of life for our citizens through our local government structures? Thirdly, has local government advanced effective and ethical governance?

It is undeniable that over the past 20 years local government has been a key driver of development in our communities. Our progress has been substantial, and the quality of life of millions of people has been improved.

There are schools, libraries and clinics where there once were none. Communities have sanitation and clean drinking water where they were once forced to fend for themselves. Homes have been electrified and streets have been paved. The provision of services has, over the course of 20 years, lifted millions of people out of poverty and enabled them to enjoy an improving quality of life.

But local government also faces a number of very serious challenges. A measure of the extent of these challenges are the poor municipal audit outcomes. The latest report from the Auditor-General points to serious lapses of governance and financial management in our municipalities. For the 2018/2019 financial year, only 20 of the country’s 257 municipalities got clean audits. This is less than 8%.

Furthermore, these outcomes appear to be worsening each year. Many of the challenges facing our municipalities are inherited. Among them are massive backlogs in basic services, deep inequality, weak revenue bases, rising demand for services and the devolution of several new powers and functions to local government.

In addition to this, we currently have a situation where many municipalities are ill-equipped to take on the responsibilities expected of them. The picture we have is of vastly uneven performance. Some municipalities have acquitted themselves reasonably or even very well, and basic services are now more widely available than before.

But there are others that cannot adequately perform even their basic functions, let alone carry out their developmental role. Coupled with institutional weaknesses like corruption and nepotism, many of our municipalities are facing a crisis of credibility.

We cannot allow the widespread governance failures in municipalities to continue. We cannot have municipalities that are so dysfunctional that people feel they must resort to violence to be heard. We simply cannot afford local government to fail. It is too important to our people and their lives, to our developmental objectives and to the very future of this country.

In August 2019, Cabinet approved the District Development Model to address weaknesses in service delivery, planning, budgeting and implementation in local government. Its primary purpose is to narrow the distance between the people and their government. It is about improving the delivery of integrated services, the alignment of resources, facilitating inclusive economic development and establishing long-term strategic planning.

At the same time, the District Development Model prioritises building state capacity and strengthening the system of local government. During the past year and despite the limitations imposed by Covid-19, we have made progress in institutionalising the District Development Model. We have been able to launch three pilot sites in the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, in the Waterberg District Municipality and in the OR Tambo District Municipality.

The Development Bank of Southern Africa has been appointed as an implementing agent, and project management offices and district hubs have been established in the two pilot sites in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. The district hubs will facilitate intergovernmental joint planning, resolve misalignment, and ultimately help to provide municipal support and promote shared services. District Development Model champions in the form of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and MECs have been appointed, paving the way for intergovernmental teams to work with districts in a coordinated manner.

Growing local economies is critical if we are to resolve problems of poverty and unemployment. The development of the One Plan will transform our intergovernmental planning landscape. As we move towards its completion and eventual adoption, we are intensifying stakeholder engagements. We are working to consolidate grants and rationalise planning instruments.

The success of the District Development Model rests on greater coordination and collaboration between all spheres of government. The COVID-19 experience has demonstrated our capabilities in this regard. We have been able to establish national, provincial and district coronavirus councils and centres to drive our response, and in the main have been successful in bringing government together.

As we now rebuild our economy, this approach to collaboration should be used at a local level to support growth and job creation. At the same time, we must resolve the structural weaknesses that still exist. We must step up coordination efforts to avoid resource wastage and eliminate duplication of programmes. We must ensure that all government programmes address community needs and contribute to developmental objectives, such as poverty reduction and employment creation.

Our experience with this pandemic has demonstrated the importance of political leadership in forging collaborative public service networks. We must address constraints at municipalities that contribute to weak or poor performance, including capacity-building and skills training.

We have to attend with urgency to the issue of maintenance of municipal infrastructure. The speed and responsiveness of national government to Covid-19 shows that this certainly can be done where necessary. Salga has a clear strategic role to play in supporting its members to fulfil their developmental obligations.

I call on you to continue to be an active participant in the intergovernmental relations system; to provide common policy positions on key issues; to continue to represent local government interests; and to provide solutions to the challenges facing local government.

We remain unwavering in our determination to build a society that guarantees a better life for all. On this important anniversary, let us establish a firm platform for local government to continue to improve the quality of life of all citizens and to free the potential of each person.

I wish you a productive National Members Assembly.

I thank you.

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