Voters as shareholders in local government
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President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared November 1, the date for the municipal elections, as a public holiday. If the day could be juxtaposed with the annual general meeting of big businesses, voters would not underestimate their power as shareholders of local government.
Like a shareholder in a big business, in which one holds interest and knows one has invested a big sum of money, one wouldn’t miss the AGM.
The time has come for voters to to learn and accept the value of their votes in the municipal sector, within the commonly known phrase “nothing for us without us”.
The South African Local Government Association (Salga) has been calling on shareholders in the municipal business to double their investment value by making sure that, on November 1, they use the window of opportunity to invest in their business in order to increase their quantum and better their chances to improve the value they deserve.
It is their democratic right and civic duty to elect new leadership and influence service delivery where they live, as shareholders would do when required in business.
This year’s elections take place against a backdrop of dissatisfaction with service delivery and how some political parties have misused their power over the five-year local government term. Also, a few young people eligible to vote have ignored the calls to register to vote and will simply not cast their ballots as some form of boycott – failing to see the importance of their democratic right to vote. This is unfortunate.
Some pockets of excellence in parts of local government will be overshadowed by the voting that takes place in the context of overall voter turnout having decreased in 2019. A similar pattern was noted during the November 2016 local government elections.
Unlike in business, shareholders would not express their dissatisfaction by staying away from voting as they might from an AGM. They would use the day to reward the high-performing directors or punish them for running the business down, after having been given a lifetime opportunity and privilege to represent and defend the interests of the business.
We have a responsibility to teach citizens that, just like in business, the shareholders meet annually to elect the directors and approve their actions. The shareholders are the citizens, communities and ratepayers. The Constitution gives them powers to review and renew the mandate and actions necessary to run the government during a democratic term.
When the board is appointed, it has to make sure that returns on investments and equity are realised, returns on equity, and returns on investment and continuously create stability for the business, so that those objectives are sustainably realised.
Counterposed to local government shareholders of the business called local government, is investment (political parties and general public) flowing from the aforementioned shareholders such as communities and political parties. They will leave everything and go on standing in a long line waiting for the moment to cast their vote and elect councillors, like at an AGM.
The shareholders, being the communities, expect returns on their investment. The return is being provided with quality services, their queries being expeditiously responded to and having better opportunities provided to them by the government of their choice.
Local government is made of a council, the administration and the community. What we have seen in many cases is that, after the elections, the community will abdicate their shareholder role for the entire local government term, only to be visible during protests. This goes against the spirit of participatory democracy where an effective democracy requires the combination of the council to work with the community.
While elected councillors make the ultimate decisions once elected to power, communities should be consulted as much as possible.
Councillors have to keep residents informed about decisions taken by the council and ensure that communities participate in the local government decisionmaking process through various methods, including ward committees, consultation meetings, calls for public comment on issues and stakeholder meetings.
Salga has raised concerns that almost 69% of councillors have only matric or lower. The shareholders, as voters, in this case, should advocate for a multipronged strategy that recognises leadership competencies, political leadership and maybe a degree of academic qualifications.
The communities and political parties must address the calibre of councillors.
* Bheki Stofile South African Local Government Association’s working group chairperson for governance and councillor empowerment.
**The views expressed here may not be that of IOL.