At the Heart of Municipalities
Xolile George is not a household name. Yet, as Chief Executive Officer of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), his visionary leadership is guiding the organisation to make far reaching changes in how municipalities operate. “SALGA is a visible player in influencing policies and laws that municipalities face on day to day governance,” says George. “We have elevated debate and heightened consciousness where we must employ and deploy the best brains at local government level.”
As an association of municipalities SALGA’s primary responsibility is to represent the interests of 278 municipalities regarding law making and policy making. “SALGA is at the centre of pulling it all together and at the heart of it all,” says George. Prior to 1994 South Africa had three tiers of government. The new constitution recognised that governance must create interdependence between national, provincial and local government and three spheres of government were born at the adoption of the new constitution in 1996.
The Role of SALGA
SALGA has five main functions to ensure that local government operates effectively and responsibly. “We have to ensure that a democratic, accountable system of local government operates effectively. The provision of basic services must be sustainable. Local
government must promote economic development and sustainable environmental management services. SALGA must ensure sound financial management and governance in communities, and there must be public participation by citizens in the affairs of local government,” explains George
Scoring Municipalities on their Performance
Asked about his assessment on the state of local government, George is refreshingly candid. “We can give local government a score of three out of five,” he confirms. “We pass the test on the provision of a democratic and accountable system of government and the local government system allows us to choose people.” He concedes that in terms of accountability there is still room for much improvement.
“In a significant number of municipalities – more than 50% - there is recognition that there must be a regular regime of accountability,” says George. On the one hand, “A number of municipalities do not pass the test. They do not do well on the notion of accountability.”
It is in the provision of basic services that local government has the proudest record. “Municipalities have done very well,” confirms George. He bases his assessment on the Statistics South Africa yearly Community Household Survey. “There has been a progressive improvement in catching up on the backlogs of 300 years, but we need human capacity and skill” to push back the frontiers of poverty and underdevelopment backlogs.
The mushrooming of informal settlements presents a huge challenge. These informal settlements present new ‘front logs’ to local government. “The more you deliver the more you become a prospect for migrating,” says George.
At the Core of Human Settlement
SALGA has lobbied successfully for the devolution of the human settlement function to local government, although Human Settlements is a concurrent function of Provincial and National government. “It is quite a strong statement of commitment on the side of SALGA,” says George. “There is an appreciation that local government itself is best placed to deliver integrated human settlements and skillfully manage the rural-urban interface.”
Addressing Corruption and Poor Performance
SALGA’s primary role is providing advice and support and is focusing on the leadership development of managers and councillors thus building institutional capabilities of municipalities, thus building strong governance and deliver capacity and performance. “We have taken the view as SALGA that poor governance manifests itself in corruption. Now we have established structures like public account committees. There is a heightening level of awareness surrounding corruption and maladministration,” says George. For corruption, maladministration and malfeasance to be rooted out, “there must be consequences. SALGA has provided what is termed a Consequences and Accountability Framework. It can’t be just an issue that we condemn this,” explains George. “This includes negligence, which is a failure of leadership.”
SALGA is a New Entity
“The SALGA that we inherited in 2007 and the SALGA that we have today are 100 miles apart,” notes George. “Its effectiveness and impact sector wide and internationally has changed. SALGA has really raised the voice of municipalities quite prominently: influencing the kinds of policies and laws, and articulating the challenges that municipalities face in running city governments and other local and district municipalities, effectively.”
Developing Local Government in Africa
There are few countries in Africa with local government associations. SALGA is helping some associations in countries in East Africa; including Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya in capacity building and in refining their systems of government. Closer to home, in the SADC region, SALGA is assisting Malawi, Namibia, Lesotho, Angola and Mozambique.
Achieving the Impossible
SALGA is acknowledged locally and internationally for its progress. The Auditor-General conferred three Certificates of Excellence on SALGA for Delivering Clean Audit Opinions 2012, 2013 and 2014 financial years and three successive unqualified audit outcomes for 2009-2011. Xolile George is a recipient of numerous awards in his previous role in the city of Johannesburg, was awarded a Boss of the year finalist award in 2014 and recently in July 2015 was named South Africa Country winner on the Public Entities/Enterprises category as well as the SADC regional winner for his leadership. He is now automatically qualifying as a finalist in the Continental Global awards scheduled for November 2015.
Asked from who does he draw greatest inspiration: George says “I draw energy from the words of the late former President Nelson Mandela in his long walk to freedom in which he wrote: ‘What counts in life is not the mere fact that we lived, it is the difference we make in the lives of others that defines the significance of the lives we live’. “
He acknowledges his strong team that works with him. “I appreciate the individual strength of people, making them aware that they matter.”
CASE IN POINT | SALGA
by Samantha Barnes