DECENTRALIZATION, LOCAL GOVERNANCE
AND THE DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION IN SOUTHERN AFRICA: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS.©
James S. Wunsch
What factors are required for viable, democratic,
local governments in Africa? This is an important question for several
reasons. First, in an era of continuing economic problems and structural
adjustment, national governments have been forced to reduce the services
they provide. While the private sector may pick-up some of these, collective
and non-profit-earning social goods must be delivered or funded by sub-national
governmental units if they are to be provided at all (World Bank, 1994).
Second, research over the last two decades has suggested that highly
centralized and top-down service delivery is expensive, cumbersome,
inflexible, adapts slowly to new information (if at all), and is prone
to political abuse (Esman, 1991). Third, government collapse and incapacity,
with spontaneous patterns of local initiative in education, sanitation
and marketing, suggest there is an untapped local capacity to make collective
choices and take collective action (Green, 1995; Wunsch and Olowu, 1990;
Fass and Desloovere, 1995). Finally, a growing body of research suggests
that democracy must be rooted in functioning local, participatory self-governance
institutions. This literature emphasizes the importance of the growth
of civil society, development of public "ownership" of political
institutions, mobilization of talents and resources into constructive
patterns (positive sum rather than zero-sum or negative-sum political
interaction), and countervailing power vis-à-vis national institutions
(Harbeson, Rothchild and Chazan, 1994; Wunsch and Olowu, 1990). Despite
these compelling reasons, most "experiments" in decentralization
and local democratic governance suggest that African local democracy
and governance has failed in virtually everyplace it has been tried
Some important recent research suggests that these
problems are rooted in specific policy choices and strategies pursued
by African governments. These policies include deliberate withholding
of resources, whether fiscal or juridical (Mutahaba, 1989), from local
entities for political or ideological reasons; central bureaucratic
hostility and weakness (Smoke, 1994); turbulent economic and policy
environments which have undercut local institutions (Olowu and Wunsch,
1995; Wunsch and Olowu, 1996); absence of complimentary reforms needed
in national administrative law and systems (Ayee, 1997); and underdeveloped
local civil society that left local governments "rudderless"
as they tried to develop policy and deliver services (Olowu and Wunsch,
1995; Wunsch and Olowu, 1996).
This paper reports the results of a 1995-1996 comparative
analysis of local government in the context of current political reforms
in South Africa, Botswana, and Swaziland in an effort to arrive at the
preconditions for efficient and effective local institutions of collective
choice and of service delivery. At a theoretical level, this paper reports
the general patterns observed and the specific findings in each country.
Since all countries are in periods of dynamic change, it will also review
relevant contextual aspects.
DECONCENTRATION AND DEVOLUTION IN THE AFRICAN CONTEXT
Much of the debate, and perhaps the policy choices, regarding African
local government has been structured by terminology first developed
by James Fesler in the 1950s. Fesler argued it was important to distinguish
between devolution and deconcentration in analyzing local government
systems, and in describing patterns of "decentralization"
reforms. Devolution refers to the distribution (or re-distribution)
of authority to make decisions and to take action by local governments
independently of central administrative oversight. Central governments
might retain overall legal control (equal protection under the laws,
voting eligibility, allocating authority to raise revenue, ensuring
general law and order, and regulating fraud and corruption) and the
authority to alter local government powers. Within those boundaries,
devolution exists if local entities have substantial authority to hire,
fire, tax, contract, expend, invest, plan, set priorities, and deliver
the services they chose. Deconcentration, in contrast, occurs when local
entities act largely as the local agents of central governments, manage
personnel, and expend resources allocated to them by central government
authorities. Deconcentration refers to essentially the redistribution
of central resources to localities on the sufferance of those central
authorities. These terms have, since Fesler, been revived, updated and
applied by several scholars of Africa and elsewhere. Cohen and Peterson
summarize much of this discussion in their recent monograph (Cohen and
Debate and discussion about effective local governance
in Africa since independence has often hinged on these as alternative
strategies. For example, the operating policy of most African states
has reflected a bias toward deconcentration. Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania,
Zambia and others have several times trumpeted "decentralization"
revolutions. Overtime, however, it became clear that these were really
only modest policies of deconcentration. Scholars, in contrast, have
often argued instead that real improvement in local government performance
(e.g., efficiency, energy, effectiveness, and local participation) could
only be expected when devolution was pursued (Wunsch and Olowu, 1990).
