Plan by NGO to hold local government officials accountable

WITH the build-up to the local government elections gaining momentum, political parties are outdoing themselves trying to win the hearts and minds of voters.

This is in response to certain communities having thrown a spanner into the whole campaign by vowing not to vote for any of the contesting parties.

At the heart of their disgruntlement is the belief that politicians cannot be trusted because, come election time, they make all sorts of promises to voters, but once in office, they forget their so-called constituencies.

What has become obvious is that people are generally unhappy with the manner in which municipalities are run.

Evidence shows that some of the contributing factors to this situation are misuse of public funds, lack of capacity within municipalities and general lack of accountability among councillors.

Part of the solution to these challenges is for voters to mobilise themselves and form structures that will hold local government officials accountable.

This means that instead of relying on monitoring mechanisms put in place by the government, communities - as part of civil society - must develop their own independent monitoring mechanisms to ensure that local government officials remain accountable.

Fortunately, there are organisations like the Eastern Cape-based Afesis-corplan - a non-governmental organisation that has contributed to community-driven development and good local governance in the Border-Kei region.

The organisation has embarked on initiatives aimed at holding public officials accountable.

Afesis-corplan's contention is that despite extensive legal and policy provisions geared towards ensuring the practice of good local governance in South African municipalities, "the reality of local governance practice often falls well short of the policy ideals".

Afesis-corplan warns that because of this gap, there is an increasing danger, especially in many semi-rural areas, that municipal governance could be regarded as a superfluous, wasteful institution whose operations depend on extensive support from other spheres of government.

"Furthermore, there is a growing (and largely valid) perception within civil society that financial reporting and accounting conventions are either manipulated or ignored to withhold key information from public scrutiny," contends Afesis-corplan.

The organisation suggests that a critical step in stemming the growing alienation between citizens/civil society and local government is to bridge the existing gap between policy and practice.

Some of the practical steps that Afesis-corplan suggests civil society should take to make municipalities accountable include:

  • Monitoring the awarding of contracts or procurement services. This means there must be a drive to make the tendering process more transparent;
  • Monitoring ill-advised performance bonuses.
  • This will go a long way to dealing with cases where officials in under-performing municipalities give themselves performance bonuses;
  • Monitoring ill-advised spending priorities by municipalities.

This will entail interrogating instances where municipalities spend disproportionately high chunks of their budgets on salaries and very little on infrastructure maintenance and repairs.

Such active citizenry participation can serve as a deterrent to greedy and unscrupulous councillors.

Most importantly, this can also be done by their active participation.

Civil society members would be able to distinguish between outright corruption and administrative shortfalls due to weak capacity, argues Afesis-corplan.