Minister of finance Pravin Gordhan delivering the 2014 Budget Speech in the National Assembly, Parliament, Cape Town. 26/02/2014.GCIS

Cape Town - Each of the country’s 278 municipalities must ensure robots work, potholes are filled, water and electricity is delivered, rubbish collected and grass is cut, Co-operative Governance Minister Pravin Gordhan says.

And residents will have to pay for the services they use.

As part of this back-to-basics directive, Gordhan announced non-negotiables for local government to establish decent living conditions. These included good governance, responsiveness to citizens, long-term planning for infrastructure, and local economic development.

“We can’t be in a modern… South Africa and have faeces and other kinds of muck flowing on the streets of any part of South Africa,” he said in Thursday ’s pre-budget vote briefing.

“We want every municipality to ensure it undertakes its core basic functions as efficiently, as effectively, and as religiously as is possible.”

Councils needed to be able to “vigorously respond” to crises. Also in the interest of good governance, there must be a clear separation between political office bearers and administrative officials.

“Politicians shouldn’t be doing the work of officials and officials should not presume to be politicians.

“It’s a line that often gets crossed,” Gordhan said.

If necessary, his department would draft legislation to enforce compliance with existing legislation: “This is not just a plea to please co-operate with us,” the minister cautioned.

Already the department is checking on compliance with minimum skills and qualifications for senior council officials, for which regulations were published in January.

In the briefing it emerged that in some cases of non-compliance letters had already been sent to the local government MECs to take corrective action. If they did not do so, the the national department would step in.

A similar message of compliance applied to residents. “Citizens have to get used to the idea, if they are recipients of services… they have to pay. With the exception of the indigent, we all have to pay, not leave it to some. Part of the collective drive is to change the culture,” said Gordhan.

It was not so much a case of “fixing” local government, he argued, but ensuring it did its job with the available approximately R330 billion.

Today’s 278 councils - including eight metros and 44 district councils covering several municipalities, particularly in rural areas - were created from about 1 100 councils in the pre-1994 dispensation.

“I would suggest our responsibility as government and co-operative governance is to take a set of 14-year-old institutions… to ensure we continue to build on a system of local government,” Gordhan said.

Further changes in local government could be on the cards following a review of the role of district councils.

However, for now the focus was on making these district councils “centres of shared services and shared skills” which would supply scarce experience like engineers to the municipalities under each district council.

Gordhan also announced an advisory panel of civil society and other experts on local government procurement which would look at tightening controls and increasing the integrity and ethics in this field. The panel is expected to be announced in about three weeks.

Cape Argus