Councillors’ training ‘lacks transparency’

The Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) has criticised a government training programme for newly-elected local councillors, saying it would not “ensure their competency”.

The five-day councillor induction programme kicks off countrywide this month. Run by the South African Local Government Association (Salga), it targets mainly first-time councillors, who comprise 8 494 of the 10 055 candidates to be trained.

Salga is an autonomous association of 273 municipalities, with offices in all nine provinces, and has a constitutional mandate.

Milisa Kentane, the Salga spokesperson, said the training would give councillors “a general understanding of their leadership role” and knowledge about local government legislation, municipal processes and service delivery.

But Mvuyisi April, Idasa’s regional coordinator for local governance, was unconvinced by these claims. The training should be more extensive and should draw on expertise from civil society organisations, he said. “They [councillors] need exposure to policy formulation, project management, budgeting and financial management”, which, he said, would “take time”.

James Selfe, the Democratic Alliance spokesperson, conceded that about 50% of the DA’s newly elected councillors had “never served on any ward before”, but he was adamant that the training would be sufficient to help them to “deliver quality services to their communities”.

Dumisani Ntuli, the ANC Gauteng spokesperson, was also positive about the programme.

About 60% of the ANC’s new councillors were first-timers, but they already had “incredible experience at management level through working in government or in the private sector”, he said. They had also undergone a “rigorous selection process to check their community involvement and competency”.

He was “strongly confident” they would deliver.

Salga has roped in former councillors and senior municipal and local government officials to conduct the training. According to Kentane, exiting councillors would not “form part of the unemployed statistics” but would become absorbed into the local government system.

“Salga ensures that during councillors’ terms of office they are capacitated and skilled with knowledge that is applicable not just to local government,” he said. “Councillors can also be redeployed or elected to various structures through their political parties.”

April called for ongoing coaching and mentoring of new councillors by “other spheres of government and political leaders who are more enlightened”. That, he said, would prevent the recurrence of problems such as the “toilet saga at Moqhaka Municipality”, which “went unnoticed for eight years”.

April also voiced concern about the initiative’s lack of transparency: “Vital information is not available, like the content of the councillor induction programme, as well as the Councillors’ Handbook.” Such information, he said, would help communities to “hold their councillors accountable”, he said.

A previous version of this article incorrectly read: “The Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa) has slammed a government training programme for newly elected councillors, saying it is “irrelevant” and will not ‘ensure their competency’.” in the first paragraph.

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