Recently, a third factor has also been found to
be important for effective local governance: a viable local political
process. Dele Olowu and Wunsch, for example, found that substantial
decentralization efforts in Nigeria during the later 1980s and early
1990s were weakened by the absence of viable local political processes
to convey information to the public about government decisions, to organize
publics to be attentive to government actions, to mobilize public opinion
regarding local government, and to hold local officials accountable
for their performance. The absence of attentive local publics and of
close linkages between officials and citizens appeared to explain many
of the problems found in local governmental performance in Nigeria (Olowu
and Wunsch, 1995; Wunsch and Olowu, 1996).
In fact, if one considers the arguments implied
by all three strategies, they can be seen as complimentary aspects of
a single model rather than as independent or mutually exclusive. For
example, advocates of deconcentration emphasize the fiscal, skill, and
personnel poverty of localities, and their need for central resources
to function. They also emphasize the problem of providing effective
direction for local administrators. Advocates of devolution emphasize
that the residents of local governments will be unlikely to participate,
invest attention or resources, or learn many of the lessons of governance
unless their local governments can make real decisions with effective
consequences. The same applies to local officials as well, who, furthermore,
are unlikely to invest extra attention and energy in local affairs and
programs unless they are accountable to localities rather than the center.
In fact, most African local authorities are woefully short both of revenues
and trained personnel, and have remained either largely passive or only
spasmodically active (in limited areas), in the post-independence era.
The argument regarding a viable local political
process combines both of these perspectives. Such a process is necessary
to provide policy direction for local officials, information to allow
learning and fine-tuning of policies and programs by local officials,
and accountability regarding performance. Resources provide the "raw
material" of local governance, authority provides the structure
that allows local political entrepreneurs to combine resources to produce
local services, and a viable political process energizes, directs, and
redirects political entrepreneurs in their activities. Simultaneously,
the political process provides an arena for political entrepreneurs
to explain and market their activities, trying to build support and
raise additional resources. When they fail, the political process is
the mechanism that reviews and replaces them. Usually a viable local
political process includes an active civil society, some general political
organizations (e.g., factions, parties or their surrogates), a legislative
arena, opinion leaders and their publics, and mechanisms to gather and
spread information. With all this in mind, it may appear reasonable
to hypothesize that effective African local governance requires deconcentration
(of resources and personnel), devolution (of authority) and development
of a viable local political process.
This working hypothesis was recently applied during
nine-person weeks of exploratory field research on local government
in Southern Africa: Mupmalanga Province of South Africa, Swaziland,
and Botswana. Each research site was assessed for the resources available
to selected localities (deconcentration), the authority devolved to
localities (devolution), the health of a local political process, and
the effective functioning of local governments. It was expected that
the more fully developed were the units considered on each of these
criteria, the more effective local government would be. The variables
were measured via a multi-indicator, multi-method strategy. This included
interviews with local officials, political personnel, leaders of civil
society organizations, academic and donor personnel, site observation,
including of equipment, maps, meetings, personnel, and business, and
review of appropriate documents, including plans, budgets, personnel
systems, audits, minutes of meetings, and the like.
SOUTH AFRICA: MPUMALANGA PROVINCE
Although the dramatic events in the Republic of South Africa may be
familiar to most people, the laborious process by which a new structure
for local government was hammered-out in negotiations that continued
through 1993 is not as well-known. The Local Government Negotiating
Forum (LGNF) was often overshadowed by the more dramatic national interim
constitutional negotiations, but many believe its results will have
as great (or greater) impact on the new South Africa (Pycroft, 1996).
The major players in the LGNF were SANCO (South African National Civic
Organization) and the National Party. SANCO was the national federal
body that grew out of the informal "civics" that arose in
the black urban areas of South Africa during the 1980s. The "civics"
drove the apartheid governmental authorities out of the black urban
areas and provided some level of local governance.
The Nationalist Party was, of course, the ruling
party of South Africa from 1948 until the African National Congress
(ANC) took power in the free election of 1994. Both were galvanized
into discussions by the obvious conflict and stalemate that existed
between Africans and the minority dominated local governments. Their
search for a mutually acceptable solution led to the Local Government
Transition Act of 1993, and relevant provisions of the 1993 Interim
Constitution Act. The major consequences of these acts for local government
was the establishment of varying institutional frameworks for local
government (for e.g., metropolitan, urban, and rural), all of which
provided for: non-discriminatory participation in local political affairs;
a partial-proportional representation system for local elections in
the former white, Asian, "Coloured," and black areas; a guaranteed
and substantial role for local government; and a process for amalgamating
former white, Asian, "Coloured," and black jurisdictions in
an institutional framework that placed most operational responsibility
on the formerly white executive and managerial structures, the ones
which had been best resourced and were most institutionally developed
(Cloete, 1994; Pycroft, 1996). The final constitution of 1996 essentially
maintained this structure (Cameron, 1997).
