Structural issues in municipalities stand in the way of sustainable service delivery

This afternoon, Deputy President David Mabuza tried to explain to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) how he assists the president in implementing rapid response interventions on service delivery and troubleshooting in service delivery hotspots. BC Gildenhuys & Associates, however, wants to know if the administration even understands how structural issues make it practically impossible to achieve current service delivery objectives.

“We want to believe that councils and political parties aim to strengthen their position with 2024 firmly in mind but also to show substantial improvements in service delivery and financial sustainability over the next five years,” says Burgert Gildenhuys, director. “However, our municipalities have structural issues that are not always understood or appreciated. Irrespective of our ability to run “clean” administrations or to curb corruption, there are issues that will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve or sustain our current service delivery objectives.”

There are three main reasons which challenge service delivery goals.

  1. As Councils, we don’t grasp the long-term operating consequences of our capital investment programmes and a history of 25 years of inappropriate investment under the banner of “pro-poor” policies.
  2. Municipal Councils operate under policy regimes that are inappropriate, unattainable and ignore the realities of today and the future – increased poverty and rapid urbanisation.
  3. And unfortunately, putting it bluntly, our municipalities do not know the extent of their problems. As a result, many of our critical strategic decisions are ill-informed and based on plans developed on a fragile information base.

“If one may quote the City of Tshwane as an example,” Gildenhuys explains. “Firstly, the city reached a point where 50% of its households stay in informal structures. Yet, most of the Council’s policies and development frameworks are silent on this.

“Secondly, households in Tshwane grow by an estimated 33 000 households per annum. To put that into perspective, 98 of South Africa’s 213 local municipalities have fewer households than Tshwane’s annual growth. Since the elections in November 2021, the demand for infrastructure and social services in Tshwane alone has grown by nearly 10 000 households.”

The government can have plan upon plan to solve service delivery problems, but if they don’t know the extent of the services to be delivered and develop the capacity to assess the capital and operating cost impact of the policies they promise to implement, they will never successfully provide services.