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The Speakers And The Spoken

A new forum enabling municipal speakers across the country to consult one another on matters of common interest should aid governance and service delivery, reports Rodney Weideman.

A brand new innovation from SALGA, implemented with the noble goal of utilising the diversity and riches of knowledge, experiences and imagination vested in the body of speakers, the SALGA Council of Speakers (SCoS) held its inaugural meeting in August this year.

According to Lance Joel, Executive Director at SALGA, the main aim of the SCoS is to serve as a forum through which municipal speakers are able to consult one another on matters of common interest, with the goal of improving governance and service delivery within the local government sector.

“The Council of Speakers is a platform for speakers to learn from one another and share their own experiences with others. In this way, they can help to ensure that our municipal councils are better run institutions that are set to improve the quality of life in villages, towns and cities across all corners of the country,” he says.

“The Council of Speakers is also an opportunity for the SALGA NEC to obtain vital feedback on key policy issues, which in turn enables SALGA to become more effective in its advocacy work.”

With new councils having been elected in August 2016, he suggests that this has had the consequence of a number of new speakers taking up these roles. Due to this, a number of interesting topics were raised at the inaugural SCoS, including ‘Managing Council Business: The Role of a Speaker in a Municipality’, ‘Examining the Separation of Powers and Functions in local government, drawing experiences from national and provincial government’ and ‘Public Participation with specific focus on the expectations of local government and speakers’.

Critical takeaways

With some 184 of the nation’s 257 municipal speakers attending the event, and with representation from all nine provinces, a number of vital outcomes were discussed.

“Given the various sizes and capacities of municipalities – ranging from large metropolitan municipalities to secondary cities and rural municipalities – it was made clear that there should be a differentiated approach when considering models for the separation of powers and functions.

“Furthermore, it was noted that municipalities need to identify measures of community engagement, in addition to the formal ward committee structures and statutory consultation processes. In addition, effective public participation must include elements of awareness, education, communication, participation, empowerment and regular feedback,” continues Joel.

Another takeaway was that municipalities must consider how advances in technology can be used to improve the involvement of communities in decision-making processes, while they must also develop effective systems and mechanisms to respond to community issues. The latter should include speakers providing regular communication of resolutions by council and its committees to communities.

“It was also pointed out that public participation and engagement across the three spheres of government must be harmonised and coordinated through appropriate intergovernmental mechanisms. Moreover, budget should be allocated to speakers for public participation processes to make communication more effective. Meanwhile, it is equally important  to have a strong law enforcement response to violent protests and destruction of property.

“As indicated earlier, the diversity and riches of knowledge and experiences vested in the collective body of speakers means that the SCoS is a wonderful platform for speakers to learn from one another and share experiences. It is hoped that as the SCoS continues – the next one is scheduled for the first quarter of 2018 – it will help to ensure that our municipal councils are better run institutions, which will more effectively improve the quality of life of citizens throughout South Africa,” he concludes.

Key aims of the SC0S

  • Act as a consultative forum for the development of local government positions on policies and legislation impacting on local government.
  • Identify policy and legislative matters that SALGA needs to include in its advocacy, lobbying and strategic engagements in a proactive manner.
  • Identifying particular challenges faced by the executive in municipalities and propose solutions and approaches to address such.
  • Share good practices with regard to the role of the executive in the municipality.
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