Pro­files in Lead­er­ship

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CEO of the South African Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, Xo­lile Ge­orge, is com­mit­ted to in­spir­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to de­liver ser­vices bet­ter

Those who are en­trusted with the power to gov­ern must carry out their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties ef­fec­tively if the im­age of lo­cal gov­ern­ment is to im­prove. This is the legacy that the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer (CEO) of the South African Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion (SALGA), Xo­lile Ge­orge, is in­tent on creat­ing at the as­so­ci­a­tion.

He has been at the helm of SALGA since 2007, en­sur­ing that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties com­ply with the as­so­ci­a­tion's stan­dards and im­prove their work in gen­eral.

Ge­orge said it is his job to en­sure that SALGA is not too com­fort­able with its progress so that it can im­prove con­stantly.

SALGA is an au­ton­o­mous or­gan­i­sa­tion man­dated by the Con­sti­tu­tion. It has a mem­ber­ship of 257 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties which has steadily in­creased dur­ing Ge­orge's ten­ure from the 144 mem­bers when he first joined the as­so­ci­a­tion.

SALGA's role in­cludes rep­re­sent­ing, pro­mot­ing and pro­tect­ing the in­ter­ests of lo­cal gov­ern­ments and rais­ing the pro­file of this sphere of gov­ern­ment and is a vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“Our duty is to in­spire mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to de­liver ser­vices bet­ter. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties must in­spire the con­fi­dence of cit­i­zens who have en­trusted them with the role of de­liv­er­ing ser­vices.They are do­ing bet­ter, not­with­stand­ing the chal­lenges that they face,” Ge­orge added.

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties record­ing progress

Ge­orge is proud of the progress mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have recorded since democ­racy was at­tained in 1994.

Prior to the ad­vent of democ­racy, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties were struc­tured and cre­ated to serve the in­ter­ests of the white pop­u­la­tion of South Africa and only pro­vided min­i­mal ser­vices to other races. Lo­cal gov­ern­ment started be­ing re­con­structed post-1994 in line with the demo­cratic ethos.

The cur­rent struc­ture of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties was only cre­ated in 2000, which means that at just 18 years old, it is still evolv­ing.

Ge­orge said mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are about to reach their adult­hood af­ter many chal­leng­ing years of re­struc­tur­ing.

“Most of our mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have had a fair share of chal­lenges in rais­ing rev­enue, es­pe­cially those that are in the ru­ral parts of the coun­try where it is hard to col­lect rev­enue, un­like in the cities,” he said.

Ge­orge added that un­em­ploy­ment and low rev­enue bases are fur­ther chal­lenges with which mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are grap­pling.

“Th­ese fac­tors in­crease a pool of peo­ple who are in­di­gent. It is the mu­nic­i­pal­ity's duty to take care of the in­di­gent in line with the val­ues of the Con­sti­tu­tion. When some­one does not work or is a so­cial grant ben­e­fi­ciary, they are not ex­pected to pay for mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices. In cer­tain mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, es­pe­cially in the ru­ral ar­eas, about 80 per­cent of res­i­dents are so­cial grant ben­e­fi­cia­ries,” he noted.

This of­ten makes the eq­ui­table share amount that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties get from the na­tional fis­cus in­ad­e­quate.

Pro­vi­sion of ser­vices

On the brighter side, Ge­orge noted that there are mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that are do­ing very well.

“Many of our mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have con­trib­uted to the im­prove­ment of the qual­ity of lives of South Africans by ex­tend­ing ba­sic ser­vices, such as the pro­vi­sion of wa­ter, elec­tric­ity, refuse re­moval, build­ing and up­grad­ing roads. As SALGA, we are quite proud of the con­tri­bu­tion they have made,” he said.

Ge­orge added that SALGA ac­knowl­edged that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties still face a mam­moth task of ex­tend­ing ser­vices to com­mu­ni­ties that have not been ser­viced in the past 18 years.

“The im­pa­tience of th­ese res­i­dents is un­der­stand­able be­cause they have been vot­ing since 1994 but still have no ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices. They are los­ing hope,” he said.

To ad­dress this problem, Ge­orge said there is a need for all lev­els of gov­ern­ment to work together to ac­cel­er­ate so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and to reach out to ar­eas that have so far not ben­e­fited from ser­vices.

For its part, SALGA pro­vides a platform for the shar­ing of best prac­tices and the show­cas­ing of mu­nic­i­pal suc­cesses and in­no­va­tions.

