Communities must hold officials accountable

Peter Martin, chairperson, Steenberg Community Forum

Many poor communities are ignorant of the role they should play to ensure democracy, accountability, service delivery and development in local government.

Ignorance puts them at the receiving end of poor service delivery and lack of development. To change this, poor communities must start playing their role, as envisaged in chapter seven, on “local government”, in the constitution.

The constitution stipulates, in section 152 (a), that local government (public officials and ward councillors) must “promote democratic and accountable government to local communities”. Democratic government means that communities must be consulted on important local government matters and given opportunity to participate in decisions pertaining thereto. Accountable government denotes that public officials and ward councillors should give account to communities of their decisions and actions taken.

The role of communities is to hold public officials and ward councillors accountable for unilateral decisions and actions, especially those that resulted in fruitless and wasteful public expenditure, failed public projects and activities that involved corruption. This is the essence of democratic and accountable local government.

Section 152 (b), states that the local government should “ensure the provision of services to communities in a sustainable manner”. Consequently, the responsibility of public officials and ward councillors is service delivery. They are appointed and elected to serve communities, and not vice versa. Communities must make sure that public officials and ward councillors serve the community and that services are rendered in an effective, efficient, professional and sustainable manner.

Section 152 (e) obligates local government to “encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in the matters of local government”. There is thus an obligation on public officials and ward councillors to engage communities and to include them in local government matters. Communities must hold public officials and ward councillors to this obligation.

Section 153 (a) compels the local government to “give priority to the basic needs of the community, and to promote the social and economic development of the community”. In other words, communities must identify and prioritise their basic and developmental needs and not public officials and ward councillors. Public officials and ward councillors must merely respond to the needs of communities. Should they fail to respond, communities should hold them accountable.