Think big and pros­per

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Pathfind­ing and prob­lem-solv­ing summed up the mood of a panel dis­cus­sion that started off the sec­ond day of last week’s three-day con­fer­ence held by the SA Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion (Salga) in Sand­ton.

For crit­i­cal think­ing to gain real trac­tion, how­ever, some ret­ro­spec­tive in­tro­spec­tion was nec­es­sary.

Deputy Co­op­er­a­tive Gov­er­nance and Tra­di­tional Af­fairs Min­is­ter An­dries Nel couldn’t have summed up Salga’s his­tory bet­ter when he re­minded the floor that, prior to the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s for­ma­tion in 1996, “the con­cept that there would be wall-to-wall lo­cal gov­ern­ment struc­tures wasn’t in ex­is­tence”.

In­stead, he said that the lo­cal gov­ern­ment space that democ­racy in­her­ited from apartheid was an un-uni­fied sprawl of more than 2 000 lo­cal gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties.

Nev­er­the­less, the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is vastly dif­fer­ent, with “wall-to-wall mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties” char­ac­ter­is­ing a con­sol­i­dated panoply of lo­cal gov­er­nance.

“We have made tremen­dous strides,” Nel said, “but we can­not sit on our lau­rels and pat our­selves on the back.”

Re­fer­ring to the Back to Ba­sics pro­gramme launched by his depart­ment two years ago, Nel said: “We are at a point where one third of our mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties work well, one third is do­ing well, and one third is dys­func­tional.

“All spheres must work to­gether to get the dys­func­tional ones up to scratch.”

Of course, it’s eas­ier said than done and the ques­tion of money owed to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, an out­stand­ing amount of R115 bil­lion – of which the lion’s share is due by non­pay­ing con­sumers – re­mains a mu­nic­i­pal mill­stone around the neck of ser­vice de­liv­ery.

In re­act­ing to a ques­tion from the floor, Salga’s in­com­ing chair­per­son, Parks Tau, whose stand­ing in the lo­cal gov­ern­ment sec­tor re­ceived the nod of global ap­proval through his ap­point­ment as pres­i­dent of the United Cities and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ments as­so­ci­a­tion in Bo­gota, Colom­bia, re­cently, iden­ti­fied in­no­va­tive think­ing as a pos­si­ble so­lu­tion to non­pay­ment.

“We need to look at leg­is­la­tion that in­creases the fast-track­ing of house­hold debt owed to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.”

He sug­gested that, as is the case with tax clear­ance cer­tifi­cates be­ing re­quired by busi­ness­peo­ple in­ter­ested in pub­lic ten­ders and other gov­ern­ment work, mu­nic­i­pal debt should also be cleared on the part of in­di­vid­u­als in­ter­ested in en­tre­pre­neur­ial gain through lo­cal gov­ern­ment struc­tures.

“The bur­den of re­spon­si­bil­ity must be shifted,” he said.

“With the SA Rev­enue Ser­vice, the bur­den of ob­tain­ing a tax clear­ance cer­tifi­cate is with the in­di­vid­ual, but with a mu­nic­i­pal­ity, the re­spon­si­bil­ity is with lo­cal gov­ern­ment to have debts set­tled.”

Tau men­tioned a re­cent fact-find­ing mission to the US, say­ing that, “in the US, the bur­den of the debtors book is with the banks. If peo­ple are not up to date with their mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices, the banks need to chase it up be­cause they will not be able to sell a house that has any out­stand­ing mu­nic­i­pal rates and taxes on it.”

It’s a novel idea and a good ex­am­ple of how the bur­den of “chas­ing up debt” can be shifted from the pub­lic to the pri­vate sec­tor.

Tau gave im­pe­tus to his ar­gu­ment by stat­ing that one of the ma­jor rea­sons house­hold debt crip­ples mu­nic­i­pal cof­fers is be­cause lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tions are left to their own de­vices.

“There is no mu­nic­i­pal­ity that can say it has all the re­sources to sort out its own prob­lems,” he said.

“You are part of the global vil­lage, so if you ex­clude your­self from the global ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, you are ex­clud­ing your­self from greater ca­pac­ity that is al­ready in place to not only seek but im­ple­ment so­lu­tions.”

It is a point Rev­erend Mpho Moru­ak­gomo, pres­i­dent of the Botswana As­so­ci­a­tion of Lo­cal Au­thor­i­ties, un­der­pinned when he said: “The col­lec­tive voice of lo­cal gov­ern­ment is very im­por­tant.”

Em­pha­sis­ing his ar­gu­ment, Moru­ak­gomo stressed that even high­ertier lead­ers “live at lo­cal level”, there­fore it makes sense that, to ef­fec­tively ad­dress chal­lenges, “we need to come to­gether”.

All spheres must work to­gether to get the dys­func­tional ones up to scratch MIN­IS­TER AN­DRIES NEL

IN CON­VER­SA­TION The pres­i­dent of Salga, Parks Tau (centre), speaks dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion on lo­cal­is­ing the global agenda at the Salga Na­tional Con­fer­ence last week. On his right is coun­cil­lor Dudu Maz­ibuko, and on his left are Deputy Co­op­er­a­tive Gov­er­nance Min­is­ter An­dries Nel and Rev­erend Mpho Moru­ak­gomo, the pres­i­dent of the Botswana As­so­ci­a­tion of Lo­cal Au­thor­i­ties

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