Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the National Council of Provinces, Limpopo, 4 November 2005

Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces,
Honourable Members,
Fellow South Africans;

I am honoured to have this opportunity once more to interact with the National Council of Provinces. As I did when I spoke to the NCOP as it met in KwaZulu-Natal in October last year, again I would like to congratulate the NCOP for its programme to take Parliament to the people.

This addresses what must remain a central feature of our democracy, namely, the maintenance of the closest possible contact between the legislatures, the executive and administrative authorities on the one hand, and the masses of our people, on the other.

Because of the legacy we inherited and therefore the challenges our nation faces, the democratic state has to play an especially important role with regard to the process of the reconstruction and development of our country in all spheres of human endeavour.

The masses of our people are conscious of this and are therefore intensely interested to know what the organs of State are doing. Those of us involved in our governance system have a collective responsibility to ensure that we respond properly and continuously to this legitimate desire.

In addition to this, we have stressed repeatedly that such regular interaction with the people would contribute greatly to the realisation of the objective that Government should be transparent and accountable.

Throughout the period of our democracy, we have also insisted that to create a people-centred society, we have to engage in people-driven processes of change. This cannot happen if the people are not sufficiently empowered with the knowledge they need to enable them constructively to participate in determining their future.

As the Honourable Members are aware, the NCOP occupies a unique position within our constitutional system of governance. This derives from the fact that it is the only institution within this system that straddles all three spheres of our co-operative governance construct-the national, provincial and local.

This places the NCOP in a strategic oversight position. It has the possibility and the mandate to keep a constant eye on the processes that must integrate legislative and executive decisions in all spheres of government, and ensure the practical implementation of these decisions, especially to the extent that they directly on the lives of the people.

For this reason, I believe that the NCOP should regularly review its effectiveness with regard to the discharge of this mission, to ensure that it constantly improves its performance. This would benefit our democracy and all its institutions enormously and further strengthen our system of co-operative governance.

In this regard, Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members, you will pardon me if I return to the same subject on which I focused when I had the honour to speak to the National Council last year. This is the critical issue of local government.

I said then that we need "municipalities that serve all our people and have the requisite capacity to provide regular and reliable services to citizens as well as being at the forefront of the reconstruction and development of our country.

"We need efficient and effective municipalities so as to deliver these better services to ensure that poor households have access to basic infrastructure and the poor are provided with free basic services.

"Further, as we accelerate the implementation of our expanded public works programme, we need strong municipalities to work in partnership with other spheres of government, similarly, the Municipal Infrastructure Grant will not make the required impact if our municipalities are weak.

"As we know, there are serious delivery backlogs which have denied millions of our people the possibility of a better life. We are aware of municipalities with large communities that have no access to clean water, sanitation and electricity.

"To respond to this lack of capacity, in May of this year, Cabinet took a decision to develop a support initiative for local government structures, called Project Consolidate, and constituted an inter-Ministerial Committee for this programme."

Chairperson, I am please to report to the National Council that in the period since I made this statement, a year ago, Project Consolidate has made the impact we sought, opening the road towards the empowerment of our system of local government properly to discharge it responsibilities.

As the Honourable Members are aware, both the President and the Deputy President of the Republic, as well as our Ministers, are engaged in an Imbizo process that involves visits to municipalities. This process differs in some important respect from the Provincial Izimbizo that we convened in the past.

The central purpose of the Provincial Izimbizo was to hear directly from the people about their concerns and their needs, allowing them to raise any issue on their minds, with no restrictions. This process helped greatly to sensitise us to the expectations of the people on many issues of immediate interest to them.

It also exposed us to what they expected Government to do, to address the challenge of providing a better life for all. As the Honourable Members know and would expect, this related particularly to the sphere of local government.

The people's response confirmed that we were correct to emphasise the critical importance of local government as the one sphere of government that faces the greatest challenge to maintain the closest possible contact with the people, the best placed to give practical expression to the vision that the people shall govern.

As the Honourable Members know, sooner or later the Minister of Provincial and Local Government and the IEC, our Electoral Commission, will announce the date for the next local government elections, Arising from the concerns expressed by the people about local government and what we know of the challenges facing this sphere of government, I would like to make a proposal for consideration by the National Council, relating to the forthcoming elections.

