Two weeks ago I wrote an open letter to the DA after engaging with Brandon Topham and other DA leadership on Twitter.

You can read the letter HERE.

This morning I received Brandon’s response in my email, and I am posting it below. He has touched on some of the issues I raised that will/would fall in his local government sphere of responsibility should they win Tshwane. As he has indicated many of the points I raised fall under a National Government level, and not local.

Below is the letter, with some comments by me in (italicised brackets).

Response by Brandon Topham of the Democratic Alliance

What this election is about

I am glad to answer the questions you put to me earlier in the campaign, related to the sphere of local government: the economy and jobs, transport, strikes and crime. The Constitution gives different competencies to different spheres of government, and being involved in local politics I only wish to answer questions relating to local issues for now.

The issues you raised which fall into the constitutional competency of provincial and national government, I am referring to our spokespersons of our party in the Gauteng Legislature and national Parliament.

You are absolutely right that this election is about service delivery. Municipalities provide water, electricity, sanitation and refuse removal services. They control property use and take responsibility for local economic development.

Municipalities facilitate public transport, build and maintain roads and bulk service infrastructure. They are meant to partially fund their operations by collecting rates, of which the price is meant to be determined in consultation with residents.

Large municipalities like the Tshwane Metro have a Metro Police service, charged not only with traffic control and by-laws, but also crime prevention. Visible policing can be a powerful deterrent to crime.

The question for voters in the Tshwane Metro in this election is: which party is likely to do the best job in government of delivering these services to all residents? The DA believes that voters now have a reliable basis upon which to make this decision, but more of that later.

(Quintin Comments – I kicked of with service delivery in my previous post linked to above, and noted that in my area it has generally not been a problem barring the odd strike. As luck would have it, the area I work in has had no refuse removal for a week now. Our daily lunch-time walk has become a stink-dodge.)

In the current local government dispensation the mayor of a metropolitan municipality takes executive, and not mere supervisory, responsibility for the running of his municipality.

The party or coalition of parties which hold a majority of votes in the council therefore take full responsibility for the successes and failures of municipal governance. Poor service delivery is therefore the result of poor commitment by politicians to effective administration and fighting corruption.

There can therefore be no blaming ‘lack of capacity’ or incompetent officials if service delivery is still woeful 17 years after the advent of democracy.

(Quintin Comments – In a twist of irony the ANC said at their rally today that they need to control the big councils in order to bring about change.  The ANC has controlled most of the municipalities for the past 17years.

It is the party and leaders in power who take full responsibility and the ballot box is where voters meet the incumbent government to record their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with government, and to determine whether things change or stay the same.

The basis of comparison in the election

For the first time ever the DA contests an election as a party of government, after its win in the 2006 municipal election in Cape Town and in the 2009 general election in the Western Cape.

This is useful for one reason in particular. Where voters in the past had little basis for comparing the performance of parties, they can now clearly rate the performance of DA municipalities against non-DA municipalities.

Although performance measurements can often be manipulated for political purposes, it is quite difficult to skew the findings of various reports, each with their own independent findings.

The Universal Household Access to Basic Services (UHABS) report, compiled by the national department of Cooperative governance, indicates Cape Town residents enjoy the best access to basic services of all South African city dwellers.

Findings by the BEE rating agency EmpowerDex substantially confirms the substance of the UHABS report that Cape Town comes out top in delivering services to all.

What does this mean? Quite simply that Cape Town residents, under DA government the past five years, enjoy near universal access to water, electricity, sanitation and refuse removal services.

Moreover, because Cape Town curbs corruption and manages it finances properly, not splurging on unnecessary parties and perks for politicians, it can afford to deliver to the poorest of the poor on a sustainable basis.

How does the performance of the Tshwane Metro, not under DA government, compare to the performance of Cape Town? The same UHABS report indicates that Tshwane residents experience the worst service delivery of all city dwellers.

Where Cape Town receives an overall basic service rating 91%, the Tshwane Metro receives a dismal 66%. One shocking fact to emerge from the report is that 1 in 5 Tshwane residents do not have access to sanitation.

People living in the suburbs do not suffer this indignity, but the poor, those who depend most on effective and responsive government, do. The result of the election will affect their lives most.

So not only have you as a ratepayer been cheated out of accurate billing, regular refuse removal, efficient and friendly customer relations with the municipalities, the poor have been robbed of an opportunity to enjoy a basic standard of life.

Job-creating economic growth

No government can ever solve the problem of unemployment by creating jobs for people in the public service or through direct employment projects. Such jobs are at best only an opportunity for people to get their first work experience and references.

The role of government is to create a space and enabling environment for jobs. At local government level, municipalities have to make it easy and attractive for businesses to invest in their locality.

Municipalities also have to provide entrepreneurs with a contact point where information and advice to turn good ideas into business opportunities.

The DA Tshwane Metro plan for job-creating economic growth includes the simplification of land use applications, so that the approval of new developments and rezoning does not take years but weeks.

Industries which have particular growth potential and opportunities for job creation will be encouraged to build their factories and offices in the Tshwane Metro. To achieve this rates rebates will be considered, and the city will make its fiber optic network accessible to businesses.

(Quintin Comments – Ah, the Metro Fiber network that has also been mentioned in a #DAQA on Twitter not too long ago. Good to see that there is a plan for it after all. I wonder if this will extend to home users as well?)

The DA will establish municipal service One-Stop Shops where trained municipal service consults will facilitate all transactions between residents and the municipality, including payments, application and complaints.