Nelspruit, Mpumalanga Province (formerly the Eastern Transvaal) was
the first research site. It is located in the eastern part of Mpumalanga
Province, a generally fertile agricultural region of rolling hills.
Only fifty kilometers from the world-famous Kruger Game Park, it has
a diversified economy based on agriculture, services, tourism, and light
industry. Formerly a largely white municipality of 24,000 (22,000 white,
1,000 Asian, 1,000 "Coloured"), it has grown to an estimated
250,000 with the addition of two former "homeland" townships,
Kanyamazane and Matsulo, each approximately 65,000 people, and various
peri-urban areas. Additionally, it has become more of a regional government,
as it now stretches from Nelspruit to Matsulo, a distance of some 50
Along with substantial growth in population, racial diversity, and size,
the new Nelspruit also faced several other significant changes. These
included the recent elections of new legislative personnel and of the
(largely ceremonial) mayor, vastly expanded service responsibilities
for Nelspruit in the former black townships, and an enlarged personnel
system which included personnel from both the former white and black
local government units. All this occurred within continued ambiguity
regarding, the role of the new provincial governments, the status of
the former "homeland" areas still under rural council rule,
and the size of central government revenue subventions to be allocated
to upgrade and develop the former black townships. In
this section, we review the four factors outlined in section II regarding
local government in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga Province.
Resources: Over the long-run, the Nelspruit area
has been a resource-rich area. The personnel staffing local government
are highly educated, professionally qualified, and experienced. Their
facilities are modern, spacious, comfortable, and equipped with computers,
software, and personnel able to manage and use them.
The municipality supports generous services (public utilities, roads,
economic development, planning, housing sites, etc.) to the Nelspruit
population, which is virtually entirely white, from a local tax base
that has generated typically 130 million Rand (around $45 million US
per year). This budget has been adequate to provide services, to staff
the local civil service personnel slots, and to service whatever capital
borrowing the locality chose to make.
Future resource adequacy is less clear. The revenue
base, which is composed of property taxes ("rates") and water
and electricity service fees, has limited scope for expansion. Rates
are set primarily on site value rather than on improvements, and payroll
taxes, sales taxes, income taxes are practically difficult to implement
and not under consideration at the regional and national levels which
would need to authorize them for local use. Revenue allocations from
the national government are uncertain and almost inevitably will be
limited in size to a small portion of local needs. The much awaited
grants from the Rural Development Fund (RDF) are likely to meet only
a small portion of the needs (Cameron, 1996). But local needs will grow
enormously with the vast increase in local population caused by municipal
amalgamation. The possible addition of what were called the "traditional
area," nearby areas formerly administered by the defunct African
"homelands," will add to Nelspruit's responsibilities (Pycroft,
1996; Cloete, 1994). Revenue sources in the former black townships are
inevitably limited given the poverty there and the culture of "non-payment,"
the refusal of Africans to pay water and electrical charges, and any
rates/taxes due in urban areas to protest apartheid. Additionally, the
municipality already experienced a substantial increase in personnel
costs with amalgamation with the former black townships.
The most current budget estimates by Nelspruit's
government suggested that capital investment needs for the former black
townships added to Nelspruit is roads, water, sewers, and street lights
were 220 million Rand (approximately 75 million dollars US). The current
capital budget was 35 million Rand (approximately 12 million dollars
US), leaving a 185 million Rand capital budget short-fall. Operating
or current costs are estimated to be 150 million Rand (approximately
52 million dollars US) which leaves a 30 million Rand short-fall from
the current operating budget of 120 million Rand. This was a bare-bones
budget proposal, essentially only to continue those minimal services
offered in the townships, not to upgrade the areas to Nelspruit standards.
Overall, then, Nelspruit has been a well-resourced local government.
However, it faces serious challenges in the immediate future given the
changed ratios of resources to needs.
Authority: Historically, Nelspruit, like other white
municipalities, was a powerful juridical body. Working within broad
parameters set by central government, it hired personnel, levied and
raised taxes, established budgets, set local service priorities and
development strategies, borrowed funds (with central Ministry of Finance
approval) for capital development, and the like (Cameron, no date).
