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The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the Government and Public Policy (GAPP) Think-tank | 25 Years of Local Government Virtual Conference. 25-26 November 2020





Posted: 01 December 2020

Day 1: Wednesday 25 November 2020 - Highlights

The first day of the 25 Years of Local Government Conference, hosted by the South African Local Government Association in partnership with the Government and Public Policy (GAPP) Think-tank, brought together local government practitioners, members of Parliament, senior members of the national and provincial SALGA leadership, independent analysts, civil society organizations and strategic entities in an open dialogue to discuss the challenges posed to this sphere of public administration, a quarter of a century after its establishment. 

Hosted on a digital platform due to the COVID-19 pandemic, expert speakers provided in-depth insight on the events that shaped the establishment of local government over the last two and a half decades as well as on the challenges that emerged during this period. 

Facilitating the conference, Dr Ivor Chipkin from GAPP, set the scene that framed discussions for the duration of the two-day event. 

Throughout the dialogue, which boasted 160 participants, it was made clear that local government is expected to play a developmental and transformative role in South Africa by ensuring the consistent and sustainable delivery of high-quality services to communities across the country.

The participants however cautioned that local government operates in a complex environment which was further complicated by numerous challenges that stifle development. 

Among those identified were weak political leadership, technical skills deficit, corruption with inadequate consequences, weak financial management, a lack of professionalism among councillors and mayors and weak oversight and accountability.

“Broadly in local government, we need to think about both the quality of leadership we need and the systems and structures that surround leadership and consider how to improve both. The new strategy needs leadership that will listen, that can partner with communities,” explained Philip van Ryneveld, public finance consultant.

“And finally the ability to implement. Good leaders can be found and sound strategies can be developed quite quickly but the ability to implement requires a deep level of institution building.”

Valli Moosa, a former Minister of Constitutional Development in former President Nelson Mandela’s Cabinet, spoke about the dearth of ethical conduct in local government leadership. 

“There should be a legal requirement for all public representatives to undergo x number of hours of ethics training every year. Accredited training, signed off and if they don’t do it, there’ll be some kind of consequence,” he said.

He added that this would help in promoting a sense of professionalism in local government, which in turns leads to effective, efficient and equitable municipal service delivery.

Prof Nico Steytler of the Dullah Omar Institute (University of the Western Cape) in a session on the history of the current system of local government and the allocation of powers and functions, spoke about the gap between the intentions and realities of local government in South Africa. 

“Another assumption is that councils are meant to govern in the interest of the community...what we find is self-serving institutions, employment agencies for the party faithful and also corruption is widespread. The counter view is the prevailing emergence of a patrimonial state. The state at the local level is governing in its own interest and not the interest of the community,” he said.

The conversation then focused on the key elements of the local government arrangements in the Constitution of 1996, and how these were not met in reality. 

“The past 10-15 years in South Africa has unfortunately seen the steady hollowing out of the concepts of cooperative, participatory and integrative governance. Local government, even in well-resourced metro areas, has not lived up to its unique status and Constitutional opportunities,” said Andrew Boraine, CEO of the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership.

In a session titled Why Wall-to-Wall Municipalities, chairperson of the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) Thabo Manyoni, spoke about the demarcation of boundaries and the impact they had on municipalities in the areas of efficiency and effectiveness. 

“Wall to Wall has resulted in over-bounded regions with little connection and linkages between areas, towns and communities. As more functions and powers are assigned to local municipalities, district municipalities are left with reduced budgets, functions and powers as they are dependent on grants through equitable share,” Manyoni said.

Dr Pali Lehohla, the former Statistician General of South Africa and Ann Bernstein, executive director of the Centre for Development and Enterprise unpacked the key global and local trends in urbanization. 

Day 2: Thursday 26 November 2020 - Highlights

The second day of the 25 Years of Local Government virtual conference heard that legal frameworks governing political party alliances and coalitions could help promote stability within coalition governments.
Terry Tselane, chairman of Institute of Election Management Services in Africa (IEMSA) during a session on political party coalitions and elections reflected on the often fractious state of coalition politics in South Africa and said the country could draw lessons from Kenya where political party alliances and coalitions were recognized in electoral law.

He argued that if political party coalitions in South Africa were based on written agreements and anchored within agreed norms, with a deadlock-breaking mechanism and conflict-resolution provisions built in to them for issues on which consensus cannot be reached, this would promote greater stability within coalition governments, which turn promotes greater political stability “In the case of Kenya, there were major regional and ethnic and political differences amongst the political parties but they eventually found a mechanism to manage their coalitions. In 2011, Kenyan party leaders introduced a legal framework that catered for the regulation of political party coalitions through an introduction of the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties,” Tselane said

“Parties that entered into a coalition developed a coalition agreement which is then signed and deposited with the Registrar. The agreement includes coalition arrangements, objectives of the coalition, dispute resolution mechanisms as well as the grounds for regulation and the procedure to be followed in the event of a dissolution of a coalition agreement.

“It is my considered opinion that South Africa has reached a point where there is a need for institutionalization or regulations of coalitions. This must be done in order to ensure stability, service delivery and good governance at all spheres of government. We must consider the establishment of the Office of the Registrar of Coalitions, similar to what Kenya has. This office will operate like the CCMA here in South Africa,” said Tselane.

Tselane added that the holding of by-elections after coalition governments are dissolved were not always helpful as they did not guarantee that there would be an “outright winner”. 

Janet Love, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) vice-chairperson, underscored the importance of the debate by revealing that a “community protest” was underway in real time, outside the IEC’s offices in Mpumalanga.

“The background noise you are hearing is a community protest, I think it brings a level of realism into the issue,” she emphasized. 

SALGA CEO Xolile George highlighted the importance of competence-building for elected representatives in local government and the role political parties play in fielding the best suited candidates to serve local communities. 

He said that with local government being the closest tier of government to the community, it made logical sense for political parties to choose the best among them to serve in this sphere of public authority.
“The choice drivers of that decision are not informed about who are the best we can send there among us. It becomes a language of accommodation so to speak. So people would cynically refer to it as if you have missed the provincial and national gravy-train, we will send you to the local train,” George said. 

“There was some language like that that was used right up until 2006. Should the point of departure not be about sending the best among us to this sphere?” he asked.

Deputy Minister for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) Parks Tau, closed the conference by saying that the roll-out of the new District Development Model (DDM), which is designed to improve collaborative planning amongst the three spheres of government, would enhance local government’s capacity to address the myriad of challenges confronting local communities.

“The DDM seeks to institutionalize Section 154 of the Constitution and our ability to provide support to local governments. So throughout the district hubs, we also seek to make sure that mechanisms are put in place to provide direct support and that support is institutionalized through a district jurisdiction,” Tau said

“So it’s not people sitting in Tshwane seeking to find solutions for problems throughout the country, but its people sitting in the jurisdiction of the district working together with local government, working together with both province and national to provide direct support to local government.”
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