SETTING THE SCENE
The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) is convening its National Executive Committee (NEC) Lekgotla in Cape Town, having commenced on 6 February 2017. Today is the third day of the Lekgotla. It is an important week in South Africa, with the State of the Nation Address (SONA) being held on Thursday. The SONA lays out the nation’s progress over the previous year and projects what government wants to achieve in the current year through its programme of action. Local government being the sphere of government closest to the people, SALGA is expecting issues of service delivery, challenges and solutions to improve the work of local government to feature dominantly.
The NEC Lekgotla is the first meeting of the newly elected political leadership of SALGA, following successful municipal elections that provided local government with a fresh electoral mandate. The SALGA national and provincial conferences held between September and December 2016 not only produced new political leadership for the organisation but also a number of weighty resolutions which must be translated into programmes of the organisation through a Five Year Strategic Plan for 2017-2022.
STATE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT
As the sphere emerges from the local government elections and the new term of office of local government, there is a need to reflect on the State of Local Government and the mandate for the new term of office.
In so doing so SALGA invited Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Desmond Van Rooyen. Within the context of SALGA’s role as organised local government, the NEC received an update from the Minister on the commitments made by the SALGA membership during the May 2016 National Members Assembly and November 2016 National Conference. The SALGA NEC calls on local government to continue with the implementation of the Back to Basics Programme to ensure that service delivery is not affected as the new councils inject in political direction as per their renewed mandates form the electorate.
SALGA has observed that, as South Africans settled into the New Year, reports about the threats by ESKOM to discontinue electricity supply to certain municipalities owing the power utility dominated the headlines. SALGA is aware that the municipal debt to Eskom has risen to just over R9.6 billion. It is SALGA’s view and position that the services used must be paid for by municipalities as well as customers.
While the problems and challenges around the debt need our urgent attention, it must also be acknowledged that some of the root causes that exacerbate the situation are far more reaching, complicated and not as simple. SALGA call on Eskom to work with municipalities to review its credit control policies which has some bearing on the escalation of the debts and if not revised or discontinued, the debts problem will not go away.
It is this reason that SALGA has escalated the matter to the highest level in government, where it calls for urgent intervention to deal with the root causes leading to municipal debt in local government. SALGA will soon be meeting with the President of the Republic Hon. Jacob Zuma to discuss challenges such as the Eskom debt as well as the R117 billion debt owed to municipalities
The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Hon Des van Rooyen, has commended SALGA on some notable achievements, despite an increase in South Africa’s population from 44,8 million in 2001 to 55,9 million in 2016. Access to electricity, for example, increased from 70 percent in 2001, to 85.5% of households in 2015. While only 60,1 percent of households had access to flush, chemical or ventilated pit toilets in 2001, this increased to 79,9 percent in 2015.
SALGA agrees with the Minister Van Rooyen that that closer cooperation between national, provincial and local government was vital to the success of the Back to Basics programme. Minister Van Rooyen has reiterated the challenges that municipalities faced with Eskom were receiving the attention of the Department of Public Enterprises, NERSA National Treasury and CoGTA.
ORGANISED LOCAL GOVERNMENT AT THE GLOBAL LEVEL
SALGA is proud of the strides it is making at the global level, particularly its growing influence in the continental and global system of local government. In his capacity as United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) President, Parks Tau, visited the UCLG World Secretariat on 18-19 January, with the aim of discussing the action plan for 2017 and the strategy for the implementation of the 2030 and Habitat III Agendas. During his special visit, President Tau underlined his will to enhance the network and continue UCLG’s legacy “to build democratic and sustainable territories based on solidarity”.
SALGA will continue to lobby and advocate for local government not only embrace transformation but advance it. The complexity of the environment within which municipalities operate featured highly in the NEC Lekgotla, including the role of local government in achieving the goals of the National Development Plan. SALGA recommits itself to be the voice of local government and to inspire service delivery.
Distributed by APO on behalf of Republic of South Africa: Department of Government Communication and Information.
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