The job description of a City Councillor is seldom understood

In 2016 we will once again have Local Government Elections in South Africa. It continues to surprise me that young people, straight out of school, some who have not even matriculated, fervently believe that they are capable and competent to stand for Local Government and represent a ward at City Council level.

Perhaps it is visions of Parliamentary debates, which have taken the South African imagination by storm since the last National Elections, and in-particular the antics of the previously young and now middle aged Julius Malema, which have motivated truly “young” people to believe that there is a place for them in politics.

The reality dear “young” person, is that you need to work. To find a job. To hone your skills at making a living and experience the trials and tribulations of life, before you can claim to have the common sense and ability necessary to be a true representative of the people.

Being a City Councillor is not a job. It is a calling and in the better, more civilized parts of the world it is an unpaid calling. The Jobs at Local Government level are occupied by “Officials” those Bureaucrat’s, Engineers and Garbage Collectors who have applied to work, have been screened and have been appointed subject to terms and conditions of performance and subject to them evidencing qualified competency.

The job of a City Councillor is similar to that of a Board Member in the Private Sector. A City Councillor is the ombudsperson, the arbiter of Good Governance. A City Councillor should have skills either in Management, Finance, Logistics, Project Management, Human Resources, Health or Law. A City Councillor should understand finance, credit and debt and know how to read a budget and question variances. A City Councillor is a Customer Service arbiter responsible to his or her ward, the electorate and must be ready and willing to act on-behalf of that electorate collectively as an intercessionary with Local Government Officials at all times. However, and this is the important issue, a City Councillor is not a Customer Service Agent of each and every rate-payer in a ward. His or her job is to ensure that the Customer Service Agents employed by Local Government do their jobs and resolve the issues, which they are employed to do in a fair and non-racist fashion.

It is unfortunate that rate-payers seldom understand why they are voting for a City Councillor and expect them to be at their beck-and-call at all hours of the day. The job of a City Councillor is to force the system to work at all times and those employed within the system to do their jobs. Their task is not to do that work themselves and to refrain at all times from micro-management. This is often a conflict of interest experienced by Board Members in the Corporate Sector and role confusion between Officials and Stakeholders is possibly the most pervasive problem facing CEO’s in all organisations.

However, where and when it becomes patently obvious that the bums on seats employed to work are not working, then a City Councillor must intercede to force apathetic officials to do their jobs properly and competently.

A City Councillor must be consumed with process rather than substance except when it comes to approving and therefore considering Policy change and innovation, Budgets and Rules and Regulations.

There are a number of forums in-which City Councilors do their work. They serve on Sub-Committee’s of Council where issues of Policy and Oversight are considered. They serve in the Council Chamber where recommendations from Sub-Committee’s get engaged upon, discussed, negotiated and passed (or rejected). They serve in forums within their Ward where they are expected to provide regular feedback and to seek mandates from the Rate Payers in their Wards.

City Councilors have an increasingly important role to play at Local Government levels. They are first and foremost responsible for the physical, emotional and spiritual states of their City. They are constantly going to be at odds with Provincial Government and it’s capacities, budget allocations and regulations, and finally with the National Government, which is purely political and often vindictively so if there are political differences between the National and the Local levels, such as with the Western Cape.

One would think that there is no place for party politics at the Local Government Level but you would be very wrong in that assumption. Remembering that it is at the Local Government level where the closest contact is experienced politically with the electorate, Local Government inevitably becomes a cauldron of unfulfilled promises, unreasonable entitlement, fraud, crime and corruption and a general misunderstanding of what Local Government is responsible for and what it is not responsible for.

What there is not, at this level of Government is space for inexperience, inexplicable cadre deployment, racial antagonism, or cross subsidization from those who pay for those who do not pay their rates and taxes. Local Government is very much dependent on an economy of scale funding model in-that if every one pays what they have to, the system works. If not, as in Johannesburg currently, the whole system collapses and eventually the National Fiscus stops bailing the Municipality out.

Being a City Councillor is not a glorious role. It is a thankless task. It is a calling for the passionate and committed. It is not a place where a would-be future President wants to make their mark safely and loudly.