Empowering local governance: A path to progress

Kopo LehobyeBy Kopo Ndhlovu 

The recent audit outcomes for local governments, as outlined by the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) for 2021/2022, highlight the ongoing challenges in financial management and governance within our municipalities. While the numbers indicate slow progress, with only a fraction receiving clean audits, they also serve as a rallying call for intensified efforts towards improvement.

Acknowledging these challenges, the Department of Cooperative Governance (DCoG) and National Treasury are spearheading initiatives to provide targeted support and interventions to struggling municipalities. Municipal Support and Intervention Plans (MSIPs) have been developed for 66 distressed municipalities, alongside Financial Recovery Plans (FRPs) for those under mandatory intervention, affirming commitment to proactive problem-solving.

Despite the sobering audit outcomes, there are notable bright spots. The increase in the timely submission of financial statements from 81% to 91% and the reduction in municipalities with disclaimed audit opinions signal tangible progress. These improvements are attributed to provincial interventions addressing previous AGSA findings, coupled with various government-led programmes aimed at bolstering municipal capacity. These include: 

Promoting Accountability Through Proper Records Keeping: By offering technical support on records management, DCoG fosters a culture of accountability and compliance within municipalities, laying the groundwork for improved audit outcomes.
Enhancing Revenue Management Through Data Accuracy: Addressing billing inaccuracies, DCoG's focus on data management not only boosts revenue but also ensures efficient service delivery to communities.
Empowering Municipalities Through Cost of Supply Studies: Cost-of-supply studies enable informed decision-making, empowering municipalities to allocate resources effectively and enhance service delivery.
Strengthening Institutional Capacity: Initiatives to address organizational challenges within municipalities ensure they are equipped with competent personnel, vital for effective governance.
Promoting Collaborative Partnerships for Success: Strategic collaborations with entities like Chartered Institute of Government Finance Audit and Risk Officers (CIGFARO) and the National Treasury maximize support networks, enhancing overall municipal performance.
Addressing the Use of Consultants Through Regulation and Training: Regulations and training initiatives aimed at reducing reliance on consultants institutionalizes sustainable governance structures within municipalities.

Additionally, the introduction of the District Development Model (DDM) signifies a concerted effort to streamline service delivery and promote local economic growth. Piloted in select Districts, the DDM prioritizes community needs while advocating for localized procurement to support businesses and job creation.

The recent President’s Coordinating Council (PCC) discussions highlighted the urgency of local government reform and improving intergovernmental coordination. Proposals for infrastructure grant utilization and service delivery improvement underscore government's resolve to addressing challenges head-on.

While the road ahead may be challenging, the positive strides made offer hope and momentum. With a foundation laid by ongoing initiatives, including the DDM, there is a collective call to action for all South Africans to engage actively in building responsive, accountable, and efficient local governance structures.

As we navigate these challenges, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to progress. Together, through collaborative efforts and citizen engagement, we can realize a future where our municipalities thrive, serving as beacons of excellence and service to all. The road to ensuring a better nation requires every South African to play a constructive part and we challenge everyone to heed the call to action, to get involved and make our municipalities optimally functional, efficient and effective.

Kopo Ndhlovu is Deputy Director: Research at Government Communication and Information System