Address by Mr Andries Nel, MP,
Deputy Minister for Cooperative Governance
& Traditional Affairs
at the Launch of GovChat
on 25 September 2018
in Cape Town
Key partners from Government Departments and Private sector
Minister Counsellor for Public Affairs, Craig Dicker
ABSA and Woolworths
Institutions of higher learning
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me to welcome every one of you to this extremely important event.
It is indeed an honor for us to be part of this important initiative. Greetings from Minister Zweli Mkhize, Deputy Minister Obed Bapela as well as Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.
Our thanks go to “GovChat” for their excellent work and for partnering with CoGTA and entering into an MOU with for the rollout a Social Media Platform for community engagement, aimed at contributing towards a responsive and accountable local government.
The GovChat community engagement platform is the world’s first citizen engagement platform with inbuilt communication tools on the popular WhatsApp application.
GovChat is brought in partnership with Departments of Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs.
The collaborative effort makes South African Government the first in the world to create a digital communication tool where government becomes instantly accessible to over 16 million people.
For the first time, citizens will be able to access over 10,000 public representatives supporting over 30, 000 public facilities and services in communities across the country.
In rural communities where connection may be slower, GovChat will be available through the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) channel.
This is very important because our Constitution provides in section 152 that the first object of local government is to provide democratic and accountable government for local communities.
It is also important because September marks Public Service Month in South Africa.
The 2018 Public Service Month is commemorated under the theme: “Thuma Mina”: Taking Public Service to the People – Batho Pele: “We Belong, We Care, We Serve’.
The theme reinforces that government is committed to ensure an efficient and effective public service and improve the quality of service delivery to our communities
Indeed that 1998 White Paper on Local Government emphasises that: “Developmental local government is local government committed to working with citizens and groups within the community to find sustainable ways to meet their social, economic and material needs and improve the quality of their lives.”
In response to this vision, local government legislation has consolidated and opened up new spaces for citizens to directly participate in their own governance.
The Local Government Structures Act requires, amongst others, that municipalities develop mechanisms to consult communities and community organizations in performing their functions and exercising their powers, in a local government context these structures are known as ward committees.
Ward committees have been positioned as a critical structure through which public participation in local government is to be achieved and most importantly form a link between ward councilors, the community and the municipality.
Increasing protests have however shown that government still has to invest more towards promoting participatory governance.
Poverty, high unemployment and socio-economic exclusion, as well as relative deprivation and inequality in informal urban areas, and unhappiness about the provision of services such as electricity, water, sanitation, refuse removal, roads and housing, have all been identified as strong contributing factors to protests.
Other causes identified include complaints about political corruption, mismanagement, lack of prompt response by municipalities to citizens’ concerns, dysfunctional administration, lack of meaningful public participation in government processes and service delivery planning.
In short, all the ingredients have been assembled for effective, responsive and participatory local government.
However, participation that is genuinely empowering, as opposed to token consultation or outright manipulation, is still lacking in many municipalities.
Research done by the Good Governance Learning Network, pointed to the need for government to create both ‘invited’ and ‘invented spaces’ to increase and enhance citizen participation.
In theory, these spaces ought to work in harmony because the same citizens participate in both.
It is important, however, to allow citizens to create their own terms of engagement so long as these are harmonious and allow citizens’ voices to be heard.
This calls for government to move away from a prescriptive stance when it comes to facilitating citizen participation, to a position of openness and willingness to learn from citizens and to allow citizens to create their own forums as they see fit.
New technologies and social media, can change the communication between Government and the citizens as they contribute decisively to the transformation of public administration towards a new and open format that will be characterized by:
- Active participation of citizens in public affairs,
- b) Close collaboration between public services and between government and citizens, and
- c) Transparency of the State activities.
Despite the growing use of online tools to engage the public, there is still much to learn.
In many instances, number of participants is low, most participants engage infrequently, the connection between participation and policy-making is unclear, and technologies can be unreliable.
To make these civic spaces truly open and democratic, the government would have to start thinking not only in its own interest in governing, but also about the citizens and their wishes and needs.
The two cornerstones of participation remain:
- Good quality engagement follows the same principles whether it’s online or offline.
- Digital engagement enhances the techniques you already use to engage communities, it’s not a replacement.
Linked to this, is the essence of “Back to Basics” approach which is embedded in the first of its pillars, that is, “Putting people and their concerns first and ensure constant contact with communities through effective public participation platforms”.
South Africa’s national urban policy, the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) which was adopted by Cabinet in April 2016 and is based on the NDP, argues that urban spaces are shaped by a multiplicity of stakeholders, and that promoting good governance and strengthening public participation are critical.
Indeed, two of the IUDF’s nine policy levers are devoted to Empowered Active Communities (Lever 7) and Effective Urban Governance (Lever 8).
The IUDF argues that we must strengthen transparency and accountability.
Government needs to be accountable to and understand its impact on all population groups.
Therefore, priority should be given to interventions contained in the Back to Basics Programme in order to promote transparency and democratic decision-making.
Innovative technology and other mechanisms should be used to build trust and increase transparency and accountability.
Information and communication technologies allow analysis of urban realities, and communication between various social actors – citizens, organizations, corporations – enabling access and use of information.
In future, city planners must recognize that the communities` urban experience is not only influenced by urban form, but by different media and forms of communication with which they interact daily.
Collaboration between government and society could for example be useful in case of emergency mapping.
With the number of technologies available and the ease of access, people are increasingly connected across the world.
Governments worldwide are following suit, enabling e-government services, and practicing e-governance.
In practice, this means that governments are able to become even more responsive and inclusive.
In furtherance of our mandate to improve community engagement, the use of mobile technology through social media platform seems to be one of the innovative tools that municipalities can utilize to enhance interaction with communities.
It simply means those that would otherwise not be able to participate in IDP meetings, Imbizo’s, Ward Committee meetings, etc. would be able to connect with their elected representatives in Real Time.
The baseline analysis that the department would receive from this platform will enable targeted and measured early warning reporting on service delivery challenges across all communities.
It is envisaged that the platform will in the end afford municipalities with the following benefits:
- Enhances management and enables a much broader audience reach
- Better understanding of community/business/citizen’s needs/concerns
- Promotes greater responsiveness & transparency from the municipality
- Costs associated with venue hire and running public participation events are reduced
- Direct channel of communication with citizens/stakeholders
- Improved service delivery
- Promote active citizenship, especially amongst the youth
As part of the rollout process, four pilot provinces have been identified, namely: Free State, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Northern Cape and Western Cape.
To date, the department has been conducting consultative engagements with identified provinces to outline rollout plans for each province.
It is envisaged that the rollout of the platform will be replicated in the remaining provinces in the next financial year.
In conclusion, I would like to declare the encourage all key partners who have a collective responsibility of ensuring delivery of quality services to communities, such as those who are present here today i.e. DPME ( whose role is to coordinate the functions of the state and monitoring government performance aimed at improving service delivery: linked to the frontline service delivery monitoring programme), SALGA through its oversight role of building capacity and developing leadership of municipalities, private sector and others to collaborate and support the implementation of this important initiative.
Distinguished guests, I wish to declare this platform unveiled! Wishing you all very successful deliberations going forward.
I thank you.