Profiles in Leadership
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.
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.