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Chapter 4 - Local Government

The role of municipal councils

The roles played by municipal councils are to:

  • Pass by-laws - local laws and regulations about any of the functions they are responsible for. By-laws may not go against any national laws and aresubject to the Constitution.
  • Approve budgets and development plans - every year a municipal budget must be passed that sets down how money will be raised and spent. The Council must also approve the 'integrated development plan'.
  • Impose rates and other taxes, for example, property tax.
  • Charge service fees - for using municipal services like water, electricity, libraries, and so on.
  • Impose fines - for people who break municipal by-laws, for example, traffic fines, littering.
  • Draw up, approve or amend integrated development plans (IDPs).

In playing their role, municipal councils have a duty to:

  • use their resources in the best interests of the communities
  • be democratic and accountable in the way they govern
  • encourage communities to be involved in the affairs of local government
  • provide services to the community
  • make sure the environment is safe and healthy

Municipalities are responsible for the following functions in terms of Part B of Schedule 4 and Part B of Schedule 5 of the Constitution:

  • electricity delivery
  • water for household use
  • sewage and sanitation
  • storm water systems
  • refuse removal
  • fire fighting services
  • municipal health services
  • decisions around land use
  • local roads
  • local public transport
  • street trading
  • abattoirs and fresh food markets
  • parks and recreational areas
  • other community facilities
  • local tourism

Municipal councils have executive and legislative powers for these functions. In other words, they have the right to make laws and decisions about the affairs of residents and communities in their areas and to claim service fees from residents

The role of district councils

District councils have to see to the development of their areas as a whole. They must build the capacity of local municipalities in their areas so that the local councils can carry out their functions. District Councils also have to make sure those resources and services are distributed fairly amongst the local municipalities.
These are some of the functions and powers of District Councils:

  • to plan for development for the district municipality as a whole
  • bulk supply of water that affects a large proportion of the municipalities in the district
  • bulk supply of electricity that affects a large proportion of the municipalities in the district
  • bulk sewage purification works and main sewage disposal
  • waste disposal sites for the whole district council area
  • municipal roads for the whole district council area
  • regulating passenger transport services
  • municipal health services for the whole area
  • fire-fighting services for the whole area
  • control of fresh produce markets
  • control of cemeteries
  • promoting local tourism for the whole area
  • municipal public works

National or provincial government can also delegate other functions to municipalities, though these must be within the limits of legislative provisions to do so.

The developmental role of local government

Local governments must play a developmental role in their communities. This means working with communities (leaders and organisations) to find sustainable ways to meet the social, economic and material needs of people and to improve the quality of their lives. In particular, local governments should target people who are most often marginalised or excluded, such as women, disabled people and very poor people.

Four main aims of developmental local government

Develop communities and provide for economic growth in the area

Municipalities must be serious about their responsibility to provide services to meet the basic needs of the poor in the most cost-effective and affordable way. They should do this in the following ways:

  • provide effective relief for the poor, for example, a specific allocation of free water and electricity to people who don't have access to these services or who are unable to pay for them
  • develop arts and culture programmes/facilities
  • work in partnership with local business to improve job creation and investment in the area.

Co-ordinate the different sectors involved in development of the area

There are many different sectors involved in the development of an area, for example, national and provincial departments are all involved in some way in establishing and maintaining health clinics, schools, etc. There are also parastatals (partly government partly private) like Eskom and Spoornet, trade unions, businesses, non-government organisations that play a role in developing an area. The municipality must take responsibility for co-ordinating all their activities for the benefit of the whole community.

Encourage participation in decision-making processes

Local councillors should make sure that the broader community is involved in the decision-making processes. They can do this through the ward committees and community consultation.People around the world are always thinking of new and better ways to build communities. For example, there are new ideas on how to create jobs, protect the environment, save water, and do away with poverty, and so on. Local government leaders need to know about these changes and build these into their policies.

Is your local government playing a developmental role?

Ask yourself these questions to see whether your government is playing a developmental role. Do they?:

  • provide services to everyone, for example, local roads, storm water drainage, refuse collection, electricity, water?
  • try and integrate living areas? For example, the poor often live far away from the business and industrial areas.
  • introduce schemes to promote job creation?
  • provide adequate services to encourage people to live and work there?

Drawing up an Integrated Development Plan (IDP)

Integrated Development Planning is an approach to planning that involves the whole municipality and its citizens in finding the best solutions to achieve effective long-term development. An IDP is a broad plan for an area that gives an overall framework for development. It looks at existing conditions and facilities, at the problems and needs and finally at the resources available for development. There are six main reasons why a municipality should have an IDP. These are to:

  • make good use of scarce resources
  • help speed up delivery of services to poor areas
  • attract additional funds (government departments and private investors are more willing to invest their money where municipalities have an IDP)
  • strengthen democracy
  • overcome the inequalities and discrimination of the apartheid system
  • promote co-ordination between local, provincial and national government

All municipalities have to draw up an IDP in consultation with local forums and stakeholders. In other words, the public must participate fully in the process. The final IDP document has to be approved by the council. The plan must show:

  • the basic needs of disadvantaged sections of the community
  • the long-term vision for meeting those needs
  • the need for these sections of the community to advance socially and economically
  • how the plan will be financed and whether it is financially sustainable, that there will be money in the future to keep the plan going
  • the capacity of the municipal council to carry out the plan and what resources are available to help carry out the plan.

