By Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi
Elected representatives should serve the people and move the country forward by strengthening Ward Committees.
Amilcar Cabral, one of Africa’s foremost revolutionary leaders, once said: “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.”
These wise words by the revolutionary leader of Guinea-Bissau should serve as a guide to all incoming public representatives who were elected in the recent local government elections on their role in our communities.
Our people are not interested in big ideas or factional battles; they want to see real improvement in their everyday lives through service delivery. They want representatives who have been elected to honour their commitments and help move our country forward.
The recent local government elections gave the citizens of this country an opportunity to elect people who have their best interests at heart and understand their needs. Councillors have been entrusted to make a real difference to people’s lives and should be responsible for delivering basic services such as electricity, water, sanitation and refuse removal.
They will also undergo an intensive Integrated Induction Programme that is presented by government through the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). The programme is delivered in collaboration with Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), the National Treasury, the National School of Government, Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) and a range of stakeholders within and outside of government.
It will be presented over five consecutive days to orientate new councillors in their roles and responsibilities. Returning councillors are offered a refresher course – either through contact sessions or over an e-learning platform.
The programme takes them through the pillars of the Back to Basics approach, which emphasises putting people first, promoting good governance, transparency and accountability and ensuring sound financial management and accounting. The Back to Basics approach is aimed at ensuring that all municipalities perform their basic functions without compromise.
However, citizens need to understand that their responsibility does not end with voting. They must find ways to hold those they elected accountable and keep them focussed on citizens’ needs and priorities. Citizens should make use of various platforms such as Ward Committees, created to regularly engage them and get feedback on various developments in their areas.
The Ward Committees were established to help improve communication between local municipalities and communities. They play an important role in being a link between the community’s needs and the municipal planning processes. They have the responsibility to inform the municipality about the aspirations, requirements and problems of the people they represent.
The Ward Committees are supposed to be independent bodies that perform their responsibilities without fear or favour. They are meant to be made up of not more than 10 members of the community who represent various interests within the ward, such as ordinary residents, women, youth, ratepayers, business and trade unions.
There are some who argue that these committees are ineffective and are often dominated by political party activists that result in poor communication with communities. As government, we are aware there have been challenges in the past and have committed ourselves to provide hands-on support to allow these committees to be in in a better position to execute their mandates.
Members will be sensitised during the induction programme that meaningful public participation by the community is both a legal and constitutional imperative. We also want to make sure community interests are championed by those appointed to these committees.
Their success however depends on members of the community playing their part by volunteering to be part of these structures and hold them to account. These Committees require well-informed and skilled members who have knowledge and understanding of the needs of their communities they represent. This is important because the decisions they take might influence development in the area.
For instance, the Municipal Structures Act empowers them to have a say in decision-making, planning of projects, the Integrated Development Planning, performance management and allocation of funds to the council or municipality. It means these people must be accessible for the community to make proposals and suggestions on developments that must happen in the area.
The 2016 local government elections have come and gone. There is no doubt that they will go down in history as one of the most highly contested elections since the dawn of our democracy. Councils around the country have also met to elect Mayors, Council Speakers and Chief Whips. It is now up to us to ensure that those we have elected deliver on their promises so that we can achieve a better life for all.
Ngoako Ramatlhodi is the Minister of Public Service and Administration