CONSIDERING the mess most of our municipalities find themselves in, the proposal by the South African Local Government Association (Salga) for the State to foot the bill for a massive increase in councillors’ salaries will certainly not go down well with taxpayers.

According to reports, the organisation is asking the state to hike the salaries of councillors to be more in line with those of MPs and MPLs. Salga also wants the state to pay for councillors’ home and motor insurance.

If Salga has its way, municipal councillors, who are earning about R380 000 a year, will have their salaries upped to nearly R900 000 a year, which is what members of Parliament will soon be earning following a 5.5 percent salary increase recently approved by President Jacob Zuma.

There’s little doubt that being a public representative at local government level today is a dangerous job. Many councillors live in the communities they serve. They often bear the brunt of residents’ anger during service delivery protests and their properties are vandalised.

But does all this justify a 236 percent salary hike? Surely not, especially taking into consideration the dysfunctional state of our municipalities and the involvement of many councillors in corruption, tender fraud and nepotism.

Corruption at local government level means resources earmarked for delivery of basic services to residents are being diverted to the coffers of greedy council officials.

We do not condone criminal acts by angry residents during service delivery protests. However, the issues they raise are legitimate. And councillors elected to serve their constituencies in municipal councils should be held accountable for failure to deliver basic services to residents.

Calls for increases in salaries of councillors would in normal circumstances not trigger an outcry if councillors matched these hikes with their performances. The best way councillors can justify salary increases and to insulate themselves from residents’ rage, is to do what they have been elected for – seeing to it that services are rendered to their communities.