08 March 2016

A reflection on the role of records in measuring service delivery

SAHA has, over the last year as part of its pilot local government capacity building project, been working with municipalities in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape to help better compliance, at the local level, with the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA). This year will see the roll out of phase two of the local government capacity building project. SAHA’s Freedom of Information Programme (FOIP) is therefore keen to understand better the challenges facing municipalities today, in order to ensure that these are taken into account in the PAIA capacity building training done by FOIP with local government. SAHA's FOIP Advocacy Officer therefore attended, this February, the Public Affairs Research Institute's (PARI) workshop on “Re-imagining Local Government: What are the major challenges facing municipalities today?” hosted at the Professional Development Hub of WITS University.

While there were several speakers the main address at the workshop was a presentation by the director of PARI, Ivor Chipkin, on PARI’s research into so called ‘red zone municipalities’, that is, the 60 municipalities which attained the poorest outcomes in the 2013/2014 financial audit. PARI in this presentation sought to problematise financial audits and suggested that poor audit outcomes may not necessarily be signs of poor service delivery, just as good audit outcomes are not necessarily indicative of good service delivery.

FOIP has noted that this seems to suggest that there may be a need to identify additional records that could more accurately reflect the level of service delivery within a given community, or at least serve as a supplement to audits.

Issues in relation to service delivery are often very similar across communities, for instances many communities are seeking access to allocation lists for Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) housing, but it can also differ, with access to clean water for instance being a big issue in one community and street lighting an issue in another. It is therefore necessary to engage with communities about their service delivery needs and the records that might assist them in understanding what is, or is not, being done to address these needs. This has been the approach in SAHA’s local government project thus far and will continue to be the approach as we go forward into phase two of the project.

In so far as the research presented at this workshop seems to suggest therefore that there is a need to engage more on what additional records could be relied on to reflect on service delivery failures and successes, FOIP will ensure that it continues to reflect, not only with community activists, but also with local government officials on what those records are and how those can be automatically and proactively made publicly accessible.