Michael McWilliams 2nd Open Letter to the ANC – Real trouble lies in local Govt.

A couple of weeks ago, Biznews community member Michael McWilliams wrote an open letter to the ruling party, looking at ways to save the country as well as the party from doom and gloom. Michael has spent time conjuring up a follow up to that letter. This time he targets local government and ways to fix it. The problems are more complex and he gets into the nitty gritty rather than simply prescribe policy changes. Another must read. – Stuart Lowman

Supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) wave a party flag during the party's 104th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg, South Africa January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) wave a party flag during the party’s 104th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg, South Africa January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

By Michael McWilliams*

Dear Comrades,

In Part One of this letter, we looked at the main problems confronting South Africa and also looked at ways of solving these problems as quickly and painlessly as possible.

If you chaps don’t have the stomach to do it, the next party to follow you will have to do it, so you might as well try and save your skins and bite the bullet and do it yourself.

The Great Central Planning Monster

Now, if there is one thing the ANC is famous for, it’s New Plans. In fact, before the Old Plans have had time to fail, the ANC has come up with a new one that will again raise the hopes of the voters.

As an example: No sooner had the ANC realized that their education system was not functioning, than they adopted Outcomes Based Education. When this predictably failed, it was scrapped for something else entirely and education standards kept dropping like the falling Rand.

OBE, GEAR, RDP, NDR,  the endless string of initials and new plans follow like night after day. What’s next?

If you adopt the plan that follows, you need to give the nation one guarantee. This is that you will see it through to the end.

Read also: SA National Planning Committee directors – profiles of all the members

The Real Trouble is Local

Mike McWilliams
Mike McWilliams

I concentrated last on Big Government, this Part is about Small Government.

We all know that local government is where the greatest threats to the ANC lie. Riots and vandalism against both government buildings and municipal management occur on a daily basis anywhere the ANC misrules.

Because of this, local government is where the old ANC curse of making the country ungovernable will again raise its ugly head and consume you.

To avoid your party being hoist by its own petard, (an ancient saying that, funnily enough, means “blown up by your own landmine”) the ANC needs to at least make a strong start at fixing the incompetence and dishonesty that has by now overtaken almost every municipality run, or rather crawled, by the ANC.

Read also: Paul Whelan: 2016 elections – Zuma’s tipping point? Succession concerns.

Everyone’s Fault

Looking at the reasons for the shambles in local government, I will, perhaps surprisingly, point one finger at Apartheid and another at the ANC.

While the Nationalist government spent a lot of energy persuading their electorate to go along with their optimistic plan to include Blacks in government, they spent no time or energy ensuring that the new gang were in any way capable of running a sophisticated and industrialized country.

Anyone could see the problems coming, even Margaret Thatcher in far-away London said, “Anyone who thinks the ANC can run the country is living in cloud cuckoo land.”

The predictable happened. As soon as the ANC took power, they persuaded, (either by generous packages or their version of Job Reservation called BEE) all the competent and experienced municipal workers to vacate their jobs. These positions were then filled with friends and relatives of connected ANC cadres. There were so few qualified Blacks at this stage that responsible positions simply couldn’t be filled with people who could do the job, so cadres felt that if they were going to appoint anyone, they may as well appoint friends and relatives because they were just as incompetent as anyone else on the BEE menu.

Read also: Mailbox: BEE – current version of Apartheid. Robbing the ‘Rainbow Nation’.

This filled municipalities countrywide with people who had no clue as to how to do their jobs, all supervised by cadres who themselves had no clue. This was a live demonstration of the Dunning-Kruger phenomenon where incompetent people are oblivious to their incompetency, and furthermore, they not only rate themselves highly, but are also incapable of judging the competency of others. Truly a case of the blind leading the lame.

So yes, Apartheid was certainly to blame in not preparing people who were not equipped to do the job to actually do it.

However, the ANC has been holding the reins for more than twenty years and have done absolutely nothing about the problem and if you want to prevent your demise by popular uprising, you need to do something drastic and in a hurry.

What can be done to stave off catastrophe?

It won’t be hugely corrupt nuclear energy or bent locomotive or airplane deals that finally ignites the country, it will be maddening frustration with local governments not supplying water, electricity, sewerage and garbage collection. We have already seen councilor’s houses burned to the ground and physical assaults on those who take the money but don’t do their jobs. It is a small step before we are back to the necklace and matchboxes for local government and a little later, for big government too.

Where to start?

The logical places to start are those municipalities that have been serial offenders that present qualified audits year after year. Those who have spent the electricity money collected from citizens on fancy cars for themselves. Those that empty mega-liters of sewerage into rivers while not spending the money allocated to maintain the sewerage plants. The tales of incompetence, maladministration and theft are legion. The State Auditor has a handy detailed list ready for you.

How to do it.