To help im­prove ser­vice de­liv­ery, SALGA has pro­grammes in place to as­sist mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to:

• Im­prove fi­nan­cial man­age­ment.

• Im­prove ur­ban man­age­ment.

• Fight cor­rup­tion and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion to im­prove ac­count­abil­ity.

• En­sure that in­no­va­tive prac­tices to in­ter­act with cit­i­zens are im­ple­mented, that cit­i­zens are ac­counted to and that rev­enue struc­tures are op­ti­mally man­aged.

Go­ing Back to Ba­sics

Ge­orge is of the view that many mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have shown an im­prove­ment af­ter they started us­ing the Back to Ba­sics Pro­gramme as a guide­line for ser­vice de­liv­ery. Sim­pli­fy­ing the pro­gramme, Ge­orge re­gards Back to Ba­sics as an im­pe­tus for mu­nic­i­pal­ity lead­er­ship to take de­ci­sive steps to im­prove res­i­dents' living con­di­tions around five pil­lars. Th­ese are good gov­er­nance, fi­nan­cial man­age­ment, im­prov­ing ba­sic ser­vices, putting peo­ple first and sus­tain­abil­ity.

Fight­ing cor­rup­tion

In 2013 SALGA launched an anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign. It de­vel­oped a Con­se­quence and Ac­count­abil­ity Man­age­ment Frame­work in which all mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties pledged to drive the fight against cor­rup­tion and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“There must be clear lines of con­se­quence man­age­ment. There must be im­prove­ment in the vig­i­lance of the over­sight sys­tem. We are aim­ing at em­pow­er­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties through pub­lic ac­count com­mit­tees to strengthen gov­er­nance,” Ge­orge ex­plained.

He said SALGA was happy that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are be­gin­ning to take de­ci­sive ac­tion against cor­rup­tion and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion.

About 55 per­cent of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties im­ple­ment con­se­quence man­age­ment. “How­ever, we would like to see 100 per­cent of them im­ple­ment­ing it. Where there is clear ev­i­dence of malef­i­cence and poor han­dling of fi­nances, con­se­quences must fol­low,” he stressed.

“Con­se­quence man­age­ment must be the hall­mark of con­ver­sa­tions if you want to im­prove

gov­er­nance and ac­count­abil­ity,” Ge­orge added.

He said another im­por­tant el­e­ment in deal­ing with cor­rup­tion is en­sur­ing that the right per­son is ap­pointed to ev­ery post at mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Im­prov­ing lead­er­ship skills

To en­hance lead­er­ship skills, SALGA con­venes a Mu­nic­i­pal Man­agers Fo­rum each quar­ter to im­prove ca­pac­ity-build­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“We ex­pose them to ar­eas of in­no­va­tion. We also have the SALGA Cen­tre for Lead­er­ship and gov­er­nance ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship pro­grammes that are aimed at im­prov­ing the skills of mu­nic­i­pal man­agers and other se­nior man­agers,” he said.

SALGA also em­pow­ers coun­cil­lors to be re­spon­sive and show em­pa­thy and care when they in­ter­act with their con­stituents. “We en­cour­age them to ac­count hon­estly to peo­ple,” he added.

Spirit of re­newal

Ge­orge said there is a new spirit of com­mit­ment and ac­tive cit­i­zenry within the lo­cal gov­ern­ment space.

“I have no doubt that this new spirit will go a long way in in­spir­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment to say that Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa ex­pects com­mit­ment, pro­fes­sion­al­ism and ser­vice to com­mu­ni­ties and this is what we must de­liver. He also ex­pects a firm com­mit­ment to ac­count­abil­ity and con­se­quence man­age­ment,” he said.

Ge­orge's job is far from a walk in the park as it keeps him awake at night. He looks at it as a 24-hour job that is very dy­namic.

“It makes me learn about the dif­fi­cul­ties that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties face ev­ery day.The reliance on SALGA to pro­vide ad­vice and rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and the ex­pec­ta­tion that there is space for us to pro­vide in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions is what keeps us awake at night,” he ex­plained.

His job re­quires max­i­mum vig­i­lance and it is quite tax­ing on a per­sonal level, he said.

SALGA it­self needs to lead by ex­am­ple to ce­ment good gov­er­nance in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, he em­pha­sised.

Ge­orge hopes that when the time comes for him to va­cate the hot seat, SALGA will re­main per­ma­nently vig­i­lant, ag­ile, pro­fes­sion­ally run and con­tinue to value its re­spon­si­bil­ity to serve bet­ter.

CEO of the South African Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, Xo­lile Ge­orge.

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