By Khaya Sithole
Of all the multiple spheres of government that exist, the most critical of them all must be the municipalities.
As the primary interface between government and society, municipalities have a major role to play in creating a sense of legitimacy in the governance of the country at large.
As collectors of rates and taxes, there is an expectation that municipalities will be the one arm of government that is more responsive and sensitive to the issues that affect citizens on a daily basis. To this end, the ability of municipalities to serve their constituencies needs to be continuously reinforced and improved. This week, the Minister of Finance – Nhanhla Nene – indicated that of the 257 municipalities in the country, less than 50% of the accounting officers and CFO’s have the requisite competency levels. In other words, the custodians of municipal funds and the accounting officers at this level of government lack the skills set required in order to conduct their jobs. The consequence of this, naturally, is that when the custodians of municipal funds are unable to execute on their duties it will have dire implications for service delivery.
And this is something that has been reiterated by the auditor-general and the Minister of Cooperative Governance. According to the latest statistics released by the Minister of COGTA – Dr. Zweli Mkhize – just 7% of the country’s municipalities are well functioning. The rest – a staggering 93% – are classified as either reasonably functional or worse. The key issues relating to such classifications range from a lack of technical skills required to run most of the services that municipalities are responsible for. Additionally, the usual red herrings – corruption, political interference, and downright incompetence – add to the challenge. Unsurprisingly, there are strong correlations between the skills deficit and poor service delivery. The cost of poor service delivery is itself unquantifiable. What is clear to all of us is that a new way of running municipalities needs to be found if they are going to be rescued. Dr. Zweli Mkhize has launched initiatives aimed at providing skills where the shortage is most pronounced; however such secondments need to be matched by a holistic drive towards long-term capacitation of all affected municipalities.
Recently the Public Services SETA released a report focusing on the rise in critical jobs within the public service. These jobs – referred to as ‘hard-to-fill-vacancies’ are regarded as important in the drive towards a more efficient and effective civil service. However, due to a variety of factors – some structural and some self-inflicted – such jobs remain unfilled for significant periods of time. During such times, the ability of the affected organisations to execute on their respective mandates and even facilitate service delivery – remain severely compromised. One key contributing factor remains the country’s skills dilemma which is characterised by mismatches and lack of coordination. For as long as the skills being developed are not suited to the demands of an evolving world of work it means far too many participants in the workforce become progressively obsolete. And given the unsustainably high unemployment rates – particularly amongst the youth – the current state of affairs is no longer sustainable. The one sector which is probably best-placed to tackle the looming crisis is the SETA sector.
Established as 21 discrete entities tasked with leading the skills development initiatives of the country; the SETAs are best placed to manage the transition from the training environment to the work environment. Additionally, due to the close relationships enjoyed with the industries they serve, SETAs have the ability to see the evolving patterns and trends in work environments and tailor their offering to match the trajectory in their relevant industry. Naturally, this all depends on each SETA being able to receive buy-in from all its stakeholders and crafting its strategic vision towards that common purpose. In instances where such alignments are hard to reach, even the SETA itself ceases to be of use to its industry, the state, and the emerging workforce.
[WATCH] Resident analyst @CoruscaKhaya says SETAs (Sectorial Education and Training Authorities) currently sit in the correct portfolio if we are to gauge its mandate #BreakfastwithDavid pic.twitter.com/rpuUOWyZNK
— Kaya 959 Talk (@KayaFMTalk) September 19, 2018
Recently, the Department of Higher Education and Training issued a Gazette for public comment which seeks to ask the question of what the SETA landscape ought to look like after March 2020. This is premised on the basis that the current mandate of the 21 SETAs expires in March 2020. Beyond this date, the point of contention is whether the nature of South Africa’s work environment warrants the existence of 21 SETAs or whether consolidation is overdue. Consolidation may be for reasons of significant overlaps between 2 sectors or simply be due to the need for cross-subsidization in instances where a SETA on its own is not financially viable. During the public comments process, stakeholders will also have an opportunity to provide inputs on the role that SETAs should play in the skills development universe going forward. Given the fact that the impending mechanisation of the workforce will affect us all in one way or another, it would be a missed opportunity for us not to participate in this crucial conversation.
Ideally, in the long run, we should be able to leverage the SETAs as a conduit of churning out the type of skills that are so acutely missing in institutions like our municipalities.