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Challenges facing local government - 6th Annual HR Africa Summit

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					           Challenges facing local government: people-centred view
                                 By Goodnews Cadogan

The vegetarian dinosaur became extinct even with appropriate vegetation in abundance
in the Mesozoic Era, simply because it could not adequately sense and make sense of
the environment it lived in (a famous Japanese legend states). Its huge body, and a
nervous system, buried deep in fat, led to its demise, as it could not transmit messages
to the brain in good time, and back to the body, to react to attacks by smaller animals.
When looking at the institutional framework of local government, one is tempted to dwell
on that picture, which is reflective of most government structures the world over. To be
fair, the framework alone is not the panacea to effective government, but the people
leading and interacting with the system as a whole are at the centre of the system.

It is the people (both appointed officials and elected council members) and their ability to
manage the organisational dynamics, the systems and processes at hand, as well as
social development project management capability that will make the following
objectives to be met at local government level:

      To provide democratic and accountable government for local communities;
      To ensure the provision of services to communities in a sustainable manner;
      To promote social and economic development;
      To promote a safe and healthy environment;
      To encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in
       the matters of local government.

Looking closely at the objectives, they might be divided into two broad categories that
focus on service and those concerned with law enforcement.

Organisation paralysis and/or polarisation can result when the executive team working
with the equivalent of a City Manager, is not in tandem with the Council, or its
subcommittees that usually form part of the Executive Mayor’s team. This challenge
usually results from poor role clarity, as well as incompatibility between the task at hand
and the person appointed or elected to perform it.

Close resolution starts with the basic tenets of team development, where both leaders
ensure that roles are clarified upfront, and all are aware of the reality of working in a
democratic setting (consultation, consensus and co-operative collaboration). It is only
when the parenting role of the two leaders is seamless, in the spirit of collaborative
government, will the local government system enjoy people-driven growth.
Whether we have the right policies, systems and procedures to make local government
work for the benefit of the community it serves, is a subjective matter, as these are only
guidelines that can be manipulated for goals other than those listed above. It is the
ability to use the democratic governance framework for the benefit of the communities
that is more important than perfecting it.

The challenge is to have capable and wise technocrats as well as wise and collaborative
politicians who have the interest of the citizens at heart, and openness to the technical
challenges of managing service delivery and social development projects.

The management team has to be constantly innovative in approach, and make local
government work, despite the collaborative network challenges presented to it. If that
innovation does not speak to the service needs that should come through the elected
representatives, then it is not citizen-focused, and therefore self-serving.

The whole team has to be at ease with changing priorities, as well the rhythm of
business, as in consultation and getting a mandate, planning, execution and monitoring
and course-correction; all this for the benefit of spending public funds to serve and to
protect or enforce the laws and by-laws of the land. All of these stages have limits and
critical points that may result in stalling of projects (poor service) or fruitless expenditure
if a balanced approach is not the norm. Project management principles cannot be
ignored at the expense of consultation and vice versa.

It is about a framework with willing partners that have citizen-focussed goals as the
drivers of their everyday interactions, whether they are to prioritise areas of public funds
investments, or to create new policies to deliver the same.

It is highly unlikely that the current design of local government structures will be extinct,
in the long run, if they are able to sense and make sense of the needs of the
communities they serve. They will even rise to greater heights of effectiveness if they are
able to react quickly to unfortunate attacks through poor service and lack of ability to
enforce the laws they are entrusted with. The main driver should be co-operative
government, for the people it is serving.

A word of caution though is that the tipping point for local government turnaround, for
those municipalities that are not effective, lies in the most difficult part of the large
system of governance: PEOPLE, showing fusion of politics and business principles.


Goodnews Cadogan is a Director of The Village Leadership Consulting. The Village
specialises in the development of high impact leadership and high performance
organisation practices. Contact the Village on info@villageofleaders.co.za or visit
www.villageofleaders.co.za .

				
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Description: Challenges facing local government - 6th Annual HR Africa Summit