Parks Tau: New service delivery model will empower municipalities

Districts will be empowered and even emboldened to initiate and enter into partnerships – to advance effective service delivery – with civil society, the private sector, and engineering association or accounting councils, writes Parks Tau.

For the first time in democratic South Africa, local government becomes the nucleus of, and for, societal development. A strategic mechanism mobilised for this purpose is the district-based model. All the three spheres of government, working in cooperative unison, will now effectively coalesce, in their operations and functions at the country’s 44 districts and eight metropolitan areas.

What does this district-based model to development actually entail and mean in practice? How is it indicative, in the 6th administration led by President Matamela Ramaphosa, of a zeitgeist moment and process towards rebuilding and renewal of the country?

The district model is a response to two structural challenges. First, the inefficient silo and disjointed functions between national, provincial and local government. This has resulted, among other factors, in inadequate responses to service delivery challenges, slow reactions to environmental emergencies (like drought, floods) and collapse, in some areas, of basic municipal infrastructure services.

Second, it is a consciously calculated intervention to close the growing social distance between citizens and communities and their public institutions and civil service. The outcomes of this distance, between public representatives and communities, is evident in increasing service delivery protests that sometimes result, or mushroom, in wanton infrastructure destruction.

As various evidence-based studies attest, like those from Municipal IQ, these community protests or civil actions incidents, emerge largely from three interrelated issues: contentious municipal demarcation, selection of compromised municipal accounting officers, plus evictions and land invasions in areas unsuitable for human habitation.

These two structural challenges take place in a context of increasing service delivery demands, from citizens and residents, and diminishing government revenue streams. Hence the inclusion, in the district model, of alternative revenue-raising options in local government such as, municipal pooled financing, municipal bonds and partnerships with local industry.

The principles of the district model, or the eponymous “Khawuleza” service delivery model, endorsed by the President’s Coordinating Council (PCC), will customise service delivery according to local specificity of, for example, Metsimaholo, iLembe, Mbizana, Maluti-a-Phofong municipalities.

Service delivery will be guided by community needs instead of adopting a blanket national and provincial mandates.

Of course, these mandates will be guided overall by the National Development Plan (NDP) blueprint, in its emphasis for instance, that all citizens and communities shall have access to basic services and amenities. This fits together with the constitutional injunction, in Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights, for government to deliver socioeconomic services that enhances, “the right to dignity and the right to equality” of all citizens, residents, economic migrants and political refugees.

Additionally, the district model will be distinguished by regularised monitoring and evaluation (M&E) mechanisms to gauge service delivery made. Such monitoring is targetted at identifying, and fixing, bottlenecks. Deliberate project management, of turning policies into action plans, is to be tracked through professionalised personnel who will assess delivery impact, capacity building, and opportunities for shared resourcing.

The Department of Cooperative Governance (Cogta) will be the implementing national institution, working in concert with the provinces and the PCC. An objective of working primarily from the combined 52 impact districts, is to ensure localised complementarity in delivery of national commitments to the NDP, continental obligations to the Agenda 2063 and pledges to implement the Sustainable Development Goals or the Paris Climate Accord.

To effect the district model and realise the aspirations of participatory government, sector-specific social compacts will be important. Districts will be empowered and even emboldened to initiate and enter into partnerships – to advance effective service delivery – with civil society, the private sector, and engineering association or accounting councils.

Social compacts, which are implicit agreements between various stakeholders, are singled out to encourage citizens and communities to honour their municipal services. As the Cogta minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, indicated at the 2019 Budget Vote, it is unsustainable that municipalities are owed R139bn in rendered public services (water, sanitation and electricity), coupled with, in turn, the R21.1bn owed by municipalities to Eskom.

Therefore, social compacts, based on making concessions to reach shared consensus, are a central instrument for all partners to work in unison to realise meritocratic democracy, advance Batho Pele principles, consequence management, and entrench a responsive citizen-centric government and governance framework.

The district model is an opportunity for all South Africans across geographic, racial, economic and ideological boundaries to build bridges towards practical, measurable and non-partisan service delivery. A district model offers a ready platform to address the systemic challenges flagged annually, for one, by the auditor general on municipal underperformance and to recapacitate the 40 municipalities under administration.

The Khawuleza district model deserves the support from all stakeholders, to address the triumvirate developmental challenges (of poverty, unemployment and inequality) so that local government can stabilise its systems, reinforce its governance structures and be sustainable in M&E in the short- to long-term.

In short, the district-based model of development provides a strategic instrument to bring back to life the civil service, realign it to its normative proximity to people, reinstill trust and confidence in state institutions and an esprit de corps where citizens and communities value public institutions.

– Parks Tau is Deputy Minister of the Department of Cooperative Governance (CoGTA).