The South African 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.