Supporting local government in the midst of a pandemic

localgovSouth African municipalities face severe challenges at the best of times. According to Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu’s 2017/2018 financial audit of municipalities, released in 2019, one-third of them spend more than they earn, with irregular and wasteful expenditure reaching R122 billion. Of the 257 audited municipalities, just 18 received clean audits. Performance reports by 65% of municipalities were dubious and close to unusable.

The fact that municipalities have not been delivering on their mandates is evident from ongoing service delivery protests, of which there were 218 in 2019. While the inclination has been to point fingers at corrupt individuals, some of the failures are due to weak governance, poor financial management, overburdened infrastructure, and a lack of human and institutional capacity. Where business has partnered with government to overcome some of these challenges, significant progress has been made. It is therefore clear why building capacity at local government level is considered a key factor in social development.

On 12 June 2020, responsible business consultancy Trialogue hosted a webinar on supporting local government, with panellists Paul Smith (head of local government support at Kagiso Trust) and John Lomberg (stakeholder relations manager at Santam) providing insight into how donors and companies can support municipalities during a crisis as well as under more normal circumstances. 

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Why is capacity building at local municipalities important?

The Constitution elevates local government to a sphere of government, firmly establishing local government’s autonomy.

National and provincial governments can supervise the functioning of local government but may not encroach on their institutional integrity. Local government is therefore key in terms of delivering services and developing communities. Its role is to eliminate the unequal legacy of the past and upgrade previously disadvantaged areas in order to provide equal services to all. The Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000 and the Municipal Finance Management Act of 2003 direct municipalities to follow a development agenda, guided by Integrated Development Planning (IDP), which priorities and budgets for service delivery to communities.

Section 154(1) of the Constitution requires national and provincial governments to support efforts that strengthen municipal performance – however, there are few instances of this having happened (or happened to an acceptable level).

Government’s capacity-building initiatives have not been formally evaluated, so it is difficult to assess just how successful they have been, and there is a lack of baseline data at municipal level. However, interventions should aim to:

  • Make a municipality sustainably functional and capable of demonstrable service delivery.

  • Ensure that staff members can perform their jobs or carrying out their duties and possess the relevant qualifications by means of formal education, or competencies by means of training. 

There are vast differences in the 278 municipalities in the country, which means that no ‘one size fits all’ approach to capacity building will be effective. Interventions must be designed on a case-by-case basis – and they also need to be ongoing to achieve the desired outcomes (a challenge when municipal officials do not remain in their positions).

It is necessary to assess how functional each municipality is at the outset (as per benchmarks) and whether they are achieving, overachieving or underachieving in terms of their objectives (defined by the Integrated Development Plan and Service Delivery and Budget Implementation Plan). It should also be ascertained whether the municipality in question is complying with legislation and reporting requirements, such as implementing the principles in the Transforming Public Service Delivery White Paper (Batho Pele White Paper).

Interventions should ideally address the root causes of lack of capacity, rather than just address the symptoms. When designing an intervention, it is necessary to look at what gaps exist, whether data is forthcoming, and how much funding has been allocated to date.


Diagram source: The South African Local Government National Capacity Building Framework of 2011 : critical future considerations for 2016

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What is Capacity Building?

There is no common definition of capacity building, particularly among different departments and stakeholders – one of the challenges faced when it comes to coordinating interventions. However, in a broad sense, the term can relate to anything from improved governance, technical advice, and programme development to fundraising, managing human resources, and skills training.

The purpose of capacity building is to improve the functionality, performance and service delivery of local government.

The National Capacity Building Framework for Local Government defines capacity as “the potential for something to happen”, viewing it through the lenses of individual, institutional and environmental capacity.

  • Individual capacity refers to staff members’ qualifications, experience and competence (knowledge, skills and attitude) required for specific jobs, as defined during the Local Government Skills Audit. This is reflected through the staff members’ (including councillors) specific qualifications, experience and functional/technical, managerial/leadership and generic competence, acquired through education, training, development, experience, networks, values, membership of a professional body, and so on. Individual capacity building is a process that increases the capability of individuals to deliver a service.
  • Institutional capacity refers to the potential or competency within municipalities, and capacity building within this context is a process of creating more responsive, effective, efficient and accountable municipalities through support, capacity building and training initiatives. 

  • Environmental capacity is the potential or competency outside a municipality’s formal structures, which contribute to a conducive environment for a municipality to operate. This encompasses socioeconomic, demographic, geographic, infrastructural and other resources. Environmental capacity building refers to an integrated strategy that addresses development indicators and builds both individual and institutional capacity.

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