Of course the quickest fix is to fire everyone who has not performed, despite many warnings, and replace them with qualified and honest people.

Successful politics however is the art of the possible and any fool can see that this would be immediate political suicide for the ANC, if only because the number of non-performing cadres is so great that firing them all would instantly collapse the system of support and patronage these overpaid cadres have built up around themselves and the party.

Read also: Counting cost of ANC Cadre Deployment Policy – SOEs losing tens of billions

Furthermore, there are simply not enough qualified people in the labor pool with which to replace these useless ones.

Simply firing thousands of useless cadres and replacing them with others, just as useless, will only create more chaos without fixing the problem.

On the Job Training

It is a truism that On-the-Job training is more effective than classroom learning and if well managed, will give good and cheap results quickly. The government wont have to build new colleges or universities because the buildings and facilities already exist at municipalities.

A mentor system would work best as senior managers have their pride and putting them back into school would probably be counter-productive and take them away from the workplace.

Mentor availability

As already mentioned, there is a dire shortage of qualified and/or experienced people in the SA labor pool, so where are we going to find the Mentors?

While the labor pool may be empty, a great number of retired ex-government workers is sitting around doing nothing much. They exist on fairly meager pensions, mainly because Municipal jobs were not nearly as well paid in their day as they are today. Most of these pensioners would welcome an opportunity to add to their quality of life by supplementing their pensions with a year or two of employment as mentors.

Read also: Mentoring makes a comeback – says much about the wisdom of Millennials

There is also quite a large pool of newly qualified university students with relevant skills who could supplement the Pensioner Mentors if there are not enough to go around. There is a dire need for engineers, accountants, business managers etc. and these positions can either be filled with these graduates or they can mentor the people already in the positions.

Many of these potential mentors still live in the towns where they would work, so a lot of re-location need not occur.

Where will the money come from?

Many, if not most of the dysfunctional municipalities that really need mentorship injections are already bankrupt, or very nearly so.

They can’t afford to duplicate top management throughout the organization for the few years that will be needed to get them back on their feet again.

A clue as to where the money can come from is the statistic that 30% of money allocated and collected by municipalities is spent on wages. This is an amazing amount, considering that municipalities spend on buying electricity from Eskom, spend on water, sewerage, roads and garbage collection, vehicles and maintenance of machinery grounds and buildings.

In fact, municipal managers are now paid around triple what people in those positions were paid during Apartheid, and this is adjusted for inflation.

There is an awful amount of fat in the municipal wage bill.

Read also: Investment ratings: Moody’s optimistic on debt but wage bill needs restraint

An offer they can’t refuse.

Those ineffective managers, (i.e. Those who have been found wanting in their municipal audits) will be made an offer.

Sacrifice one half of your monthly salary to pay a mentor or resign so as to allow someone else to take your place and be mentored.

This is a harsh proposal, but it is a lot better than simply firing an incompetent manager.

South Africa is unique in that people with many years of experience in highly responsible local government positions have nowhere else to go if they lose their jobs.

This is because potential employers know all about both cadre deployment and management incompetence and corruption at municipal level. Unlike other industrialized countries, South African local government hired unqualified people then made no effort to make them competent. This makes anyone losing their job in government, both national as well as local, unemployable.

Read also: Transparency International: SA is now leading Africa’s new corruption surge

Naturally, there will be much howling and gnashing of teeth from those who need to take the 50% salary cut, but it is necessary for the survival of the many that a few must suffer and suffer for good reason too.

Legal challenges.

It has become hard and fast routine for anyone losing their job in government to immediately engage lawyers and take government to court.

Naturally, I don’t propose that any rights be taken away from anyone, no matter how incompetent and crooked they are. However, they must do it at their own expense. Using government money to defend themselves is a thing of the past. Another thing that must be ditched is the other common practice of suspending someone on full pay.

Read also: SABC defends chief’s bonus, R1m pay hike despite annual loss topping R390m

If you are suspended for any reason, you are not paid. If and when a court finds you blameless, it can order that your pay, in arrears, be re-instated. It is up to the offended party to pay their own lawyer to take the case, as any other citizen has to do. If the “innocent” party cannot afford it, they had better have a good case so as to convince a lawyer to take it on contingency and only get paid if the case is successful.

This procedure should of course apply to all government officials, local as well as national. The amount of money spent on fruitless court cases initiated by clearly guilty deployed cadres could build new Nkandlas for the whole cabinet every year.

How will the mentor scheme work?

The Auditor General will be asked to identify those municipalities that are failing. Those that have received more than two qualified audits in a row.

Within these guilty municipalities, those departments that have not achieved their targets in their key performance areas must be identified and those mayors flagged as needing mentoring.

