Douglas Gibson |
31 January 2023
Douglas Gibson says local govt is in a bad place in SA; no matter where one looks, things are deteriorating
31 January 2023
Voters’ reaction to coalition changes in the Metro Councils has been interesting. Some have reacted with disapproval, often utterly rejecting new mayors and mistrusting all politicians. Others feel helpless, certain they can do nothing. A third group welcomed the changes in Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay, especially if their own party was previously out and is now in.
Do these changes benefit the voters and citizens of our major cities, or is it only politicians who benefit?
Voters view with suspicion deals that ignore coalition agreements, manifesto undertakings, agreed policy and principle and favour only the Councillors concerned. This is especially so where the spoils are shared between political parties in one municipality in return for placing the other party in control in another Council. Sweeties: one for you and one for me.
With a few bright spots, local government is in a bad place in SA. Only 15% of Councils obtain clean audits, an important indicator of correct, appropriate and honest spending in the interests of ratepayers and citizens.
It does not differ much from administration everywhere in SA. No matter where one looks, things are deteriorating. Some think the country is falling apart. Being an optimist by nature, I sincerely believe that it is still possible to put things right.
I must disclose I am the non-executive chairperson of the board of directors of City Power Johannesburg (CP), the R20 billion utility company responsible for acquiring electricity, mainly from Eskom, and distributing it to some 350 000 customers. The City of Johannesburg is the sole shareholder. We are transitioning into an innovative, reliable and profitable energy company. CP places a huge premium on doing the right thing by its employees and the customers. Good governance and consequences for those who let us down are essential in the modern CP. Previous maladministration and corruption are being stamped out as far as this is possible.
Readers might find my recent letter to the City Power family of interest: “Dear Colleagues, Johannesburg lives in exciting times. And so does CP …. Cllr Thapelo Amad has been elected as the mayor…. One hears that his is a temporary appointment…. It is the task of CP to serve the city with loyalty and dedication, irrespective of the changes in the political control of the city. We serve the 350 000 customers. I urge every employee …. to give of their best to the great task we have. The new MMC …. may …. not be aware that the current board is a totally non-political one, appointed on merit from 400 applicants. He or she may decide to terminate our appointments at the AGM. That is the MMC’s prerogative. Until that decision is taken and for as long as my appointment as chairperson of the board carries on, I will do everything I can – and more – to serve CP, the City of Johannesburg, our customers and our MMC to the very best of my ability. I urge all staff, Management and Board members to do the same.” I finished with a tribute to Cllr Michael Sun for his exceptional and dedicated service as the MMC responsible for City Power.
This is an attempt to persuade politicians, officials and public, like it or not, coalitions are a feature of political life in SA now. It is the interests of the citizen that are and must always be paramount and they trump the politics of the day. Voters will soon have their say.
Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in The Star