The municipal One-Stop Shops will be staffed by Local Economic Development units, which will give entrepreneurs the advice about how to draft a business plan, a budget and source capital to start-up and expand businesses.

You raise the issue of electricity. The Tshwane Metro controls two power stations, namely the one at Pretoria West and at Rooikoppies in Pretoria North. Officials tell us that the city government recently ordered the wrong type of coal for the Pretoria West power station, leading to no electricity being generated for weeks.

A DA city government will once again use Public Private Partnerships to outsource the operation of the power stations, and make sure that these stations run at full capacity to lighten the demand on Eskom.

Transport

The DA will also ensure that a proper integrated public transport system is implemented in the Tshwane Metro, so that residents can be connected to economic opportunities. Residents will be able to purchase single tickets and benefit from a synchronised schedule for buses and trains.

(Quintin Comments – Good idea, but what will then happen to all the private individuals who operate Taxi’s? To be fair many taxi drivers drive on behalf of fleet owners, and they can be a volatile bunch, and taxi routes are notoriously unreliable since they can strike at the drop of a hat. Good luck implementing this – it is a hot potato to handle. I also believe strongly though that they have an economic and service delivery role to play in public transport in South Africa.)

Public Private Partnerships will ensure that the Tshwane Bus Service also reaches township centres, and not only the inner city as is presently the case. Outsourcing the operation of these buses will ensure greater efficiency.

The Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system, for which funding was initially withdrawn to the Tshwane Metro by the national treasury because of poor planning on the Metro’s side, will be properly  implemented by a DA city government.

(Quintin Comments – A more reliable metro bus system will be welcome. Timely arrival – or any arrival at some times – will be a welcome change from the standard of service that is the norm now.)

Currently the city spends a good deal on maintaining its transport and bulk service infrastructure, but the effects of years of budgetary starvation are still apparent. The DA will maintain high spending on maintenance, ring-fence spending to take advantage from national infrastructure grants.

Strikes

You rightly point out that strikes interrupt the delivery of basic services, like refuse removal. As you also point out municipal strikes also often turn violent.

Recently municipal bus drivers also went on strike, leaving thousands of commuters stranded. A man was even killed at the municipal bus depot as part of this strike action.

The problem of strikes is compounded by the strange and destructive relationship between the governing party and its trade union partners.

Essentially the Cosatu-affiliated South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) uses strike action to leverage its political power within the ANC alliance, and it is usually residents who come last in this political power play.

No municipality can stop all forms of strike action, but certain proactive steps can be taken to ensure that services are not completely interrupted during strike action.

(Q – I would like to see some historic examples of this having worked in Cape Town, especially a report on how the Teachers Union and related strikes played out in Cape Town last year. If anyone knows of an on-line report or if someone wants to volunteer such a report let me know. I’ll link it here.)

Waste removal services will be outsourced in a Public Private Partnership to various entities, which will deal directly with workers and unions. The municipality will compile a list of secondary contractors who will step-in if strike action occurs.

The waste removal companies will be paid by the municipality on the basis of the number of full waste bins collected and delivered to municipal dumping sights, not the number of workers employed.

A similar form of Public Private Partnership will apply to the operation of the Tshwane Bus Service as well as Wonderboom Airport, ensuring that the management of these services and labour relations are decentralised as much as possible.

Should large scale municipal strikes occur, the Metro Police will be deployed to control the strikers and record information about workers’ conduct during strikes. No person who damages property or endangers lives will get off without disciplinary or criminal action being taken against them.

Crime

The strategy of the current city government, adopted after years of DA demands for visible policing, is to deploy five Metro Police cars with two officers each in every one of the 105 wards in the Tshwane Metro.

But the Metro Police will never achieve this type of presence within five years if drastic changes are not made, and drastic changes will not be made without the necessary political will.

Currently 23% of officers face either disciplinary or criminal charges. No effective complaints system exists. There is a massive shortage of vehicles and other equipment. Consequently Metro Police officers are usually only seen in the Pretoria inner city, and residents have little trust in them.

(Quintin – Wow, 23% !? I hope those facing criminal charges are not still on active duty? As an aside, since we are talking about police officers, what is the plan with the current salary structure for police officers? They are getting ridiculously bad salaries.)

A DA city government will make sure the right people are appointed as Metro Police officers, and use both background checks and aptitude tests for this purpose. Next these officers will be trained for excellence.

Until the city government can acquire enough Metro Police vehicles to implement the ‘five-cars-per-ward’ strategy, these officers will be deployed on foot, bicycle and motorbike and backed up by at least one squad car per ward.

The Metro Police will be instructed to attend Community Policing Forum meetings and give CPFs the greatest possible support. The city government will also assist CPFs in especially poor areas to acquire policing equipment.

Specialised Metro Police units, which will focus on specialised crime like drugs will be reinstated. In Cape Town the specialised copper theft unit, the Copperheads, has achieved tremendous success, and its example can be emulated here.

Lastly a responsive and user-friendly complaints system will be implemented to ensure that the principle of Batho Pele is actually observed in practice, and residents’ trust in the Metro Police is restored.

I hope this answers most of your questions and thanks for your interest. This election will go down to the last votes. We will live with the results for 5 years.

Regards
Brandon
Conclusion
Thanks to Brandon and the other folks at the DA who have engaged me in various formats these past few weeks regarding my questions and observations.
Voting stations open in a few days time, so be ready to use that most precious commodity – your vote – to either repay your current local government for good service, or to buy you a new one.
You can follow Brandon Topham on Twitter @brandontopham

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