According to the interim constitution of 1995 (Chapter Ten and Section
245), provincial legislators must not "encroach on local government
to such an extent that it compromises the fundamental status, purpose
and character of local government" (Cloete, 1994, pp 44-45). Broad
statutory, regulatory, and executive powers were also established in
the interim constitution for local governments to enable them to provide
for local welfare, and to raise money through various taxes, fees, levees
and the like (Cloete, 1994). When one considers the new constitutional
framework, it does not seriously change the authority of local government.
However, the amalgamations that grew from the LGNF process fundamentally
changed the political dynamics at the local level as they brought about
black majority control.
The major potential change-agent on the horizon
is the newly established Mpumalanga provincial government. While Nelspruit's
civil service personnel are almost 100% white (except for the generally
junior grade personnel absorbed from the black municipalities), the
provincial personnel are virtually 100% black. How the provincial government
will relate to Nelspruit (and other similar cities) over the long-run
is unclear, as the agenda of the two groups might well be expected to
diverge, and it might be expected over time to encroach on Nelspruit's
In the short-run, however, the provincial government was in confusion
stemming from its recent establishment. It was unclear about its own
role and legal authority, preoccupied with hiring personnel and disagreements
over priorities. So far, the provincial government had little impact
on the municipal government, and personnel interviewed in the provincial
government did not aspire to interfere much in the municipal government.
Provincial personnel did not review municipal budgets, personnel decisions,
municipal priorities, tax rates, etc. In 1996, the provincial personnel
in Mpumalanga believed these issues were best left to the municipal
political process to decide.
Political Process: The established local political process was largely
rendered irrelevant by the "new dispensation" after 1994.
The latter has probably quintupled the electorate, and introduced many
"new" groups and interests to Nelspruit's government. However,
the representative institutions (council) and linkage institutions (political
parties and civil society) between the population and the municipality
are still underdeveloped. Furthermore, institutional arrangements now
in-place to facilitate these are flawed in their design, while the interest
groups organized at the "grass-roots" level are still weak
The municipal council is the only representative body at the local level.
The effective chief executive is a civil servant, the town clerk. The
mayorship is an honorary office, filled by election from the council,
and without any executive powers. While the council does have full authority
over local budgetary and programatic decisions, in Nelspruit its effectiveness
in encouraging and focusing a local political process remains unclear.
With forty members meeting only monthly, the council is a large, part-time
body. It is not clear how well it will be able to connect public wants
and concerns with municipal administration. It has no staff, and its
members have no offices. Its only committee is a fifteen person "management
committee" which meets three or four times monthly, but it also
is without staff or office facilities. Furthermore, the personnel are
largely new to public office: in Nelspruit 36 of the 40 members had
never held public office before.
Existing municipal procedures reinforce the powers of the town clerk.
The council only sees the budget as a finished document. The absence
of functionally specialized committees reduces its effectiveness in
analyzing the implications of the proposed budget for programs and services.
Miscellaneous other problems also appear likely to hinder the council.
Most of the members live long distances from the Nelspruit city facilities,
and must use unreliable and slow public transport to journey from home
to the offices. Furthermore, most must continue employment elsewhere,
further pulling them away from time to learn and follow municipal government.
At an intangible level, councilors face the challenge of constructing
new roles both their own and for a formerly placid, service-oriented
city government, and dealing with a limited budget and with constituents
who have increased expectations of, but limited experience in the process
of democratic governance.
The ANC, whose leadership heads Nespruit council, is the strongest single
political party in the area. Nonetheless, ANC's local strength was compromised
by a large Nationalist Party delegation in the Council and by alleged
tension between it and SANCO. There was conflict in the former black
townships between elected and defeated ANC council candidates. At the
time of this research, the ANC did not appear to be developing a coherent
agenda for local government, its policies, or activities.
A large number of non-governmental organizations and personnel from
the "civics," the grass-roots organizations of the anti-apartheid
era movement, have survived the transition and are more-or-less active.
Though loosely organized, SANCO elected several persons to the council.
Their cohesion and cooperation there, and any coordinating role for
SANCO, appeared questionable at the time of this research. The political
interest and capacity of the local voluntary organizations was also
uncertain. Composed of women's groups, sports clubs, student organizations,
anti-AIDS efforts, and the like, these organizations often depended
on the efforts of a single person or a small leadership circle, were
financially precarious and at times dependent on shrinking donor funding.
They and the "civics" frequently looked to the national rather
than the local government for their needs. In general, these groups
were not yet emergent "local publics" which could attend to
local government policy, nor had they been major players in the recent
local elections. They appeared to be inadequately informed about local
government policies, programs, and resources.
