Themba Maseko - Third National Conference of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA)

25 April 2007

25 April 2007

Efforts to strengthen the Government Communication System with emphasis on Local Government

The Minister of Public Service and Administration
The Chairperson of SALGA
The executive of SALGA
Mayors and councillors
Ladies and gentlemen,

We would like to thank SALGA for the opportunity to present our input to this august gathering. The premise from which we move in this presentation is that the SA Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantee freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right of access to information. This creates an imperative for government to communicate with the public in a way that ensures that they have the information required for them to be active agents in improving their lives and in shaping the direction of their communities and the country. It requires government to create platforms for the interaction of government and the people.

To fulfil this requirement, government set out in 1998 to build a government-wide communication system. Starting at the national level, it was extended to the provincial level and we are now busy extending it to the local level. One of the critical players and stakeholders to partner us in this mammoth task is SALGA. To this end, GCIS have been working with SALGA and DPLG, to strengthen the local government communication system. How far have we progressed?

Government-wide Communication System

This is a system of government communicators encompassing three spheres with a key aim of coordinating communication and ensuring message coherence. Significant progress has been made in establishing a government-wide communication system. At national and provincial levels, there are various coordinating forums established to ensure that government is communicating in a coherent and integrated manner to the public.

This has strengthened coordination and coherence in communication. With particular reference to the provincial system, interaction with provincial coordinators has been maintained through regular meetings and joint activities, including imbizo and other campaigns coordinated by the Head of Communication in the Office of the Premier.

Welcome progress has now been made with respect to the establishment of the local government communication system. The 2006 Local government communication conference held in May 2006 and hosted by SALGA, the DPLG and GCIS, has added impetus to the process of extending the communication system to the municipal sphere. The conference considered and approved the draft guidelines for a system of local government communication. This was followed by the endorsement of guidelines by the following fora:

  • SALGA Members Assembly in June 2006
  • Technical Min-Mec for Local government, and Local Government Min-Mec
  • Technical PCC.

Since then, Local Government Communication core teams in each province have been established and are operational, and District Communicators Forums have been established to coordinate communication at the municipal sphere.

But there is much more to be done, in particular to ensure that communication is practiced as a strategic function in policy and programme implementation in local government. While this ensures that communities are better able to hold local government accountable and participate more effectively in the business of the municipality, it also makes sure that all opportunities created by democracy and which are being rolled out locally, are well known and readily available.

Key Communication Issues For Local Government

The five-year strategic agenda of local government (2006-2011), adopted last year, remains a key thrust for communication. Therefore, it is important both that implementation be promoted through communication and that progress made in implementing the strategic agenda be profiled, as and when municipalities meet targets set, with respect to the expansion of access to basic services, strengthening of ward committees and the implementation of municipal indigent policy, local economic development, fighting crime and corruption and so on .

Intensification of outreach campaigns and more use of such platforms as izimbizo, Thusong Services Centres (formerley MPCCs), Ward Committees and Community Development Workers (CDWs) is critical for local government leadership to remain in touch with the people, understand their concerns and address their needs.

Dealing decisively and visibly with acts of corruption, the authority of local government should more decisively be asserted in the area of the fight against corruption. This will go a long way in restoring the public credibility of local government sphere.

The “Clean up and Green up” campaign has been identified as a critical local campaign, and GCIS and SALGA are developing a strategy for a nationwide campaign, together with other relevant departments such as DPLG, DEAT and DWAF. It is envisaged that this will become a mass campaign with a view to mobilising the rest of society to clean and green up their living environment to strengthen communities through social cohesion.

Other critical local government communication programmes include:

  • Profiling how municipalities work, who are the local leaders and how communities can get involved in the life of the municipality
  • Communication about IDP priorities per municipality and encouraging public participation in the annual IDP process
  • Campaigning to profile the work of ward committees and promote public participation
  • Batho Pele in local government
  • Implementation of programmes to ensure BBBEE (LED and second economy interventions)
  • Anti-corruption campaign in local government.

Actions to make this happen:

The support of political principals is necessary for communication to be recognised and practised as a strategic function. This means:

  • For all municipalities, a Councillor from the Mayoral committee to serve as a political champion for communication (oversight)
  • Communication as a standing item on the Mayoral Committee and Council
  • All municipal programmes and policies having clear communication implications identified, and communication strategies developed
  • Communicators who account to the Mayor and are managed on a day-to-day basis by the Municipal Manager
  • Senior communicators sitting in management and leadership structures tasked to assess communication implications and develop messages and programmes
  • Strengthen the capacity of ward committees to promote public participation and to communicate the local programme of action.

A standing item on communication should feature on the agenda of all intergovernmental fora.

As part of efforts to extend the system of government to local sphere, it is clear that guidelines for municipal communication are required to address, amongst others, the following:

  • municipal communication institutions at municipalities including reporting lines, post levels and Key Performance Areas
  • intergovernmental communication relations
  • communication cycle for local government following the annual IDP policy cycle
  • communication cycle for local government following the annual IDP policy cycle
  • municipal communications policy
  • outlines process for the development of a municipal communication strategy
  • recommendations on capacity development processes for municipal communicators
  • alignment between the various fora of intergovernmental relations
  • definition of a clear role for government communicators in support of public participation institutions in the municipality, including ward committees
  • associated implementation issues including various templates and addenda to guide municipal communications

Recommendations and the way forward

SALGA and the delegates to this national conference can play a major part in strengthening the capacity of local government to communicate, and expanding the government communication system to the local level.

We therefore request the SALGA national conference to note progress made with the establishment of the government-wide communication system, with particular reference to expanding it to the local government level, and to give support to this process. In this regard, an inter-institutional committee comprising SALGA, GCIS and DPLG will be presenting guidelines to the Presidential Coordinating Council (PCC) later this year.

Local government communication campaigns should profile implementation of the five-year local government strategic agenda.

Attention should be given to capacitating municipal communication staff – in particular, resources already available for training in local government should be harnessed to ensure that municipal communicators receive adequate training.

Delegates should encourage completion of the process to establish District Communication Fora as points where communication is coordinated between the three spheres of government and communication issues are generated for submission to the relevant IGR fora. Twenty-eight of the planned forty-six fora are currently functional.

We trust that you will endorse plans to hold province-specific induction sessions for each municipal communicator newly-appointed in these posts, through provincial core teams.

I thank you all.

Themba Maseko
Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)


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