Last week I had to answer a question in the National Assembly occasioned by the concern of a Member of Parliament about the processes in which the various political parties in our country are engaged, to select their candidates for the next local government elections.

In my response to this question, I indicated that I have indeed received disturbing reports concerning some of these selection processes. There seems to be a very intense interest among some of our citizens to secure nomination as candidate councillors, using all means available to them.

This has resulted in various actions, which, though affecting individual political parties and organisations, clearly do not contribute to the further deepening of democracy in our country. Among other things, the actions to which I refer seek to undermine the free expression of the will of the people in the party selection processes.

This is done by way of all manner of unacceptable actions, which include outright intimidation through the use of threat of violence targeted at the intra-party electors. This also includes corrupt practice, represented by various forms of bribery of the potential voters empowered to participate in the party selection processes.

I believe that we must state the pre-eminent consideration in this regard in a forthright manner. This unseemly scramble for political power in municipal government appears to be driven by the desire to abuse elected positions to lay hands on the economic resources that the local authorities have the possibility to access.

This includes the power of members of municipal executive authorities to determine the outcomes of municipal tendering processes, regardless of the fact that the Municipal Finance Management Act expressly prohibits the involvement of councillors and mayors in adjudicating bids for municipal tenders.

Despite this legal provision, it is obvious that those desperately hungry for political power for selfish reasons are driven first and foremost by hunger to get rich quick at the expense of the poor of our country. These are the same poor masses that elect popular representatives, confident that they are putting their X signs opposite the names and symbols of parties and individuals committed to serve their interests.

However, as I said in my Address to the National Council last year, and as I have already indicated, we need "municipalities that serve all our people and have the requisite capacity to provide regular and reliable services to citizens as well as being at the forefront of the reconstruction and development of our country".

We cannot build such a system of municipal government by electing councillors driven by criminally selfish motives, who have absolutely no interest in serving the people and who do not belong among those determined to occupy the forward trenches in the difficult and complex struggle for the reconstruction and development of our country, focused on the achievement of the goal of a better life for all.

I humbly request that you use your powerful voice as elected representatives of the people, to urge all our parties and local communities to present as candidate councillors people they are convinced are truly committed to serve the people of South Africa.

In this regard, if you accept my proposal, I would suggest that you also indicate publicly the kind of behaviour that is unacceptable in the nomination processes, as well as the behaviour that is acceptable in our democracy, to help the masses of our people to understand the kinds of activity our elected legislative organs and the rest of our governance system find impermissible.

Further to this, I would suggest that the NCOP should not be satisfied merely to adopt the kind of resolution I am proposing. I would dare suggest that having adopted such a resolution, the National Council should make every effort to ensure that his resolution, reflecting its views, is communicated to as many South Africans as possible.

This would help to create the national climate that will help all of us to elect an echelon of municipal leaders who enjoy the confidence of the people, because they inspire certainly among the electorate that they will act as, truly, the people's envoys.

I am certain that the millions of our people would feel greatly obliged to this particular sitting of the National Council if, at its conclusion, it said that as an elected organ of state, It had taken up the cudgels to promote the achievement of the objective - good councillors for developmental municipalities!

Chairperson, I have said that the current round of Municipal Izimbizo differs significantly from our previous Provincial Izimbizo. For the Municipal Izimbizo, we decided to focus on the strategic objective to help the municipal authorities to meet their obligations, regardless of their size and resource endowment.

To achieve this, as the Honourable Members are aware, our Municipal Izimbizo consist of interaction between ourselves on the one hand, and the Mayoral Committees, the municipal management echelon, and the Ward Committees on the other.

In the first instance this had enabled us to identify the specific problems that impact negatively on the possibility of the municipalities to meet their obligations to the people. We have been greatly assisted in this regard by work done by Project Consolidate and the IDP Hearings Panel Reports, both of which detail the constraints impeding effective service delivery and socio-economic development.