Probably the most coherent and organized component of the black African
community was a number of local business-owners. They had been working
for several years with Asian and some white business firms to increase
their access to capital, and expand marketing opportunities via a local
multi-racial chamber of commerce. How their agenda, and the pressing
needs of the largely poor and unemployed or underemployed black population
might cohere into a single political force was also not clear at the
time of the research. Thus, a viable local political process after post-apartheid,
1995 local elections had not yet taken root in Nelspruit.
Local Government Effectiveness: The executive branch of the Nelspruit
municipality is a highly organized and sophisticated governance institution.
The planning, programming, budgeting, managerial, and auditing functions
appeared to be well designed and implemented. Municipal officials were
knowledgeable about the details of their budgets, each other's responsibilities,
the general budgetary implications of the spatial reorganization, and
the challenges of training and working with a town council that has
many members entirely new to politics.
Budgeting, planning, and management support services
(human resources, property management, purchasing) functioned well.
Budgetary figures (estimates, expenditures, operating capital, and revenue
budgets) were easily available, and estimates and actuals were very
close, reflecting good planning and performance. "Structure Plans"
(general land use plans) and "Town Planning Schemes" (zoning
regulations) were available, up-to-date, and of professional quality.
Revised plans were in progress. The Management Service Office had accurate
and timely data on personnel budgets and was trying to solve the management
problems of integrating civil service personnel from the old homelands
(black townships) with the Nelspruit personnel. The town planner was
occupied with the challenges of planning for the "new" areas
of responsibility. Offices were well organized, well staffed, and had
Similarly, the Town Clerk (city manager) was well versed in the conditions
and priorities of the newly added areas. He could discuss the challenges
he faced: balancing revenue versus expenditures; strengthening personnel
management; reconciling traditionally European versus African communication
patterns (i.e., formal/Gazette style versus grassroots consultations
and discussion); educating the new town council; and developing working
relationships with the new Mayor and the new Chair of the Council Management
Committee (the key legislative-oversight role). In 1995, the relationships
among all three were positive and cordial. All these patterns are indicators
of a stable bureaucracy, with the capacity to identify problems, set
priorities, develop programs and budgets, and implement them in a relatively
transparent and efficient way.
However, beyond the purely managerial and organizational
dimension, Nelspruit was not at all effective in delivering services
to its new constituents. It is not even preparing to begin doing so.
Specifically, while local officials were thinking a lot about this "new
era," they did not appear to be engaging in serious reprogramming
of resources to meet their new responsibilities. So far, some personnel
had been redeployed, but only from the former black areas to the Nelspruit
office, a 50 km. distance. There was no clear plan to reconfigure those
offices to improve and expand services to the "new" areas,
and adjust to becoming, in effect, a regional government. Similarly,
officials appeared to be approaching the coming budgetary process in
a largely incremental way. Existing programs and investments that focused
on Nelspruit town would be marginally modified to reflect the reorganization,
but there was no evidence of a fundamental reconsideration of resource
or service flow, or of changed personnel responsibilities. Officials
in Nelspruit repeatedly emphasized the need for revenues to expand in
the new areas before services could be expanded. There were no plans
to reconfigure service priorities to reflect the needs of the new areas.
This lack of plans could be considered in light of the fact that officials
had already "swallowed" a substantial increase in fiscal responsibility
in absorbing and achieving salary parity for the former homeland personnel
under a one-time grant from the provincial government. With the new
area-wide council that was to begin functioning in January of 1996,
any specific planning might have been premature. Additionally, ambiguity
regarding possible national development grants and such specific problems
as the town's authority in traditional areas had also left the civil
servants with uncertainty. Nespruit's executive branch personnel appeared
to embrace the status quo.
The research in Swaziland targeted local governments in Mbabane and
Manzani, the two largest cities in the country. Like the South African
case, though perhaps less dramatically, these local governments are
entering a new era owing to changes in the larger social and political
Propelled partly by recent rapid urban growth and partly by donor encouragement,
a major conference was held in Swaziland in 1990 on its urban government.
This was funded by the United States Agency for International Development
(USAID), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the International
Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the "World Bank"
or IBRD). Among the conference participants were the Prime Minister
of Swaziland, the senior executives of Mbabane and Manzani, the Acting
Minister of Finance, most key urban decision makers, and senior representatives
from each major, related ministry. It was the first major review of
urbanization policy in Swaziland since the Urban Government Act of 1969,
the legislation that then guided Swaziland's local government authorities.
