Speech notes by Vicky Knoetze MPL, speaking on the budget vote of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, 17 May 2017

The service delivery buck stops with the sphere of government closest to the people – local government

  • Good governance will require a zero-tolerance approach to corruption, the political will to tackle the problem seriously and the strengthening of institutions charged with oversight.
  • The role of traditional leaders within the local government sphere must be clarified.

Honourable Speaker, Honourable Premier, Honourable members and guests, good afternoon.

Every effort of government must be focussed on improving the lives of South Africans. As we continue to fight against the challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality we need all spheres of government and all organs of the state to effectively deliver on their responsibilities to make South Africa a better place to live for all its people.

To achieve this, Section 41 (1) of the South African Constitution says that all spheres of government and all organs of state must provide “effective, transparent, accountable and coherent government for the Republic as a whole”.

The National Development Plan rightly states that the “state provides the institutions and infrastructure that enable the economy and society to operate”, and that “in a society with deep social and economic divisions, neither social nor economic transformation is possible without a capable developmental state.”

Therefore, Honourable Speaker, an efficient public administration is a critical enabler that lays the foundation for a partnership approach between the government and South African citizens in which the government works to deliver opportunities and citizens take responsibility to use these opportunities to improve their own lives.

There is still a great deal we can do to improve governance:

  • Limit political interference in the public administration;
  • Strengthen accountability;
  • Advance the fight against corruption and maladministration;
  • Attract the brightest minds in the country to careers in the public administration;
  • Establish mechanisms to ensure that best practice models are studied and replicated;
  • Get different departments and spheres of government to work together;
  • Streamline government and arrange state departments to serve the needs of the public, rather than creating new, unnecessary bureaucracies; and
  • Clarify the role of traditional leaders.

Corruption, wasteful expenditure and poor administration place enormous strain on the public purse. We need to use public money to create an enabling environment for economic growth and job creation, to improve educational outcomes, to invest in the skills our people need to participate in the economy, to provide health, housing and basic services, and to fund and run protection services to keep our citizens safe.

Estimates of the economic impact of corruption vary, but it is believed that the government procurement budget loses between R25 billion and R30 billion per year to corruption and negligence.

This can be attributed to poor financial management in the public administration (with the local government sphere being particularly problematic) the failure by provincial governments to monitor and oversee the performance of functions by municipalities, and the slow progress to adopt legislation to curb corruption and self-enriching activities in the public administration.

Thus far, little has been done to ensure appropriate disclosure and management of conflicts of interests in the public administration. The PSC reported that a third of public sector employees failed to disclose their financial interests. The PSC also reports that in the vast majority of cases (76%) no criminal action was taken against officials involved in financial misconduct.

Good governance will require a zero-tolerance approach to corruption, the political will to tackle the problem seriously and the strengthening of institutions charged with oversight. In January of this year, the national head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation‚ has appointed a high-level task team to investigate allegations of corruption in Eastern Cape municipalities.

The task team will be comprised of investigators from the Hawks‚ NPA prosecutors as well as the Asset Forfeiture Unit members.  Other members would be added should there be a need.

OR Tambo District Municipality‚ Engcobo Municipality‚ Butterworth‚ Mnquma Local Municipality and Mthatha had been identified as the hub of the alleged corrupt activities.

This task team stated that:  corrupt officials rob our people of the basic services and as the unit entrusted with rooting out corruption at all institutions we have formulated a task team that will ruffle the feathers at the affected municipalities. We are determined to uproot corruption and should our investigations find anyone found to be on the wrong side of the law‚ that person will feel the wrath of the Hawks and the mighty of our justice system.

Honourable Speaker, we believe that this is a very important step in the right direction.

Honourable Speaker, in terms of Traditional Leadership, the South African Constitution recognises the status and role of traditional leadership and Section 212(1) allows for national legislation providing a role for traditional leadership in the local sphere on matters affecting local communities. This role was legislated through various acts clarifying the role of traditional authorities, including the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (2003). This act allows “recognised traditional communities” to establish traditional councils, with 40% of members democratically elected of which at least one-third must be women.

Important challenges have arisen with regard to the integration of traditional leaders in government structures. These include the following:

  • Traditional leaders feel their participation on issues affecting traditional communities have not been formalised – particularly at a local level;
  • There is uncertainty around the role of traditional leaders in delivering services to communities;
  • There are concerns about the lack of checks and balances on the exercise of power by traditional leaders;
  • Security of tenure for persons living in communal areas is uncertain when traditional leaders control land use;
  • Initial drafts of the Traditional Courts Bill raised serious concerns about its possible impact on the rights of women as well as the constitutionality of a traditional court system that does not allow citizens to opt out of the traditional system or to have recourse to civil courts;
  • The laws guiding the role of traditional leaders are not sufficiently responsive to changes in custom over time; and
  • Elections for traditional councils have been marred by irregularities and very low levels of participation.

Without clarity on the roles and responsibilities of traditional councils and their relationship with local government, questions will be raised about the continued relevance of these structures in a system of representative democracy. We must, therefore, Honourable Speaker, spend more time and resources in clarifying the roles of traditional leadership within the sphere of local government.

We face enormous development and service delivery challenges as a country. These challenges can only be addressed by a government with the necessary political will to ensure that all its resources are used in service of the people of South Africa and with the necessary systems, capacity and skills to deliver service effectively.

Honourable Speaker, effective governance and government can improve the lives of all South Africa’s people. Our decisions and actions in government must be aimed at delivering these improvements to all South Africans. Let us always put the people first in everything we do.

Honourable Speaker, the service delivery buck stops with the sphere of government closest to the people, local government!

The DA supports the report by the department.

Thank you.