Lists of mentoring positions should be provided to private recruitment consultants and they for a small percentage of the mentors salary, established by open auction, will provide a list of potential mentors to the provincial government for them to chose who will mentor the mayors of the under-performing municipalities within their area.

This recruitment process will then cascade downwards with new potential recruits for municipal departments, that were identified by the Auditors as needing help, being submitted to mayors and their mentors for selection.

Typically, a small municipality may only need three mentors to kick-off with. A Mayoral Mentor, a Town Manager Mentor and a Financial Manager Mentor.

Read also: Michael McWilliams: ANC concealing truths. Not just a Rich Man’s problem.

Mentors will work in tandem, with any order or notice emanating from their office being countersigned by both Mentor and Mentoree. This is particularly important in the Finance departments where every tender and cheque issued must be countersigned by both Finance Manager as well as their Mentor.

This will prevent any corruption, from either side. If the Finance Manager has any doubt, he doesn’t sign, and the some goes for the Mentor. Naturally, collusion could develop, but the next audit would pick that up and both parties must be prosecuted if this is suspected.

Ongoing Management of the project

Mentors will be obliged to submit weekly reports to Provincial Management level that will essentially be based on an exception reporting system. Any exception to the smooth running of the department the mentor is involved in, must be reported and reasons given as to why the exception arose and how it was rectified. Any Non-Rectified Exception must be flagged for immediate resolution by provincial management.  Repeated exceptions that are not satisfactorily resolved must be dealt with by summarily dismissal of the Manager and possibly of the mentor if he or she is part of the problem.

These newly vacant positions would be filled with new Managers and Mentors supplied by the recruitment agents.

The effectiveness of the project at any municipality will be judged in the usual manner during the annual audit. Any municipality gaining a clean audit may elect to ditch all of their mentors or only some of them and go back to full salaries for those departments who feel that they can stand on their own feet. To ensure that this de-mentoring process is not abused, any qualified audit thereafter will attract immediate firing of those managers who relapsed and the re-establishment of a new manager and mentor in those positions. A Mayor or manager may request the return of their mentors within a six-month period of their release if they feel that they misjudged their own competence, this will bear no sanction apart from the salary reduction needed to pay for the mentor.

Read also: Choice for ANC: Follow Zuma’s Soviet-style paranoia or heed market message.

A Mayor or Manager may request the replacement of a Mentor due to clash of personality or mistrust reasons, but the problem will be deemed to lie with the Mayor or Manager at the second request to replace a Mentor and they themselves will be relieved of their duties.

The Risks of the proposed new system

There will be lots of disgruntlement from those people who have to take salary cuts and who will have to curb their egos sufficiently to be able to work with a mentor.

The alternative needs to be emphasized by national government. It needs to be very publicly stated that the affected cadres are being given a second chance rather than being insulted.

The Trade Unions will be enraged. They have never given good performance of their members in their jobs any kind of importance in their organisations. This needs to change as I stated in Part One of this letter. Wage increases must match productivity increases. If the ANC really wants to improve the unemployment numbers, the luxury of the minimum wage needs to be ditched until we have full employment.

The usual accusations of racism and the return of Apartheid will be screamed from the rooftops. The ANC needs to make it clear to its alliance partners that they will be an alliance in Opposition if the plan isn’t adhered to and followed through.

The Benefits of this system

ANC_LogoIt is probably the only affordable solution to the utter collapse of ANC-run Provinces and Municipalities. The British did a grand job of preparing the Indian government for Independence and their model of civil service still endures, albeit rife with petty corruption since the mentors left. This proposed system can surpass the British model because our mentors are not going anywhere.

There would be minimal costs associated with the programme, in fact, with better governance, huge savings should be made very quickly by the elimination of needless expenditure and hands in the till.

Lots of poor pensioners will be a lot happier than they would otherwise be, but the huge benefit is that citizens all over the country will benefit by functioning local government.

These citizens could in fact stop protesting and rioting and concentrate on more productive enterprise.

The ANC may be able to save themselves if they show political will and courage to firstly initiate this programme and secondly, have the courage and fortitude to see it through and not do the usual ANC trick of changing horses midstream.

Let’s be clear. If the ANC doesn’t do it, someone else will, and they will rule for more than twenty years. The DA is already reforming the shambles the ANC left behind in the Cape and the results are undeniable.

They are not about to be rioted or lynched out of office, you are.

Best regards

*Michael McWilliams, a member of the Biznews Community, has been married for 35 years and has three sons. Born in Johannesburg, schooled at Marist Brothers Inanda and St. Charles Pietermaritzburg he was a paratrooper in SADF and the captain of the SA Parachuting Team which won the Bronze Medal in the World Championships. Author of “The Battle for Cassinga” and the novel “Osama’s Angel”, his career has ranged from TV News cameraman to national marketing manager of Peugeot and running his own design consultancy. His hobbies are opera, hunting and classical music.