In 1969 only 14% of Swaziland's population lived in urban areas, and
Mbabane and Manzani together held only 30,000 people. The 1990 conference
participants projected that 45% of Swaziland's population would be urbanized
by the year 2000, and Mbabane and Manzani would probably increase to
at least 200,000 in population. There was widespread concern in 1990
about the ability of urban governments to manage existing growth, including
sanitation, transportation, education, housing, and employment. Participants
therefore recommended substantial revision in the statutory structure
of urban government. This would include establishing a new ministry
responsible for urban government, better coordination of housing, land,
infrastructure and urban development by urban authorities, expansion
of urban revenue sources, closer ties between urban councils and local
populations, and election of local councils (USAID, 1990). Many of these
changes would require amendment (or replacement of) the 1969 Local Government
Act, a structure which established central government control over weak
Swaziland has moved only tentatively toward democratic reform. Parliamentary
elections were held in 1994 (the first since King Sobhuza suspended
the constitution in 1973), and local government ("council")
elections occurred in 1995. In neither elections were political parties
allowed to contest. More importantly, the traditional elite's hold on
power remains unchallenged. It controls most land, the monarchy still
controls the national development fund, and it dominates local rural
affairs via the traditional chiefly Tinkundla system (Sallinger-McBride
and Picard, 1989). Together, the intangible influence of democracy in
South Africa, burgeoning urban growth, deteriorating urban conditions,
donor support for urban political reform, and resistance to change by
a traditional elite, shaped the Government of Swaziland's program of
urban governmental reform in the early 1990s. A new Ministry of Housing
and Urban Development (HUD) was established by 1995, and several donors
supported projects to upgrade urban managerial skills. Elections had
replaced the formerly appointed urban councilors. Within the structure
of the 1969 local government statutes, HUD expanded substantially the
effective authority of urban governments. A revised "Urban Government
Policy" which would substantially add to the authority and resources
of urban areas, was presented to the Cabinet in 1995 (Ministry of Housing
and Urban Development, 1995).
Resources: Mbabane and Manzini present a mixed resource base picture.
Local revenue systems in Swaziland face several overall problems that
restrict their capacity to meet local service and development needs.
These include: (1) administrative practices which hamper collection
of local revenues; (2) high expectations that the national government
would "bail-out" local governments in serious deficits; (3)
limited local tax base and authority, and resistance to raising rates
on the existing base; and (4) poor utilization of other revenue sources.
Poor administration and collection of rates in the past led to a significant
pattern of non-payment by 1995. No clear figures on actual collection
percentages were available because the revenue rolls were disorganized
and account records were not kept from year to year. Consensus among
officials was that a large proportion of revenues were never collected.
The locally powerful were a real problem. They used their political
connections at the center to evade local collection efforts. Local governments'
administrative weakness made them unable to sell property for taxes,
and thus impeded recovery of unpaid rates. Poorer people, when approached
directly by their local councilors, had a better record of paying rates.
Mbabane was particularly lax in its enforcement. Since its accounting
system did not "age" ratepayer accounts, there was no record
of accounts in arrears. The city also failed to follow the prescribed
procedures for collection of unpaid taxes, and had taken no action over
a six year period. Since 1995, Mbabane attempted to pursue delinquent
ratepayers. The city posted announcements in the local newspapers to
alert ratepayers who were two to three years in arrears that their property
would be put up for auction. Three properties were sold over a two month
period in 1995 with an additional thirty slated for auction in early
Virtually all local officials and leading citizens interviewed regarded
the national government as the funder of last resort. Indeed, more than
once local officials referred to the national government as likely to
"bail-them-out" if they were in real financial difficulty.
A pattern of large recurrent subventions (about 40% of the operating
budget on average in the larger cities), capital grants, and central
tolerance for accumulating deficits reinforced this attitude. Subventions
are fairly stable; capital grants are more variable.
Revenue sources at the local level are not extensive. There is intensive
resistance to further increases in property rates. Commercial and industrial
ratepayers have organized in Manzini and Mbabane to contest recent rates
increases (which were in the 50% range in 1995). Residential rates have
not been substantially increased much yet, but would encounter resistance
in view of the limited services that many residents receive. Currently,
only the central government may collect revenue from business taxes,
licenses, income, and petrol. To local officials, this is a situation
when they feel they are obligated to provide services (street maintenance,
refuse collection), but cannot collect taxes on those persons and businesses
using these services. The amount of non-taxable central government property
in Mbabane is also a matter affecting local revenue potentials.
