18 March 2023
SARO Executive Committee,
Distinguished Guests, and
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a sincere honour to be invited to the Executive Committee meeting of the Southern Africa Regional Office (SARO) meant to, in the main, forge a common understanding amongst the leadership on the history and future of SARO. I was requested, by our gracious host, to reflect and share my personal experiences as a former President of both SALGA and UCLG.
Within the limited time allocated to me, I will focus briefly on three thematic areas, namely:
– Locating local government at the centre of a changing world;
– Facilitating collaborative local governance; and
– Ensuring organisational consolidation and renewal.
These interrelated thematic areas, essentially comprise my manifesto when I was campaigning in 2016 to become the UCLG President. In my opinion, these areas are as relevant in 2016 as they presently are in 2023.
As was the case in 2016, presently humanity as a collective, faces the converging challenges of low economic growth, low investment, high inflation, and inter- and intra-migration patterns imposing risks to the management of cities, towns and villages.
This is coupled with the unprecedented disruptions and innovations which present, in themselves, both significant hurdles and tremendous opportunities, to position better local government at the coalface of localising people-centred growth and development. During my term of office, localisation implied in practice that, from the perspective of local and regional governments, localising does not mean parachuting global goals into the local context but prioritising inclusive and participatory decision-making.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Locating Local Government at the Centre of a Changing World
Locating local government at the centre of a changing world begins with knowing and implementing, at the local level, global policy instruments ranging from the:
– 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,
– the New Urban Agenda (NUA),
– the Paris Climate Accord,
– the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) on finance for development, and
– the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Realising the mandates of both SALGA and UCLG was premised on finding a seat in multilateral institutions and securing participation in intergovernmental organisations like the United Nations (UN). The legacy of my three years, I humbly submit, was to grow the UCLG into a Learning Network by incorporating the voices coming from the Global South. It was to ensure that, for example, localisation of the SDGs was at the core of our collective efforts.
This is important as we approach the last decade leading to 2030 where there is now existential urgency to achieve the realisation of the SDGs. After all, international social contracts like NUA, Paris Accord and the Addis Ababa Agenda give us room, as the Global South, to innovate in response to megatrends such as super urbanisation, ageing infrastructure, accelerating technological changes, and demographic dividend opportunities in the African continent.
Why is localising these global policy instruments important?
As you know, the New Urban Agenda is a framework for addressing urbanisation, pursuing sustainable growth and development of cities and it includes commitments, by member states in the following respects: to ensure appropriate fiscal, political and administrative decentralisation based on the principle of subsidiarity and to recognise the role of local governments in follow-up and review of NUA.
For us as South Africa, our national urban policy – the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF), aligns reasonably well with the NUA to drive economic growth and effect spatial transformation. Of course, the successful execution of these international and national imperatives is largely reliant on a strong role assigned to municipalities in human settlement planning and devolution and location of the built environment functions at the local level. Quite clearly, the sphere of local government should ideally possess the appropriate powers and requite functions to fulfil its developmental mandate as well as its role in the spatial development and economic transformation.
In connection to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, there is a need to expand the scope and depth of the funding framework for development in order to unlock more resources for local and regional governments. In this case, bold and alternative thinking was necessary to recraft our funding instruments and expand our potential revenue base. For instance, since municipal finance does not take place in a vacuum, the focus should be placed on facilitating an enabling environment, for local and regional governments, to mobilise finance options in partnerships with national governments, the private sector, and in civil society.
Ladies and Gentlemen
What is implied in promoting collaborative local government?
Facilitating Collaborative Local Governance
It is about building strategic alliances with civil society and mobilising private sector investment. It is about strengthening partnerships and collaborative programmes with, for example, development partners and multilateral bodies. This is critical as we witness, in this post-Covid 19 period, the rise of unipolarity and deglobalisation where countries prioritise their national interests instead of global welfare.
Collaborative local governance focuses on ensuring no one is left behind when the reality is that 1 out of 5 citizens lives in a slum and as such, that citizen’s economic impact and contributions are stunted and stifled.
Collaborative local governance focuses on the informal economy to ensure the youth in the Global South is adequately prepared, skilled and trained to participate meaningfully in the rapidly changing technological labour market. After all, the brain drain phenomenon in Africa is a scary reality whereby, for example, we are informed by 2017 UN estimates, that 8,000 of the 42,000 Kenyan doctors work in the United States of America.
Collaborative local governance is also about creating conducive conditions for peace. Even before the 2022 Russia-Ukraine War, it is an indictment to learn that, in 2017, 30% of the world’s 22 million refugees were hosted in Africa. As you know, war and conflict lead to displaced refugees and capital flight instead of needed material investments in sustainability and productivity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Enhancing Organisational Consolidation and Renewal
During my term in office as SALGA President, what was meant about enhancing organisational consolidation and renewal?
Simply stated, it hinged on focusing on SALGA’s role as protector to enforce the rights of local government and as disruptor to change the existing systems whether legislative, fiscal and or institutional so that local government can deliver on its core mandate as a centre for cooperative and participative governance through:
– progressive policy and regulatory reforms to ensure local government execute its developmental and transformation mandate,
– greater fiscal equity, revenue enhancement and financial sustainability of municipalities; and
– defending the discretion and right of municipalities to govern the affairs of their own communities on their own terms.
Furthermore, enhancing organisational consolidation and renewal also speaks to developing legislative guidelines and institutional architecture plus investment vehicles for disaster risk reduction and risk management in line with the priorities for action of the Sendai Framework. As you are aware, the goal of the Sendai Framework is to prevent new and reduce existing disaster risk. It is about implementing institutional measures that prevent and reduce hazard exposure and vulnerability to disaster, increase preparedness for response and recovery, and so strengthen resilience.
Enhancing organisational consolidation means understanding risk in all its dimensions, making risk-informed decisions and thereby building resilient health systems, economies and societies. Necessarily, this demands from all of us to shift our focus from managing disasters to managing risk that prevents calamities like the one presently witnessed in Malawi and Mozambique to Cyclone Freddy which has left us, thus far, with a 300 death toll.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I trust we can all agree on the critical role and irreplaceable function of local and regional government in addressing the megatrends and complex challenges already mentioned previously.
Allow me to conclude with a few aphorisms.
Indeed, local government is underfunded but overburdened with critical service delivery responsibilities. Solutions include leveraging national subsidies for capital raising, access to donor and climate funding, review of revenue-generating options available for local government; and raising local government’s allocation in the national fiscus.
Some structural mechanisms available for local government to fulfil its mandate include using targeted social compacts. We can all agree that the social fabric of society is fraying at the seams to an unsustainable degree. Solutions include social compacting amongst us public leaders and representatives using, for example, the much-ignored Batho Pele principles; pursuing social compacts between municipalities and citizens and communities to deal with the ever-increasing debt owed to municipalities; pursuing social compacts with industry and labour to avoid purely narrow interest-based industrial action.
With these few words, once again, I thank you for inviting me to share my personal experiences as the former President of SALGA and UCLG.
I thank you.