The Good Governance Network – made up of academic researchers and civil society activists – is pleased about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s signing into law the Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill. Importantly, the law bars municipal managers and senior staff from holding political office – whether appointed in a permanent, temporary or acting capacity. The law is clear and consistent and a step towards increased accountability and efficiency in local government – empowering MECs to take appropriate steps, including the application of declaratory orders on the validity of appointments to enforce compliance. ALSO READ: Municipal services being delivered at a…
The Good Governance Network – made up of academic researchers and civil society activists – is pleased about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s signing into law the Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill.
Importantly, the law bars municipal managers and senior staff from holding political office – whether appointed in a permanent, temporary or acting capacity.
The law is clear and consistent and a step towards increased accountability and efficiency in local government – empowering MECs to take appropriate steps, including the application of declaratory orders on the validity of appointments to enforce compliance.
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It bolsters the recently introduced regulations, professionalising local government administration by establishing uniform norms and standards – including minimum qualification and competency criteria.
These include a requirement for senior management to have tertiary qualifications, a minimum of five years of management experience, and specific critical leadership competencies such as problem-solving.
The legislative framework also delineates roles and responsibilities for councillors and officials by prohibiting councillors from participating in the recruitment and selection processes.
As another way to complement this bold step, the framework facilitates a pathway for the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (Misa) to work with municipalities and deploy professionals to specific municipalities.
This is an all-round big deal.
The legislation also repeals the Municipal Systems Amendment Act of 2011, declared unconstitutional in 2017, for its failure to comply with the procedures set out in section 76 of the constitution.
It will complement the amended Public Audit Act, which came into effect in April 2021, and gives the Auditor-General biting powers.
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These include referring “material irregularities” in the government spending of public funds to law enforcement for further investigation, taking remedial action against culprits and issuing a certificate of debt against guilty officials to recover public funds.
To state the apparent: political meddling in the operations of a municipality through practices such as cadre deployment of incompetent politicians to municipalities, should strike fear into the hearts of politicians, not delight them.
Guilt by association – municipal officials can no longer hide behind the veil of having followed political instructions when held accountable for maladministration and corruption.
Instead, they will be personally liable for adverse audit reports pointing at their dereliction of duty.
This law is undoubtedly good news and will do many good things.
Understanding what has just happened demands a longer view – primarily reflecting just how much power the elite political party officials have amassed since the dawn of democracy in 1994.
For decades, political parties have worked to create a political climate wholly allergic to the comprehensive implementation of the Batho Pele principles.
In her audit of municipal figures for the 2020/21 financial year, Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke reported that municipalities incurred most of the R21.10 billion of government irregular expenditure, mainly due to non-compliance with supply chain legislation.
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I have previously commented on these opinion pages that wasting money on a colossal scale, as witnessed in the last financial year, would lead to immediate resignations or firings in any other line of work.
In the history of government blunders, the buck has often gone whizzing through the Union Buildings, parliament, provincial legislatures, and municipal councils without ever stopping at anyone’s desk.
The efficient provision of essential services to communities is ultimately a planning problem: there is no entity other than the local government that can ensure the provision of services to communities in a sustainable manner, promote social and economic development, promote a safe and healthy environment, and encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in the matters of local government.
For all its many shortcomings, the constitution sought to position local government as an independent and distinct sphere of government. It empowered each municipality to govern.
This legislation makes it likely that we will witness a marked acceleration in professionalism in local government.
Dr Nyembezi is a policy analyst and a human rights activist.
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