Call to account

Minutes after councillors were voted for in their respective wards, voters have been at their doors, demanding action on promises made ahead of the recent local government elections.

Housing, substance abuse and structural developments are some of the issues that have been at the top of their priority lists.

The Plainsman spoke to the City of Cape Town, councillors, ward committee members and community-based organisations to confirm what voters can expect from council and how to hold them accountable.

More than 110 000 Mitchell’s Plain residents made their mark in the 2016 local government elections on Wednesday August 3. Voters put their support behind the DA, with the party winning eight of the 10 wards in the Plainsman’s distribution area and wards 88 and 99 going to the ANC.

William Simmers, the Mitchell’s Plain Community Advice and Development Project (MPCADP) co-ordinator, said councillors must have basic training in office management, human relations and lay counselling skills; speak at least two languages; have a place of work where they are available and can be contacted; promote and facilitate human rights and democracy in their work; and dedicate at least two-and-a-half days a week to engage with residents.

The MPCADP is a community-based organisation offering legal advice and support to vulnerable people in the area – referring them to attorneys, the magistrate’s court and equality court and helping draft court papers.

They also refer substance abusers to rehabilitation centres and family members for counselling following any trauma.

Mr Simmers said councillors should focus on housing-related matters, including clean water, water management device problems, drainage, electricity, parks, rent, rates, flooding, evictions, health and cleanliness; family violence, including rape, abuse and conflict resolution; alcohol abuse should be collectively managed and dealt with by community organisations, religious groups and the government; and structural development looking at buildings, roads, rehabilitation centres, shelters and recreational facilities and sport.

“Community members should not be referred from pillar to post and councillors must not be biased towards any community member or political party,” he said.

He invited councillors to join them in alleviating the many social and economic challenges faced daily in Mitchell’s Plain, the metro and the country.

Cornelius Basson, former Ward 76 committee member, who represented the education sector, said they were the ears and eyes of the community.

“We, together with the ward councillor and sub-council manager, have to work together to enhance service delivery in the ward,” he said.

Local community organisations were called to register at their sub-council office. Representatives for these organisations were elected to form a ward committee.

Committee members receive stipends to help them travel around the ward, attend meetings and airtime to call around for further assistance.

Mr Basson said while education is a national and provincial government competency, they could assist with the safety and security, calling in law enforcement officers to further reinforce policing, and other City services.

Ward committees are another means of community engagement. Each ward may have a ward committee of up to 10 persons.

The ward councillor is the chairperson of the ward committee. The allocated proportional representative (PR) councillor and the junior City councillor are ex officio non-voting members.

All committee members must regularly consult their sectors and advise the ward councillor on needs and priorities, including the budget, and make recommendations to the sub-council or other committees of council.

Raphael Martin, Sub-council 23 manager, said voters should know the limitations and responsibilities of their ward councillors.

Ward allocations for the year are limited to R700 000, which has already been spoken for by outgoing councillors as the City of Cape Town’s financial year is from July 1until June 30 the next year and allocations have already been agreed upon by the outgoing council.

He said the money was minimal compared to the cost of repairs and building infrastructure.

The replacement of vandalised electricity infrastructure cost the City R12.6 million during the 2012/2013 financial year; R19.3 million in 2013/2014 and exceeded R25 million in 2014/2015 financial year (“City clamps down on theft of wheelie bins,” Plainsman, June 24, 2015).

The replacement of a mini-sub station costs R500 000; a transformer costs R300 000; a distribution kiosk costs R 15 000; a street lighting pole cost R6 000; overhead wires costs R10 000 a 100m; underground cables 122 square millimetres per 100 metres cost R16 000; and a control box costs R8 000.

Mr Martin said various City departments also had budgets and that councillors should know how to access funds to make things work in their wards.

“Councillors must understand how the budget system works,” he said.

Officials lobby for funds but ultimately councillors must know how to “work the system”.

Mr Martin said often residents came to sub-council for financial support. “That is not what council is for,” he said.

He said only full council has a say on spending public funds.

For the next few weeks councillors will be put through their paces in learning the councillors’ code of conduct and procedures in and around council.

Mr Martin said councillors should at least have one monthly meeting with the community and that the main purpose of sub-council was to bring council closer to the people.

According to the City’s website, it provides residents with a variety of municipal services such as health, water, wastewater and sewerage systems, roads and traffic safety services, and housing sites and services.

To judge whether it was doing this effectively, the City needed to listen to what residents had to say. It did this via its sub-councils.

Shaun August, the City’s chief whip, said councillors provided a vital link between the communities they served and the City.

“They are responsible for representing the needs and interests of the people in their communities, regardless of whether they voted for them,” he said.

Among other things, councillors are required to be accountable to locals and report back at least quarterly to constituencies on council matters, including the performance of the municipality in terms of established indicators.

If members of the public feel that a councillor is not fulfilling his or her duties, they can refer any complaints to Mr August.

* Residents may engage with council by attending and participating in report-back meetings held by councillors.

* Residents are also encouraged to make use of the City’s sub-council website and locate their respective sub-council offices as meetings are advertised widely, are open to the public and are held every month.

* Public participation is a vital aspect of sub-council work and residents are consulted via email, newsletters, leaflets and public meetings. Each sub-council has a database of all stakeholders in the area, including ratepayers’ and civic associations.

* Community-based organisations (CBOs) are also a way in which communities can engage with council – these are voluntary associations representing common interests.

They are very important to the City for communication and consultation purposes. Each sub-council maintains a database of CBOs in its own area. CBOs should regularly re-register so information about them is as accurate as possible. They must also ensure that they are regularly mandated to speak on behalf of their communities.

* In addition, residents may log service delivery requests on the City’s Service Notification system.

The City’s electronic reporting system ensures that complaints are logged and a reference number will track progress. Residents may use one of the following options to log complaints:

* Mobi site: Residents can use the mobi site to report faults such as potholes, water leaks, electricity failures and illegal dumping, among other service requests.

The mobi site can be accessed at: http://www.capetown.gov .za/mobi; the Call Centre on 086 010 3089; or email contactUS@capetown. gov.za A reference number will be supplied so that complaints can be tracked. Residents must also copy the ward councillor in on all correspondence so that he or she is able to monitor and follow up on the complaint if needs be.

* Residents are also welcome to visit councillor’s offices situated within the wards to log complaints.

All councillors will inform the community as to their respective office hours in due course.

* The Mitchell’s Plain Community Advice and Development Project offices can be contacted on 021 392 2000; visit them at Room 13, First Floor OGS Building (Engen Garage), on the corner of First Street and Fourth Avenue, Town Centre; or email mitchellsplainadv@telkomsa.net

Role of proportional representative councillors

Proportional Representative (PR) councillors have an equally important role as public representatives in ensuring service delivery.

Like ward councillors, they too need to be available to residents and respond to their communications, understand the legislation pertaining to local government and fulfil their oversight role within the administration.

They are required to attend and participate actively in all council meetings, develop subject knowledge and expertise in the portfolios to which they are assigned, and represent the council on outside bodies.

Politically, PR councillors from all parties are generally also tasked with building their respective parties’ profiles in the wards to which they are assigned.