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Op-ed: Five suggestions to fix local government

As part of the 2018 State of Local Governance publication, Dullah Omar Institute's Jaap de Visser offers five suggestions to fix local government.

"The past few weeks have brought the troubled state of local government to the fore with renewed vigour. The Auditor-General’s (AG) consolidated report over the 2016/2017 financial year presented a very bleak picture of the local government financial management. The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Dr Zweli Mkhize, presented a list of municipalities considered dysfunctional and in need of immediate intervention. In the weeks that followed, many analysts eagerly joined the chorus and filled social media pages with opinion pieces lambasting the poor state of local government. The AG’s assessment was so grim that a mere reproduction of the AG’s conclusions was enough to produce blistering opinion pieces. Very few appreciated the nuances in the AG’s assessment or analysed the longer term trends in audit outcomes (such as the decline of municipalities with the worst audit outcomes). Even fewer offered any suggestions on how to arrest the overall regression.

The new Minister of CoGTA clearly brings to the sector fresh energy and a considered approach. It is too early to assess whether his approach will make a difference. To be honest, so far it does not sound very different from previous ministers. Ever since the late Minister Shiceka’s 2009 State of Local Government Report, CoGTA has excelled at presenting the sorry state of affairs of the sector it regulates. The presentation of a list of ‘basket cases’ was also done by the then Minister of CoGTA, Gordhan, in 2014 when he pronounced that a third of municipalities are dysfunctional. CoGTA’s strategies to solve the problems are also not a radical break with the past. It is a mix of deploying technical expertise in weak municipalities, closer monitoring, laced with subtle hints of restructuring in the name of financial viability. These are the ingredients that local government watchers have been getting used to over the past two decades. To be clear, these strategies, if implemented adequately, may very well help. At the same time, they have been part of ‘Project Consolidate’, ‘Siyenza Manje’ the ‘Turnaround Strategy’, ‘Back to Basics’ and various other local government support programmes over last two decades. Perhaps it’s a case of doing the same thing but expecting different results. It is thus time to also discuss new ideas and, given the fact that communities are rapidly losing patience with municipal failures, there can be no holy cows. So let me present a few ideas that I think merit further discussion."

A full copy of the Op-ed can be downloaded below. 



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Sharing the common goal of promoting participatory, effective, accountable and pro-poor local governance, the network strives to provide an interface for civil society organisations to network and share information towards strengthening local democracy in South Africa.