President Cyril Ramaphosa says accountable, accessible and reachable leadership is key to a well-run local government in the country.
The President was reflecting in his weekly newsletter following the voter registration weekend and ahead of the local government elections next month.
President Ramaphosa said during his visits to Mpumalanga and Soweto over the weekend, local residents highlighted that in the run up to elections, candidates standing for positions in council are full of energy and listen to their service delivery issues. However, once they are elected to those positions, “they either disappear or it becomes difficult to reach them”.
“A number of people in the communities I visited told me that municipalities are slow to attend to their problems, don’t keep communities updated about disruptions, and when services are cut off for non-payment, [municipalities] fail to inform them of their options in a manner or language they understand,” the President said.
He said this lack of effective communication often creates a chasm between local government and the people they serve which cascades into flare ups in service delivery protests.
The President said an example of this is the current electricity problems faced by communities in Soweto whose electricity was cut-off without clear explanations to them.
“When people are deprived of the basic services without proper explanation of why this has happened or how it is being fixed, it erodes public confidence in local government. Sometimes people think that the only way to get the attention of those tasked with the provision of services is through violent protest,” he said.
President Ramaphosa emphasised that it is the responsibility of publicly elected officials to have an open line of communication with the communities they represent.
“[E]lected public representatives need to be out in communities, listening to their concerns and resolving their problems. Accountable local government means maintaining a sustained public presence and an open door policy, not just when election time comes around. Services must be delivered and allocated budgets must be spent. When this does not happen as planned, elected officials must clearly explain why and show how and when problems will be fixed,” the President said.
He also highlighted that citizens also have a democratic responsibility not to damage public infrastructure or to access services through illegal means.
However, the President said citizens “must use their vote to deal with councillors with poor track records”.
“Water, electricity, sanitation, housing, education and health care are the things people need most to have a decent quality of life. Where local government fails to meet these needs, the impact is immediate and profound. But when local government is efficient and well-run, it provides the foundation people need to improve their living standards and find opportunities.
“Just as citizens should use their vote to improve their communities, I also wish to encourage those standing for election to listen to what people are saying about engaging with them more effectively and more often,” he said.
The President called on all citizens – regardless of their political affiliation – to “rebuild trust and communication” between communities and their leaders. – SAnews