Local government crisis rooted in incompetence and corruption
The poor performance of local government is the clearest indicator of a governance crisis in SA and needs to be a focus in the State of the Nation Address.
The crisis is rooted in the lack of appropriate skills and capacity, unethical conduct in increasing incidents of corruption and maladministration, as well the structural reality of social inequality in SA.
Most municipalities are characterised by high levels of indebtedness, declining quality and consistency of service delivery, as well as poor audit outcomes.
The annual audits are significant as a measure of governance performance. Only 18 of the country's 278 municipalities obtained clean audits in the 2017/2018 period.
In 2019 the auditor-general Kimi Makwetu once again flagged declining accountability standards.
Poor management and controls result in the misuse of fiscal resources. These are not accounted for in the manner required by public finance management laws.
"Evidence of these is largely incomplete projects, unsupervised projects, lack of maintenance of significant service delivery infrastructure and haphazard road maintenance projects and infrastructure," said Makwetu.
The constitution requires a municipality to "structure and manage its administration and budgeting and planning processes to give priority to the basic needs of the community, . to promote social and economic development; and participate in national and provincial development programmes".
The condition of infrastructure such as roads and water systems are deteriorating. And the quality of life for most residents in suburbs and in townships alike is worsening. This situation is strangling the development and economic potential of local communities across SA.
Reversing the decay will require concrete interventions to address key challenges.
First, oversight will need to be strengthened to rein in rent-seeking behaviours that make state capture possible. This means doing away with the culture of using municipal offices and resources as rewards to be distributed to supporters and allies, and to further the narrow personal and political interests of individuals.
Second, politicians and unqualified people should not have any prospect of holding administrative executive positions that require technical expertise and experience.
There should not be any political interference in filling such posts as this should be done through sound and impartial human resource processes not overseen by politicians through cadre deployment.
Third, where there are no clear codes of ethics and conduct, such should be put in place, and where these exist, enforced consistently and uniformly to promote integrity and credibility.
Fourth, performance management should be implemented, and performance agreements enforced, especially where officials fail in their duty to provide the service they have been recruited to perform.
Fifth, the focus of local government should support the reindustrialisation of the economy by prioritising the maintenance of key infrastructure. In this way, local government can contribute to employment creation through labour-absorbing projects that make use of skills in communities.
Much of this thinking is already contained in the District Development Model piloted by the 6th administration in 2019.
The model aims to realise the principle of cooperative governance through better coordination of planning and activities of the different levels of government.
Crucial to the model is to make government more efficient characterised by "strong leadership from government", a state that is capable, "well run and effectively coordinated" and "staffed by skilled public servants who are committed to the public good and capable of delivering consistently high-quality services for all South Africans".
Such an approach centres the wellbeing and development needs of communities.