Read all the latest news in the September PSAM newsletter. The newsletter includes articles from PSAM staff and partners, information about events and conferences attended by PSAM staff, and ongoing initiatives within the organisation.
Residents of Grahamstown (Makhanda) are up in arms at collapsed service delivery in the small city, with a growing sector of the community calling for residents to divert their rates payments into a separate bank account.
The Unemployed Peoples’ Movement (UPM) is one of the loudest voices advocating for a rates “redeployment”, with UPM’s Ayanda Kota saying they have been left with no choice.
“We have tried meetings, constitutional interventions, protest. We’ve tried to improve things through the courts. Nothing works.
“Perhaps withholding rates will bring change,” Kota said.
In what turned out to be fiery public debate this week, residents denounced the Makana municipality and its council for inefficiency and failed service delivery.
The city’s decrepit water and sewerage infrastructure has resulted in massive leaks of both fresh treated water, and sewage flowing down suburban roads and past schools.
Uncollected rubbish decomposes in piles on every street in Grahamstown east and informal rubbish dumps have multiplied across the city.
The roads are potholed; cattle, donkeys and other stray animals wander unchecked in roads, including national and regional roads such as the N2 which circumnavigate the city.
Disadvantaged areas in Grahamstown east are particularly hard hit on all fronts and suffer prolonged water outages.
It is almost the last refuge of the bucket system, and failure by the municipality to remove sewage leads to people emptying buckets in street gutters.
The poorly treated water has resulted in people suffering stomach bugs and massive sores across their bodies.
But, while some feel their last resort is a rates boycott, Public Service Accountability Monitor director Jay Kruuse spoke out strongly against it.
“It will make matters worse. Many courts in SA, including the Constitutional Court, have criticized residents who take the law into their own hands.”
During the debate, Makana mayor Nomhle Gaga said rates accounted for about 20% of the R334m collected annually by Makana and a boycott would hinder the municipality’s ability to provide reliable services.
Municipal Manager Moppo Mene says he’s committed to transparency and and has appealed to
residents to engage with him rather than support a rates boycott. Meanwhile, Makana Revive! says
it was not driving a call on social media this week for citizens to divert a portion of their rates to the
Grahamstown (Makhanda) NPO.
Facebook and Whatsapp group debates began with residents’ frustration at the state of
infrastructure and governance in Makana Municipality and moved to the ethics; the risk and cost of
litigation against the withholder; the problem of paying money to an NGO that isn’t obliged to
account directly to the public and the suggestion that legal tools should be used to make the
“Calling all Makana ratepayers! Please join us in withholding rates. Why pay rates to a dysfunctional
Municipality that is clearly allowing our town to go to wreck and ruin?” wrote a resident on the
Grahamstown Facebook page. “It’s time that we stand together and say NO! It’s time for action!
From now on we will divert a portion of our rates payment to Makana Revive! and we challenge
fellow rate payers to do the same.”
However, Makana Revive! member Ron Weissenberg says the call does not come from the
“Makana Revive! has never called for a rates boycott and has no view on what people do with their
own money,” Weissenberg said. “Makana Revive was mentioned several times as a likely recipient
given the track record on repairs and maintenance in and around Makana. This created the
impression that Makana Revive had called for this. Not correct.”
Public Service watchdog PSAM said the Constitutional Court (CC) had commented and ruled on the
withholding of rates in various judgments.
Jay Kruuse, Director of the Public Service Accountability Monitor, cited the case of Pretoria City
Council v Walker  ZACC 1; 1998 (2) SA 363 (CC); 1998 (3) BCLR 257 (CC) in which the City
Council characterised such conduct as impermissible self-help.
In this case, the Constitutional Court had said, “Local government is as important a tier of public
administration as any. It has to continue functioning for the common good; it, however, cannot do
so efficiently and effectively if every person who has a grievance about the conduct of a public
official or a governmental structure were to take the law into his or her own hands or resort to self-
help by withholding payment for services rendered. That conduct carries with it the potential for
chaos and anarchy and can therefore not be appropriate. The kind of society envisaged in the
Constitution implies also the exercise of responsibility towards the systems and structures of society.
A culture of self-help in which people refuse to pay for services they have received is not acceptable.
It is pre-eminently for the courts to grant appropriate relief against any public official, institution or
government when there are grievances.”
Mene, who started at Makana Municipality on 1 August, said several organisations had already
engaged with him constructively.
“This discussion is an unfortunate debate,” Mene said in response to questions from Grocott’s Mail.
“The whole Council has and is working all out to fix the administration of Makana.”
Mene said he’d committed to the Municipality conducting itself more transparently and responsively
on issues affecting Makana residents.
“Many organisations in the City have welcomed my presence and engaged me on various issues,” Mene said. “We seem to be closer and this discussion will create unnecessary tensions for our City.
“Let those who are unhappy with the way we do things come forward and engage my office. I commit to serve you with the best of my ability in a manner that will pull all of us together for the betterment of our city.”