To give an indication of what I am talking about, let me cite some of the comments made by the Panel that conducted the IDP Hearings in the Gert Sibande District Municipality in Mpumalanga. Among other things the Panel said:

  • There are serious capacity constraints in most local municipalities. Their District interventions are short-term oriented in the sense that they are focused mainly on district staff deployment…instead of working towards capacitating the respective local municipalities to be self-sufficient in the future".
  • "The District is…focusing on micro projects that have very little impact on the economy of the district. There are no plans for big anchor projects with large socio-economic spin-offs."
  • "The District is still struggling with planning processes due to a system of over-reliance on consultants".
  • The District is often not able to spend some of the funds it has available, due to its own implementation capacity constraints.."

Having met and engaged the executive and administrative leadership of Gert Sibande District, I would say that these leaders are indeed working hard to ensure that the municipalities they lead and manage, meet their obligations to the people. The problems identified at the IDP Hearings do not arise from a lack of commitment by this leader to discharge its responsibilities.

Part of the problem was identified by Project Consolidate, which said that almost 20% of municipal posts were vacant, significantly this included 15 of the top managerial positions, 85 within the Professional Category including engineers, town planners and so on, and 130 skilled artisans required for maintenance and operations.

It is obvious that without this skilled personnel, the district will continue to experience serious shortfalls in terms of meeting its own IDP objectives. During the Gert Sibande imbizo our attention was also drawn to gross imbalances in terms of the staff employed by the various local municipalities in the district. Govan Mbeki Local Municipality accounts for about 25% of the population of the district, while Albert Luthuli Local Municipality has 21% of the population.

And yet Albert Luthuli Municipality employs only 191 people, compared to the 1448 employed by the Govan Mbeki Municipality. It is perfectly obvious that with such a small staff, Albert Luthuli can never hope to achieve any of its development objectives.

The reason for this extraordinary disparity became very clear when it was explained that Goven Mbeki Municipality covered the town of Secunda, while the Albert Luthuli Municipality covered the formed KwaNdebele bantustan area. In order words, the democratic order has permitted the perpetuation of the gross imbalance that existed during the apartheid years between white South Africa and bantustan South Africa.

Both the challenges we have mentioned raise critical questions about municipal finances. To hire the skilled personnel to fill the vacant posts in the Gert Sibande municipal area and properly staff the Albert Luthuli Local Municipality will require financial resources that these municipalities may not have.

And yet if we require these municipalities to contribute to the achievement of the goal of a better life for all, as we do, we surely have an obligation to provide the municipalities with the resources they need to help our country realise this goal.

Chairperson, as I have already indicated, during the Municipal Izimbizo we also interact with the Ward Committees. Again, this gives us the possibility to understand the specific challenges facing this important institution in our system of governance.

It seems clear that many municipalities have indeed made serious efforts to ensure that they establish the Ward Committees, However there are some problems that need to be solved to improve the effectiveness of these Committees, which play a vital role in ensuring the interaction between the people and our governance system that we spoke of at the beginning of this Address.

Ward Committee members raise such questions as the need to ensure adequate funding of their Committees, some emolument for the members, improving interaction between the Committee and the Councils and feedback from the Councils, extending the mandates of the Committees beyond one year, and strengthening the Speakers' Offices to improve their capacity to support the Ward Committees.

Chairperson and Honourable Members, I have mentioned these detailed matters about local government to encourage the NCOP to take the issue of strengthening our system of local government as one of this major challenges.

As we sought to indicate earlier on, as we commented on the unique position of the National Council within our system of governance, the NCOP would necessarily also have to focus on the realisation of the objective of co-operative governance, without which it would not be possible to build an effective system of local government.

The central task facing us during this Second Decade of Freedom is to ensure the implementation of the policies and programmes we have evolved during our eleven years of liberation. This decade must see us move forward to achieve the targets we have set ourselves with regard to such important matters as the reduction of unemployment and poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
To achieve these objectives requires that we attend to the details thrown up by the requirements to ensure the successful implementation of our policies and programmes.

The NCOP would serve our country and people well if it so organised its work that it gives itself the space to focus on the challenge to help our system of local government to measure up to its developmental challenges.

Success in this regard will ensure that we succeed to move forward decisively towards the achievement of the goal of a better life for all. I am certain that the NCOP will rise to this challenge and continue to stand in the front ranks of the institutions in our country committed to building a winning and people-centred society consistent with the vision espoused in the Freedom Charter.
I thank you for your attention.

 

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