There are two things that worry me about local government.
The first is the lack of vision and long-term planning which, I think, can be attributed to the political appointment of officials.
Because senior officials are not likely to last much beyond the term of the municipal political leadership, thinking beyond the next few years probably seems to some like a waste of time.
In their defence, many of those who have tried to adopt a long-term approach found that new leadership tossed out their plans along with the incumbents.
There seems to be an unwillingness to adopt existing plans (if they exist) and to allocate resources to someone else’s planning.
There is no continuity in the various departments because of the constant staff changes.
The problem with this is that we are bumbling around with no clear sense of direction. The truth is we entertain whatever development proposals come our way without knowing what it is that we want or what the best use of our limited land resources are.
We fail to develop a proper sense of identity and to position ourselves effectively.
We should have a plan and model of our cities in every city hall that clearly shows how we plan to develop into the future.
We need visionary leadership – to know who we are and where we are going, so that we can all buy in and move in the same direction.
The second thing, which is even more alarming, is being left to wonder who is running local government.
The other day, I was speaking to a department manager of a local municipality.
He shared that he was trying desperately to manage the people under him, but was feeling disheartened.
He explained how he had enthusiastically called his “team” together to get everyone enthused about their jobs and to breathe new life into his underperforming department. After he had unveiled his very practical plan, which included an element of performance management, he was faced with a wall of silence.
One worker then said: “Don’t come here with your scare tactics. You just remember that even the municipal manager is our deployee, and we don’t have to do anything that we don’t want to.”
It turned out that the entry-level employee was higher up the ruling party’s political ranks than the municipal manager, and therefore, more powerful.
It only takes one of these “deployees” in a department to ensure that little is done and that managers have no say about it.
How demoralising to be a manager and to not have the power to manage. How can we hope to run anything properly when this sort of thing is prevalent?
More to the point, when will people be employed because they have the skills to do the jobs and are willing to work for their salaries?
I don’t know how you fix it, but something needs to be done, and soon, because it is obvious that there is a growing intolerance among citizens, who are not likely to accept the non-delivery of services for which they are paying for very much longer.
* Melanie Veness is the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.