Rents and fees are the only other sources of urban revenues. These could
be greatly increased in some areas, but even when such increases have
been budgeted, they have not been collected. The reasons for this are
unclear, but lack of political will and administrative weakness are
both likely explanations, and overall these are in severe deficit. Privatization
may be the only answer to resolve these questions if the political will
to collect fees that cover costs is absent. Business license fees, motor
fuel tax, auto registration fees, and other new sources of revenue have
potential to increase revenues, but these fees have not yet been authorized
by the national government. Unless such new taxes are imposed, Swaziland's
urban governments will have to cut costs in over-staffed areas, or eliminate
subsidies in their services. As table I shows, revenue shortfalls in
Mbabane have in the past been met by central Government subventions.
This may not be possible in the future.
| Revenue Estimates
| Government Payment,
Grants, Subventions (recurrent budget only)
Currency: Emalangeni (1 US$=5.0710 Lilangeni)
City Council of Mbabane: Estimates For The Year, 1995/96.
The human resource base of Swazi local authorities
is also weak. A few executives were clearly well trained. One town clerk,
for instance, who held an MPA from Harvard, is familiar with his responsibilities
and quite competent. But overall, personnel of such quality was rare.
In Mbabane, an unqualified person held the position of acting treasurer.
Most often, personnel other than the town clerk lacked appropriate skills,
the situation being worst in smaller cities and towns.
Authority: Some progress toward devolution of authority
has been made in Swaziland, largely because of leadership by HUD. Specifically,
the larger urban areas (Mbabane and Manzini) may now hire and fire their
own personnel, establish property tax rates, let contracts, prepare
their annual budgets, and manage their own funds. However, there are
important ways in which this authority is circumscribed. Although
used sparingly, HUD retains authority to approve and disapprove all
local budgets. Moreover, local governments cannot raise funds for capital
investments. Authority to borrow is unclear, and there are currently
no markets for municipal loans (e.g., insurance companies, pension funds,
The three key institutions in the Swazi fiscal governance
system are the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economic Planning
and Development, and the Ministry of Public Works. These three meet
annually to review capital requests from all other ministries. Their
dominant role in capital decisions has important implications for Swazi
development as a whole and for local government. This lack of local
autonomy in capital investment greatly reduces the effectiveness and
political ability of urban government and makes forward planning difficult.
Revenue flows from the center are highly variable and appear to be arbitrary
as well. This also has implications for the political process, as the
ability of local officials to build coalitions, to be taken seriously,
and to concentrate local political activity in local institutions is
seriously compromised by such arrangements.
Other national agencies are also problems at times.
The Tender Board, which approves all contracts with the private sector,
appears to be a bottleneck for the cities' public projects. In 1995,
it had not met to review proposed projects for approximately six months.
HUD's own National Housing Board, which is responsible for overseeing
public housing projects, also has a mixed reputation for efficiently
completing local projects. The Ministry of Home Affairs has disputed
some urban authority policies like regulation of alcohol sales.
The recommendation to enact revenue-sharing mechanisms
created serious inter-ministerial tensions. HUD supports a formula-driven
allocation and a system of direct grants that would provide local governments
with the opportunity to meet broad, national priorities, but to set
their own priorities within them. In contrast, the Ministry of Finance
is opposed to the concept of revenue sharing and supports instead tied
transfer payments keyed to its revenue projections. The Ministry of
Finance's proposal would continue the current problems for the local
planning process and local government autonomy. In general, then, some
progress has been made in devolving authority to Swaziland's larger
urban areas. However, particularly in the fiscal area, important strings
continue to be held by central ministries.
Political Process: Swaziland's local governments
have only recently begun to develop a viable local political process.
While elections were held for municipal councils in March, 1995, communication
channels have not been institutionalized between the public and officials.
There are a number of private, voluntary organizations active in Mbabane
and Manzini: charitable organizations, sports clubs, student groups,
trade unions, professional organizations, and women's groups. However,
they have not institutionalized any relationship with local government
that could make them assertive publics against local authorities. A
businessman's association in each city comes closer to this, as do ratepayers
groups, which largely duplicate the businessmen's associations.
Local councilors, in office since the elections of
May, 1995, report having made initial direct contacts with their constituents,
as well as attempts to influence municipal government to bring government
services to them. The scale of needs (roads, electricity, water, sewage,
housing sites) is so great while the resources are so limited, that
it is not clear that the average urban dweller will see much improvement
from this. Councilors were unclear regarding their roles vis-à-vis
local government administration: they had no clear vision on the separation
of powers between themselves, local executives, and HUD. Representatives
of the public seemed equally uncertain on these questions. Nor was it
evident anywhere that a process to develop this understanding was underway.
The Tikundla system, the structure which organizes the authority of
traditional chiefs, continued in urban areas, producing ambiguous authority
and responsibility for municipal officials in areas nominally under
the control of urban councils.