The rates debate
Comments on public and private social media groups indicated a lot of support for the move, with many at the end of their tether.
A suggestion to go the administrative justice route and have the municipality again put under administration drew the exasperated response: “Haven’t we been through that twice already? … How did that help? The council remains, the staff remain, the gaps remain. We had no Municipal Manager for years, no Chief Financial Officer. That’s what we got from the legal process and which is why I say the system doesn’t work. What next?? Go for it, but repeating the same thing over and over is no longer going to be just a ‘mistake’…” Ethical concerns were raised – “Two wrongs don’t make a right. This is a very dangerous idea and I don’t support it” – as well as practical: “Unfortunately you will be liable for interest charged to your account.”
Others expressed concern that ordinary workers would be the ones who would suffer: “The fat cats will still get paid and happily watch the town get shut down and us get bad credit listing etc. Won’t be long before the collectors will be calling and they won’t care why we are not paying.”
- “The Municipality has voted councillors who are accountable to their wards, the city and their electorate. HOLD them accountable find out what your local councillor is doing, if he/she sounds defeated suggest that they resign and let someone who can fight for you to take over. Makana Revive is an NGO I presume it canniot take over an elected government or its funds. Totally illegal rather elect the people who run the Makana Revive into council if you think they can do a better job and change current councillors because all they do is to complain with us. They should be recalled one by one instead of waiting for elections.”
In response: “What do councillors actually do? They are just people from our wards who represent political parties. So, how does that help us with technical issues like local planning and service delivery? In our town’s case, all it has done is stop the process of filling top positions like CFO and Municipal Manager. Those are crucial to service delivery but have been politicised so that the process of running a municipality is severely interrupted. Makana is not alone in this, obviously, so there is something very wrong with the municipal system, across the country. We have three choices, as far as I can see (because doing nothing is no longer a choice). 1) vote (but the system stays the same) 2) burn things down (we lose, twice, because, the system stays the same and WE have to pay to rebuild what has been destroyed) or 3) pay out of our own pockets (again, because we paid for rates and services that are not being delivered) to fix our town. Where does the political system of councillors earning good salaries (to do what?) fit in with this?”
- “The basic underlying fundamantal of our democratic government is that: the people shall govern. We reverses this by ceding governance to political parties after every election. This makes party politics a priority for representatives over service delivery. The question is how do we take back governance from individuals and parties so as to ensure the people govern? We have to ensure that there transparency in municipal projects from supply chain processes to implementation, monitoring and evaluation of projects. The Grocotts is free each department has to state their current projects, weekly progress, upcoming priorities. This has to be made public We have Apps that can be created WhatsApp…All councillors, directors need to answer the question “What have I done this week?”
We will see whose slacking as the public and rate them when it comes to salary increases as the public that will take away party politics and put service delivery upfront.”
- “NGOs are the worst at accountability because they only account to their own boards. They don’t account to the public. It’s a bad idea to entrust public funds to a private organization which is is not even a public ally listed organization. If you really want to mess with the common man, pay your money over to a non-listed private organization and you will see how little power you have over it’s running. Makana Revive is a good organization for G-Town but there is no legal framework to make them financially accountable to the public.”
On the consequences of diverting funds:
“Withholding the very resources that run the city and diverting them to a NGO is not a good idea. Think about the following: Municipal budgets are based on projected income for running the municipality. If we withhold rates and taxes, we are affecting the servicing of municipal debt, the funding for the restoration of the city, the municipality’s capacity to function and the livelihoods of all the hardworking municipal blue-collar workers.”
- “I implore everyone to work with the municipality and service our rates and taxes. In doing so, we have every right to demand accountability from the municipal officials. Let’s use the judicial arm of government to call the municipality into order instead.”
- “Rather go to a reputable law firm and let them open a trust account for residents’ rates and take the council on.”
Education experts urge teachers to maintain balance, practice caution
It becomes integral to our daily lives, useful both at home and at work, so it’s no surprise that it’s made its way into the classroom too.
Technology, from something as simple as a dictionary application on a cellphone to slightly more advanced computer software, can be used in the classroom as an important educational tool.
While this can have a positive effect on pupils and enhance their learning, education experts have warned of the pitfalls which come with this.
Aaron Koopman, head of programme at the faculty of commerce at The Independent Institute of Education in Sandton, said negative results could include slowing the development of social and collaborative skills, an addiction to technology and an opportunity to access inappropriate material online.
According to Koopman, it’s important for teachers to practise caution when it comes to technology use, particularly at school level as this is where habits of lifelong learning are adopted and abandoned.
“One of the most important areas of risk is where technology affects the development of social and collaborative skills.
“While there are ways in which technology can be used, such as online engagement with people on another continent, it is also critical to promote collaboration, which means teachers must ensure that the face-to-face engagement skills of young pupils are developed,” Koopman said.
