ILGM head says he wants to build local government system based on merit

Unlike most politicians, Thomas Mkaza, chief executive of the Institute of Local Government Management of South Africa (ILGM), does not dismiss the recent public uprisings against local government officials as the work of anarchists out to embarrass the government.

Unlike most politicians, Thomas Mkaza, chief executive of the Institute of Local Government Management of South Africa (ILGM), does not dismiss the recent public uprisings against local government officials as the work of anarchists out to embarrass the government.

Mkaza, 53, believes the uprisings are in part because of a lack of skills on the part of local government officials.

"Lack of capacity due to skills deficiencies is a problem that needs to be confronted," he says.

He agrees that local government structures face bigger challenges because they are at the coalface of service delivery.

His organisation focuses on developing skills within local government structures.

Mkaza says the ILGM's vision is to become a centre of excellence for local government management in South Africa and Africa.

The institute runs a variety of programmes aimed at improving management skills in local government. They include training workshops, seminars, conferences and international manager-exchange programmes.

Some of the programmes are run in collaboration with private companies and the national Department of Provincial and Local Government.

Mkaza sees the ILGM as more than just a training institute and also as an agent for change.

"We continue to be faced with challenges such as, for example, women not being considered good leaders," he says.

Mkaza says when women are appointed as managers, it is normally in divisions seen to be dealing with "soft issues" such as communication and business development.

"For example, of 15 municipalities in Gauteng, we only have one municipal manager, Lisa Seftel, who heads the Sedibeng municipality," he says.

As an agent for change, the institute also has to confront vices such as greed, he says.

"Managers must be made to understand that these are against community values such as ubuntu," says Mkaza.

"The institute believes our government system at all levels must reflect the values of Batho Pele [people first] and this means managers must refrain from doing anything that undermines the common good."

Mkaza says another challenge municipal managers face is political interference.

This, he says, arises in instances where political appointees throw their political weight around to overrule professional bureaucrats - supposedly in the name of the party that put them in power.

The ILGM was born out of the old whites-only Institute of Town Clerks of Southern Africa.

That institute focused on the needs of white town clerks, says Mkaza.

After 1994 the government, together with several other stakeholders, felt there was a need to have a body dealing with the needs of municipality managers in the new South Africa.

A working committee consisting of various stakeholders in local government and led by Mkaza was formed.

There were protracted negotiations between the working committee and the old body. The negotiations led to the birth of the ILGM in 1999.

"From the outset, the principles of accessibility, democracy, transformation, professionalism and representivity guided the negotiations process," says Mkaza.

"These principles were later enshrined in the constitution of ILGM."

He says the institute has a number of membership categories to attract members from a broad base. At the same time, it must focus on its core business - which is developing a body of skilled local government managers driven by the ethos of Batho Pele.

Full membership is open to anyone holding a managerial position in a municipality, a provincial local government department or a national department of provincial and local government.

Such a candidate must also possess a three-year post-matric qualification.

Students studying courses relating to a managerial or administrative career in local government can also be ILGM members, however without voting rights.

ILGM members, who have rendered exceptional service to the institute or to local governance in general, can be granted fellowship.

Honorary membership may be conferred on any member of the public who has rendered exceptional service to the institute.

The ILGM has links with organisations such as the Washington-based City and County Management Association, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives in the UK and the Local Government Managers' Association in Australia.

It also has ties with several local government institutions in Africa.

Mkaza says this international network gives the institute's members opportunities to share experiences with their contemporaries in other countries.

Local government managers have also had the opportunity of going on management exchange programmes in countries such as the UK and Australia.

On the other hand, the ILGM is also using the experience gained by local government in countries such as Uganda to develop effective mechanisms to deal with special issues such as the running of rural municipalities.

He says rural municipalities come with their own challenges because of the sometimes strained relations between municipal officials and traditional leaders.