President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for accountability at local government level, saying SA needed to focus on building municipalities that were “sustainable, efficient and free of corruption”.
“As leaders we need to decide if is it us the elite that we are going to put first, or is it the people? Is it us or those who we are meant to serve,” said Ramaphosa.
The president delivered a virtual address to the 6th national conference of the SA Local Government Association (Salga), taking place in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Ramaphosa urged leaders to change their ways.
“Things do not have to be this way. We do not have to be at the bottom of the league when it comes to governing and running our municipalities. By providing reliable water supply, sanitation, energy, refuse services, and through road and infrastructure maintenance, local government enables our economy to grow and create employment,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa reminded attendees that municipalities were the first port of contact between the government and its people.
“When there are local government failures, the effects are felt immediately and they are far-reaching,” he said.
Ramaphosa expressed concern over the low voter turnout in the 2021 local government elections in November, saying: “Notwithstanding the outcomes which may have many of us unhappy and others happy, the people of SA did speak and it is that voice that we must continue to respect, no matter what.”
Ramaphosa said that in June last year only 5% of SA’s municipalities were financially stable, according to a Cogta report.
“Others are in financial distress, with insufficient revenue to meet their expenses and some are unable to pay their employees’ salaries. Some 64 municipalities are considered to be dysfunctional.
“This dysfunction is rooted in poor governance, weak institutional capacity, poor financial management, corruption and political instability,” he said.
These, he said, are challenges that municipalities face.
“By June last year, some 26 municipalities had been placed under administration. This number has now risen to 31 municipalities under administration, and we continue to hear about municipalities under threat of administration.”ADVERTISING
Residents and some investors have lost faith in the ability of local government to meet their needs, he said.
“To take just one example, in June last year, the dairy group Clover closed the country’s largest cheese factory in North West, citing ongoing challenges with water, electricity and road infrastructure.
“Clover is just one of a number of companies that have been affected by poor service delivery, forcing them to move their operations elsewhere and depriving needy parts of our country of investment and employment opportunities,” he said.
Investments do not take place at the Union Buildings, he said.
“No-one comes to the Union Buildings and says, ‘President, I saw a little piece of garden in the Union Buildings, can I build a cheese factory there?’ People invest in local areas and are attracted to those areas by a number of factors.”
When there is stability in the running of a town and reliable water supply, Ramaphosa said, investors will come running.
“When your town is filthy with plastic and paper all over the town, sewage running through the town, potholes and water leaks, nobody will come to your town to invest.”
Ramaphosa said investors were put off by towns that had political instability and where councillors were killed. “It becomes unattractive to invest … where the mayor, speaker and chief whips are always at loggerheads.”
Poorly functioning municipalities damage the economy, said Ramaphosa, adding that the country has the “means, ability and wisdom to correct this”.
He said it was important for leaders to realise that their actions are seen by others and if they manifest themselves in a climate that make it difficult for investment to take place, people will not invest.
“The Municipal Structures Amendment Act, which came into effect on November 1 2021, introduces an enforceable revised code of conduct for councillors. This code introduces consequences for those who do not uphold and adhere to it.”
Ramaphosa added that the government was committed to additional measures to strengthen local government, including a campaign to construct and maintain water and sanitation infrastructure, speed up processes to ensure energy security and fully implement the provision of free basic services.
“Our people abhor corruption, it rubs them the wrong way because they do not benefit from it,” he said, adding that money spent at local government level must be spent transparently.
He urged municipalities to improve their revenue collection.