“Another area of concern is where it effectively replaces teachers, similar to home environments where screens become babysitters.
“It is also problematic when technology is passive, for instance e-books cannot be annotated,” he said.
Siyabulela Fobosi, education researcher at the Public Services Accountability Monitor in Grahamstown, said although the use of technology in classrooms was a good move, it was a challenge for rural schools.
“A critical question to think about going forward is whether the pupils and teachers in both rural and urban contexts are equally prepared to embrace the use of technology in classrooms.
“Rural schools face challenges of poor basic infrastructure, few material resources and no electricity in some places,” he said.
Adding to this is education expert Dr Bukiwe Mbilini-Kuze, circuit manager at the Amathole West education district, who warned that technology should not completely replace live teachers.
Koopman concluded the most effective way to use technology is to support, extend, reinforce and enhance teaching.
Most effectively used to support, extend, reinforce and enhance teaching
Rhodes University’s Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), last week gathered members from the National Treasury, the Legal Resources Centre, Afesis Corplan, and open data activist institute OpenUp for a dialogue on Vulekamali, an online budget data portal which was established by Treasury in alliance with Imali Yethu – a coalition of civil society organisations for open budgets.
Vulekamali aims to facilitate easy access to fiscal information by the public and prompt participation through a user-friendly format for effective information sharing, research and analysis.
The management of the country’s financial activity in terms of economic policies and forecasting of annual budgets has always been the responsibility of Treasury, and historical discrepancies such as lack of easy access to financial data and difficulties interpreting the data by local communities has made Vulekamali a progressive invention.
Treasury’s Budget Office’s Andile Best spoke of the important features of the portal.
He said Vulekamali was interactive as people are able to participate with others who are also accessing the information.
“It is mobile, so you can view and engage with it through your mobile phone. The different formats allow for easy manipulation of information, especially for people who work with budget data, so it provides editable data,” added Best.
OpenUp Head of Programmes Kirsten Pearson elaborated on what it would mean for Treasury to go beyond transparency, especially with South Africa being ranked first out of a 115 countries in the 2017 Open Budget Index. She said transparency allowed activists, lawyers and the media to hold government accountable.
Legal Resources Centre attorney Cecile van Schalkwyk highlighted the challenges often faced with budget information.
“From a civil society perspective, we often experience challenges with budget information that is presented in number format and doesn’t explain exactly what goes where and who it’s supposed to benefit. So easy access will definitely allow us as civil society to litigate. Apart from trying to influence budgets, is making sure that government spends the money accordingly. There are shortfalls everywhere, but not necessarily because there is shortage in budgeting, but rather making sure that what is budgeted is implemented,” she said.
PSAM Monitoring and Advocacy Programme head Zukiswa Kota, said the space for dialogue in the portal was an important element and added that the portal was an agile platform and would hopefully become flexible enough to include performance information.
Rhodes University’s PSAM to discuss open data and social justice
Rhodes University’s Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) will be hosting members from the National Treasury, the Legal Resources Centre, Afesis Corplan, and open data activist organisation, OpenUp, to discuss the accessibility and transparency of budget data, on 04 July 2018.
“Opening up budget data is central to promoting social justice and socio-economic rights,” explained Zukiswa Kota, from Rhodes’ PSAM. “The panel will discuss the significance of opening public budgets. Panellists will share opportunities for partnerships between government and civil society.”
In particular, the group aims to explore a recent innovative partnership between the South African government and IMALI YETHU, which resulted in resulted in the development of an online budget portal, vulekamali, which was officially launched by the Minister of Finance in February 2018.
Amongst the founding partners of the IMALI YETHU coalition are PSAM, Mobile Social Accountability Monitoring (MobiSAM), Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC), Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII), Section 27, the Right to Know Campaign (R2K) and the Social Justice Coalition (SJC).
“In addition, we will be sharing from the tapestry of our own experiences in engaging with public budgets, access to information and particularly within the context of our theme Using open budgets to change lives,” Kota said.
The panel will include Andisile Best (National Treasury), Kirsten Pearson (Open data activist/OpenUp), Lindokuhle Vellem (Afesis Corplan), Cecile van Schalkwyk (Legal Resources Centre), and Zukiswa Kota (PSAM).
More information on the discussion can be found in the National Arts Festival Programme or at the following link: https://www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/vulekamali-using-open-budget-data-to-change-lives/
“We acknowledge that transparency is not an end in itself but that it constitutes a vital step towards achieving the goals of greater accountability and improved public resource governance. As proponents of both fiscal transparency and public participation, we aim to progressively gobeyond transparency.” Kota explained.
PSAM forms part of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. Its vision is to ensure that the right to social accountability is universally realised. PSAM’s activities include research, monitoring, advocacy and capacity building. Working through Sub-Saharan Africa, PSAM generates and shares knowledge about the right to social accountability and the monitoring tools necessary to give effect to this right.