The 1998 “‘mini-Constitution’ for local government”: A review of the assumptions of the White Paper on Local Government
Keywords:dysfunction, local government, municipal demarcation, service delivery, South Africa, White Paper
Many South African municipalities suffer service-delivery problems that can usually be ascribed to inadequate management, skills, and budgets. The reasons for these, in turn, invariably include weak economic base, unwise spending of available funds, and difficulty in recruiting and retaining skilled staff. The White Paper on Local Government of 1998, to which Valli Moosa, the then Minister for Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development, referred as “almost [being] regarded as a ‘mini-Constitution’ for local government”, together with the Municipal Demarcation Act of the same year, spelled out the framework in terms of which the local government system would be transformed. Municipalities, covering the entire country “wall-to-wall”, were thereafter established and powers and functions were assigned to them. After more than two decades, there can no longer be any doubt that many municipalities are, to a significant extent, failing in their primary duty of delivering services. The author sought to investigate to what extent this failing is due to flaws in the ‘mini-Constitution’. By examining aspects of the performance of municipalities, the article assesses key assumptions made by the drafters of the White Paper in respect of a number of key attributes for service delivery. These attributes include sufficient skills and funding, prudent budgeting and effective spending, good leadership, adequate systems and data, stability of the senior leadership, and the presence of trust and credibility. The article finds that many of the assumptions were flawed, with severe consequences for service delivery.
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