The local government in our area is our closest connection to the government yet, most of us know little about our local government.
We know that they are responsible for service delivery and we are familiar with the suggestion box propped up on the counter at our local municipality, but is this the only communication that we as ordinary citizens are entitle to? We need to be aware that we as ordinary citizens can have an influence on financial and other decisions within the local government sphere.
Communities have rights which are supported by legislation. Community involvement is meant to be commonplace within the local government sphere. Communities have rights to make suggestions, recommendations and even the right to contribute to the decision making process. In this manner, individual citizens may have an impact on the allocation of local government finance.
The constitution states about local government aims: ‘to encourage the involvement of communities and community organizations in matter’s of local government’ Section 164 (4) (b) (www.ecngoc.co.za) and (www. Cogta.gov.za)
From this we can clearly gather that involvement in government is every citizen’s fundamental right.
Let me illustrate an example: A particular community was not happy with the speed motorists drove on a public main road. The reason for this is that the public road was adjacent to a public primary school. Children from the school made use of a pedestrian crossing on the main road, but motorists disregarded the pedestrian crossing and did not reduce speed on this road. Several children had been injured and because of this situation. To change the situation, the community signed a petition and approached the local government to urge them to improve the situation. Some members in the community proposed solutions such as: change the speed limit, put up signs, put up traffic lights at the crossing and put up speed bumps.
A few weeks later, local government funds were allocated to put up signs indicating that school children were crossing the road. Two speed bumps were also put up to slow the traffic before the pedestrian crossing.
This kind of community involvement allowed a problem to be overcome.
According to the national budget speech, 9% of the national budget is allocated to local government. The amount each municipality receives is determined in accordance with population growth and demand for services within each demarcated area.
The budget is in actual fact already influenced by the general public due to the fact that it is the public who are responsible for population growth and demand for services. The ordinary citizen thus has an impact regarding the allocation of funds.
The cost of services paid for: as well as what the money generated will be utilized for, is to be substantiated and transparent to the public. Transparency is believed to increase communal confidence in government and consequently stimulate a culture of public involvement and participation.
The interaction between local government and the public is a right that gives each person a voice in matters that concern and affect the community at large.
The core definition of democracy emphasizes that the people being ruled, should have a say in how they are being ruled. South Africa prides itself in being a democracy for two decades; however, the purity of democracy has been altered. Too often we take the freedom that has been hard fought for, for granted by ignoring opportunities handed to us by the South African Constitution.
Taking an active role in the way we as South Africans are governed can be viewed as both, an opportunity, and a responsibility. We are given the chance to make our voice heard, but we are also responsible for ensuring that we use our voice for the greater good of the community.
Most South Africans have common goals and desires with regard to how we want to be governed. We share common views regarding freedom, policy implementation, infrastructure, education and healthcare. If there are objectives that we want to attain, the only way to do this would be to bring it to the attention of the local government.
Once the needs of the pubic are known, the public then has a right to make suggestions and propose solutions to make the desired changes such as those provided in the example above. It is this kind of public involvement that will strengthen the democracy and augment public freedom.
Public involvement in local government is beneficial for all parties concerned. Constructive criticism and positive feedback allows the government to develop and improve, while it gives the public a voice. This type of communication between local government and the ordinary citizen is an emphasis of democracy in its purest form.