Transformation of South Africa depends on the transformation of local government. This was emphasised by civil society organisations working in the local government sector during a joint virtual press briefing to present their collective reflections and recommendations to the Auditor-General’s 2018/2019 Report.

The coalition of about 35 civil society organisations and individuals have identified actions to be taken to deal with crisis state in municipal governance around the country. This call is a response to the Auditor General’s Report on Municipalities for the 2018/19 financial year, released in July. Coalition members signed a statement that they aim to submit to key actors in the administration of municipal governance.

Among the organisations that have signed up are Unemployed People’s Movement of South Africa (UPM), South African National Civic Organisation, Lawyers for Human Rights, Democracy Development Programme and Afesis-corplan as well as the Makhanda based Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM). In the virtual media briefing held on Thursday 29 October, they highlighted the importance of local government in transforming society.

The coalition plans to engage the Presidency on its responsibility for performance monitoring, the Department of Co-operative Governance, other sectors of civil society and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). Expounding on the reasons for the coming together of the different organisations, Dr Paul Kariuri of the Democracy Development Programme,highlighted some of the findings by the auditor general which include poor performance management, failed accountability, poor quality of financial reports and regressed outcomes. Seventy six municipalities had regressed while 31 improved.

The sentiment during the virtual briefing was that local government is a crucial aspect of governance, as it is where it all starts. For various reasons, the space has been contested across South Africa; hence the call to civil society to work together in improving and co-creating municipalities. Enabling adequate technical training in municipalities, regular performance monitoring and transparency in terms of information and municipal budgets are some of the solutions suggested by the coalition to fix deteriorating municipalities.

Luyanda Shilangu, of PSAM, said, “This is not the usual criticism that municipalities believe we usually give to them. This to us is to say we are available to them, we are willing to work with municipalities, we are willing to co-create the municipal environment again, to cover the gaps that are there.”

He went on to highlight seven measures that  they insist municipalities should follow in order to turn the tide. Among these is the professionalisation of local government, by ending cadre deployment, ensuring transparency, making information available timeously and the strengthening of Municipal Public Accounts committees (MPACs).

Overview of the state of municipalities in EC

The 2018/2019 auditor general report highlighted issues in Eastern Cape municipalities including lack of financial control, excessive irregular expenditure and the need to train supply chain management officials.

As one of the most affected local municipalities, Makana received a disclaimer audit opinion from the Auditor General, riddled with court challenges. These range from a lack of access to water by some communities, to very poor maintenance influenced by a dysfunctional technical capacity for  water infrastructure.

This contrasts with Makana’s Integrated Development Plan whose mission statement speaks of striving to ensure sustainable, affordable, equitable and quality services in a just, friendly, secure and healthy environment, which promotes social and economic growth for all.

The coalition noted that Makana has a very vibrant civil society that, despite assisting the municipality to get its house in order, remains critical of the local authority. The Makhanda Circle of Unity has facilitated constructive and participatory engagement in the local government space.

The Afesis-corplan full report can be accessed here