Chapter 3 - DEMOCRACY, GOVERNMENT & PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
All the methods of public participation described under “How can you participate?’ can be used at the local level of government.
Structures of municipal councils
Each municipality has a council where decisions are made and municipal officials and staff carry out the work of the municipality.
The municipality consists of:
The council - Elected members (councillors) who have legislative powers to pass by-laws and approve policies for their area.
The mayor – who is elected by the council to co-ordinate the work of the council; the mayor and /or executive committee act as the executive of the council. The mayor is assisted by a mayoral executive committee.
The executive or mayoral committee - made up of councillors with specific portfolios which match the departments within the municipal administration; they oversee the work of the municipal manager and department heads.
The municipal manager - this is the chief executive officer who is head of the administration of the municipality.
Municipal council officials - people who work for the administration.
Ward committees - Ward committees are mainly advisory committees which can make recommendations on any matter affecting the ward. A ward committee consists of the councilor and a maximum of 10 people from the ward who are elected by the community. The Ward Committee therefore plays a very important role as a link between the community and decision-makers. It provides important opportunities for public participation.
Ways of participating in local government
The most important opportunities for public participation at local level are through using ward councillors and ward committees. The ward councillor is the direct link between the local council and the public operating mainly through the structure of the ward committee. It is the councillor’s responsibility to make sure that people are consulted and kept informed about council decisions, development and budget plans and any council programmes that will affect them. The Municipal Systems Act requires that municipalities take steps to ensure the participation of communities in decision-making. Section 16 of the Act considers the following as key areas requiring community participation:
Assessing and approving the budget
Approving the budget is one of the most important functions of the council. The ward councillor should not approve the budget until there has been proper consultation with the ward committee and other stakeholders. So, ward committees play an important role in the process and they should look carefully at all the parts of the budget that will affect the people in their area. All members of the community have the right to observe the special council meeting when the budget is debated and voted on.
Ward committees should also be given regular feedback on the 'cash flow' of the municipality. 'Cash flow' means the movement of money into and out of the municipality's bank account. Ward committees have a right to ask questions about how well the 'cash flow' is being planned and monitored.
Planning and developing the Integrated Development Plan
Ward committees should work closely with the councillor and other community organizations (community-based organizations and NGO’s) to identify priority needs and make sure these needs are included in the budget proposals and Integrated Development Plans.
Monitoring council activities on a regular basis
Ward committees should insist on regular reports and feedback on municipal projects and services, either at ward committee meetings or at public hearings. If necessary they should make constructive suggestions for improvement and if Ward committees should insist on regular reports and feedback on municipal projects and services, either at ward committee meetings or at public hearings.
The municipality must have clear goals and specific targets of what has to be done to make sure the goals are achieved. Every department and staff member should be clear what they have to do and how their performance will contribute to achieving overall goals and targets. Performance management means that the performance of individuals, departments and the municipality as a whole should be monitored to make sure the targets are met and that resources are being used efficiently. Council should prepare a report for the ward committee at least once a year that shows how it has performed in relation to their objectives and the budget. This usually happens at the end of the financial year (July of each year). The report and audited financial statements must be made available to the public.
Direct advice and support
Councillors are the most direct form of access people have to government. Usually people will turn to a councillor for direct advice and support. Once a problem has been referred to a councillor, the person should demand to know what the councillor is doing or has done to deal with the problem.
Ask for a councillor clinic to be set up
Request the councillor to set up a regular clinic on specific days at a certain place in the community. This means the councillor must be available to see anyone from the community at these agreed times. Advertise these dates around the community.
Communities can use their councillors to lobby committees, the Mayor and other spheres of government.
Attend public meetings and hearings
Attend public meetings called by the councillor, ward committee or council. Identify which committees are making decisions about issues that concern you and attend public hearings of these committees. These meetings are open to the public.
Use the media
Approach a local newspaper or community radio station and ask them to write or present a story on an issue that concerns the community, explaining what role the municipal council should play in dealing with the issue.
Get publicity and grow support
Planning and implementation of Municipal Service Partnerships
Ward committees and the community can play an important role in the following ways:
Communities or their representatives can evaluate future service providers and monitor the performance of those providing services.
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