Ensuring effective, responsible governance in the midst of a devastating storm

Residents of ward 23 in Buffalo City Metro protest for food vouchers and parcels. As the lockdown continues, questions are being asked as to how municipalities will handle the disaster funds during their watch.
Residents of ward 23 in Buffalo City Metro protest for food vouchers and parcels. As the lockdown continues, questions are being asked as to how municipalities will handle the disaster funds during their watch.
Image: MICHAEL PINYANA

Municipalities are at the coalface of service delivery and are therefore expected to play a central role in the nation's fight against the coronavirus. However, managing a pandemic of such magnitude  requires a functional local government immune to maladministration, non-compliance and corruption.

In response to the pandemic President Cyril Ramaphosa implemented unprecedented actions across all three spheres of government, saying Covid-19 was a threat to our healthcare system, our economy and, most importantly, our people. This is what  precipitated the special measures to respond immediately to the spread of the virus. 

As expected, the national government response placed municipalities right at the centre of the battlefield, as mandated by the constitution.  In the spirit of our founding document, municipalities are entrusted with  working to extend services and reduce inequalities, and demonstrate to the people that their society is capable of organising itself in an efficient and effective manner.

However, this mandate has been kicked down the road over two decades of the existence of local government. A litany of auditor-general reports point out that among the challenges that face municipal governance is indecisive leadership in confronting maladministration and corruption. Consequence management is  lacking in many municipalities. 

In the fight against Covid-19 some sections of the Public Finance Management Act and Municipal Finance Management Act were relaxed to speed up procurement of essential products and services.  These services range from provision of water tanks to informal settlements and provision of food parcels to needy households.

How will a sphere riddled with poor compliance, poor audit results, supply chain management failures and unauthorised and irregular expenditure overcome this pandemic in a competent manner? 

As part of the response to Covid-19, the Disaster Management Fund has been allocated to municipalities to boost their ability to curb the virus. A critical question arises as result: how will a sphere riddled with poor compliance, poor audit results, supply chain management failures and unauthorised and irregular expenditure overcome this pandemic in a competent manner? 

Indeed, many argue that Covid-19 has changed our daily lives and the way we interact and do things. This is evident in the shut-down of whole cities and countries, and new distancing rules for interaction. Technology has become essential to connect socially with others in this time of physical isolation. Definitely, the impact will be long-lasting.

The world's economies are all suffering but in all likelihood Third World countries, including South Africa, will feel the impact of the pandemic disproportionately. SA's economic situation will be exacerbated by the most recent downgrading by Moody's and Fitch rating agencies.

While we don't really know what the future holds, trying to look at what lies ahead feels frightening. Yet we will eventually overcome.

Many predictions are being made about municipal governance. Some political elites anticipate positive change.  My submission is that, beside bringing about the deaths of many who can't afford healthcare, Covid-19 will deepen corruption and the looting of state resources by those running municipalities.

Local municipalities need to urgently establish and enforce a consequence management strategy

As a response to organised cartels of corruption in the sphere, local municipalities need to urgently establish and enforce a consequence management strategy. This would enable municipalities to identify potential risks with the main goal to reduce the impact of the effects in order to guarantee a smooth organisation and co-ordination of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

For the consequence management strategy to be effective it needs to encompass: 

  • Control measures that can predict and prevent potential obstruction of accountability and governance measures;
  • The "will" of leaders to initiate appropriate mechanisms of punishment for governance lapses; and 
  • Organisation-level policies that foster a culture of best-practice behaviour.

Municipalities need to establish an integrated system with state security agencies such as  the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority. This should be done with the intention to enforce sanctions and punish officials who contravene municipal laws. Such an integrated consequence management strategy should hopefully also act as a deterrent to those contemplating malfeasance.

Covid-19 has provided the SA Local Government Association with an opportune moment to establish effective management strategies that can continue to be used after the pandemic for improved delivery of services to communities.

Vusumzi  Mba is a researcher for the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders. He writes in his personal capacity.


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