Many municipalities in South Africa face substantial financial challenges, rendering them unable to fulfil their obligation of delivering essential services to their communities. A prevailing culture of non-payment further jeopardises the long-term viability of numerous councils. But there are beacons of light and councils that are well run that could serve as examples to the ones that are struggling and are in danger of collapsing. Two councils have been singled out by Ratings Africa as the most financially sustainable municipalities in the country. In its latest Municipal Financial Stability Index Midvaal and Saldanha Bay came out as the two best-run municipalities in South Africa. The DA’s Executive Mayor of Saldanha Bay, André Truter told BizNews what his secrets for success were and said he was more than willing to share best practices with ANC-run municipalities. At the core lies zero tolerance of corruption and theft, and the appointment of qualified individuals. – Linda van Tilburg
Extracts from the interview below
Too many political solutions to practical financial and operational problems
I think the moment that you start chasing a political agenda, you get into trouble and I think in South Africa particularly, there is a lack of accountability. I get fired as the mayor of Durban and two weeks later I’m sworn in as an MP in Parliament. I mean that just cannot be. It also becomes generational then because one council does badly, and the next one does very badly. So, by the time the third one comes, it’s a snowball effect. It also sets off a culture in your administration. Administration is so important and once that culture of bad governance is in your organisation, it’s extremely hard to turn that around. It’s not just a decision. It takes a generation to set a culture to say, pick up your papers when you throw them on the ground. I grew up with the saying ‘Zip it in a Zibi blik’ and to this day, I cannot get it right to throw a paper on the ground. So, it takes a generation to change and to get a good habit in. It takes double as long to get a bad habit out and then a good habit. As much as we are a beacon of hope, I hope that people read that report very, very well because they use huge alarm bells in that report.
98% Payment rate but it is a two-way relationship
I think we’re very blessed that we’ve got a culture on the ‘Weskus.’ We’ve got beautiful people and they’ve got a culture of accountability, they’ve got a culture of payment. In Covid, I was very emotional when I saw a very poor, old lady standing at our offices and saying, Can you please open this? We want to pay. We have only a little bit of money. and if we are going to spend this thing, we’re going to fall behind. I was blown away by this amazing culture. But it is also a two-way thing. You don’t mind paying at a restaurant where you’re getting really good food. So it’s hard to pay for something that you don’t have and I think that’s what makes it difficult for many communities that refuse to pay because they’re getting no services. If you look at our collection rate, it was 98% last year. It’s a little bit lower this year. but when I say no 1% or so. But they said the a direct correlation between that and our service delivery index because our service delivery index is 96 to 98%. So do you understand what I’m saying as the two speak to each other? Good service, good payment. People can’t pay for services that they do not receive. We are far from perfect. A municipal manager and I were sitting outside the door waiting for the interview and we were having a very strong conversation about how we can do better, and how can we be more accountable because one must also be careful not to take a short stick to try to measure how tall you are. That can also get you into trouble.
DA’s handbook on how to run and manage a council
If you look at all the municipalities, most that are well-performing are DA and that’s not a political statement because it is a management style. We’ve got a governance unit that has even given us a handbook as to how to run and they keep us accountable, over and above our own systems. So, it’s kind of a lifestyle. I would say planning is exceptionally important. I think balance is absolutely vital. You need to look after the poor people, but there must be a healthy balance and I think consistency is so important, to do the same thing year in, year out.
Lessons for ANC on how to run a council, we are prepared to help
It’s simple. Corruption: Nil, Steal: Nil and appoint well-qualified people.
I had this conversation with Minister Skosazana Dlamini-Zuma, she phoned me while I was at the local government summit because I said it there to the President. I said, you come with a District Development Model which is something they want to implement at the local and C-municipalities, district municipalities and I had the municipal manager there with me and I had a director there with me, and I said, sir when you made this plan; did you come and consult with our administration because they rated at that stage, number two in South Africa behind Midvaal and number one in the Western Cape and of course, it was a rhetorical question. He did not. So I said, How can you come up with a product and give it to us that you tested in Mafeking, which is bankrupt, and you’re telling me to change it. It just doesn’t make sense. Why don’t you take what we have, copy-paste, implement and adapt it to your municipality and implement? I said to Minister Dlamini-Zuma because she phoned me that night and she spoke to me very nicely. I said, of course, we will help an ANC or any other municipality for that matter because we’re not helping a municipality, we help people, and that’s ultimately who we serve and to whom we are accountable. So if you are asking me, will we help another municipality? We do it all the time.
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