The municipality (the mayor and Exco who pass on responsibility to the municipal manager) is responsible for co-ordinating the IDP and must draw in other stakeholders in the area who can help and/or benefit from development in the area. All municipal planning must take place using the IDP as a guide and the annual council budget should be based on the IDP.

Local economic development (LED)

Municipalities decide on LED strategies and the process of arriving at a LED strategy must be part of the Integrated Development Planning (IDP) process. Local economic development must aim to create jobs by making the local economy grow. This means that more businesses and factories should be started in the municipality. As part of the IDP, people in a municipality must come together to reach agreement and take decisions to make the economy grow and create income opportunities for more people, especially the poor.

The LED strategies should be based on the overall vision outlined in the IDP and should take into account the result of eth analysis phase. It should also look at things like integrating our residential and work areas, building development corridors between areas and supporting the economy with good public transport.

Key principles underlying Local Economic Development include:

  • making job creation and poverty alleviation a priority in any LED strategy
  • targeting previously disadvantaged people, marginalized communities and geographical regions, black economic empowerment enterprises and SMMEs to allow them to participate fully in local economies, .
  • promoting local ownership, community involvement, local leadership and joint decision-making
  • involving local, national and international partnerships between communities, businesses and government to solve problems, create joint business ventures, and build local areas
  • using local resources and skills
  • integrating diverse economic initiatives in a comprehensive approach to local development
  • applying flexible approaches to responding to changing conditions.

Municipal service delivery

Municipalities have the responsibility to make sure that all citizens are provided with services to satisfy their basic needs. The most important services the municipality must provide are:

  • water supply
  • sewage collection and disposal
  • refuse removal
  • electricity and gas supply
  • municipal health services
  • municipal roads and stormwater drainage
  • street lighting
  • municipal parks and recreation

Municipalities provide services to people by using their own resources - finances, equipment and employees. People have to pay a certain rate to the municipality for providing these services.

Free basic municipal services

The government has developed a policy which looks at providing free basic levels of municipal services for the poor. The policy says that water and electricity are priorities.

Municipal service partnerships

Municipalities can 'outsource' to other people to provide these services. This means, it can choose to hire someone else, an NGO, CBO or private company, to deliver the service but the municipality is still responsible for choosing the service provider and for making sure that they deliver the service properly. When a municipality 'outsources' to someone else this is called a Municipal Service partnership (MSP). This is not the same as privatisation, but must be done carefully..

So, an MSP is an agreement between a municipality and a service provider. Under this agreement, a service provider agrees to provide a particular municipal service on behalf of the municipality within a certain time frame and budget. The service provider can provide a service to the whole community or part of it. For example it may be responsible for collecting rubbish in a certain part of the community.

Work opportunities, such as Expanded Public Works Programmes (Phase II) are being rolled out, though these address people’s needs off a low base. Recent government policy initiatives – to address the chronic and extensive lack of opportunity to work by youth, skills transfer initiatives, bursaries to complete tertiary studies have been very soon.

Financial management

One of the most important duties of a municipal council is to manage its funds effectively. This means -

  • Drawing up a budget - working out what income the municipality will receive and balancing this with what they think they will have to spend it on
  • Protecting the income, capital and assets such as money in the bank, motor vehicles, computer equipment, by putting in proper controls
  • Monitoring the actual income and expenditure and comparing this to the budget through regular financial reporting and taking action to correct things when necessary
  • Auditing on a regular basis and reporting the financial statements to all stakeholders

Drawing up a budget

Municipalities must prepare budgets for each financial year (which runs from 1 July of each year to 30 June of the next year). Council must approve these budgets before the new financial year begins, after proper planning and consultation with ward committees and other stakeholder groups in the area. For example, the budget for the financial year beginning in July 2012 must be approved before the end of June 2012. However, Council must prepare a draft budget a few months before this to allow for proper consultation to take place. Government is discussing how to align the financial year of national and provincial government (March-February) with that of local lgovernment, so there may be changes soon.

Role of the ward committee in drawing up a budget

Ward committees have the right and duty to ask questions and make recommendations to the council on the best ways to generate income, keep costs down, prevent corruption and protect the assets of the municipality.

Approving the budget is one of the most important functions of the ward councillor. 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.

If too much money is spent and not enough money is raised then the municipality will eventually go bankrupt. Ward committees have a right to ask questions about how well the 'cash flow' is being planned, monitored and followed up by the treasurer and executive or mayoral committee. Ward committee members can also play a positive role in the 'cash flow' of the municipality by -

  • setting an example and paying all rates and taxes for services
  • encouraging others to pay their rates and taxes
  • challenging any waste of municipal money that you hear about and asking for an investigation
  • making your councillor accountable for fighting corruption or wastage of municipal funds

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