Local Government Effectiveness: Overall,
these interviews and several reports recently completed on urban administration
in Swaziland strongly suggested that urban policy-makers and administrators
had not developed effective problem identification, planning, programming,
budgeting, or implementation capacities (Dupuis, and Cooper and Lybrand,
1995; Ernst and Young, 1995; Ministry of Housing and Urban Development,
1995). The two larger cities seemed closely to follow previous year
budgets instead of considering and consciously planning for future needs
and changing priorities. Financial and personnel management was equally
In the area of budgeting and financial management
both Mbabane and Manzini faced serious problems. First, neither had
any programmatic context included in their budgets. These were simple
line item budgets which provided no programmatic direction to city activities,
or goals and benchmarks against which to assess performance. Second,
both Mbabane and Manzini tended to project seriously overly optimistic
levels of rate collection and/or to engage in deficit spending. Neither
city "aged" its rate collection accounts and thus made little
if any effort to collect from historic non-payers. Mbabane had serious
problems in tracking its expenditures, with accounts running several
months late. In 1994-95 this led to a deficit of nearly Emalangeni 2.0
million (equal to around 800,000 dollars U.S.). This pattern recurred
over several years, leading to a built up deficit of nearly E 8 million.
Mbabane also shows consistent patterns of wide discrepancies in estimated
versus actual tax expenditures, amounting to more than 50 percent in
several areas (City of Mbabane, 1995; Ernst and Young, 1995). While
all governments must adjust for unexpected contingencies, this pattern
of wide discrepancies suggests that budgeting or management may be seriously
Fiscal management problems included
running city commercial services (such as a slaughter-house) at severe
losses. There was severe over-staffing in other service areas (building
inspection), so that their costs exceeded fees by several times. Activities
that could be contracted out (such as maintenance of vehicles) were
continued by city departments at costs that seemed higher than market
prices. Though several of these service areas are presumably commercial
they were not financed from the fees they generated. These figures are
illustrative of these problems:
| Building Inspection
| Nursery School
| Sports and Recreation
| Market costs
Currency: Emalangeni (1 US$=5.0710
Source: City Council of Mbabane: Estimates for The Year, 1994/95.
Finally, the fee collection system is also plagued
by great discrepancies between revenue budgeted (i.e., fees anticipated
to be collected) and actual collections. The 1994-95 estimates were
generally 100-300 percent higher than the actuals collected. While 100
percent cost recovery is not likely in all areas (parks, sports and
recreation), deficits in other areas could be reduced or eliminated
either by raising fees or reducing personnel (Ernst and Young, 1995).
Personnel systems and practices were perhaps in
even worse condition than financial systems in both the leading cities.
In a recent report compiled by H.T. Dupuis and Associates and Coopers
and Lybrand of Swaziland, personnel system deficiencies were discovered
in virtually every area (Dupuis and Coopers and Lybrand, 1995). The
current system lacked overall policy guidelines regarding the use of
human resources, a medium-or long-term plan to meet human resource needs,
a policy on in-service training or development, descriptions of positions
or criteria for evaluating performance, industrial (labor) relations
policies, and a performance appraisal and salary increase system. Also
personnel records were absent or incomplete, discrepancies existed between
many employees' grades and pay, and over-staffing was severe. There
were no management information systems or internal managerial assessment
and analysis (audit) functions. At least in Mbabane, the town clerk
is aware of these problems but feels prevented from resolving them by
insufficient personnel resources and a non-supportive council.
In October of 1994 Botswana marked its sixth open and competitive election
since independence, a record unmatched throughout Africa (Danevad, 1995).
With an equally impressive economic growth rate, the highest in the
developing world from 1965-1989 (World Bank, 1989), Botswana offered
an environment which was to prove very supportive for local democratic
While observers debate the nature and extent of "democracy"
in Botswana (Picard, 1987; Holm, 1987; Tordoff, 1988; Parson, 1991;
Danevad, 1995; Good, 1996), none deny that Botswana has been exceptional
in its political openness, competition and adherence to law (Africa
Today, 1993). It is particularly notable and unusual in its acceptance
of political competition at the local level, and has established a climate
where a local political process has been unusually viable. Even given
the elite's capture of a disproportionate share of Botswana's growth
proceeds, it has offered an equally unusually high flow of resources
to local governments.
As Picard (1987) and Tordoff (1988) note, local government has a long
history in Botswana. While it suffered in the early post-independence
era from many of the same problems local government faced elsewhere
in Africa, strategic choices made by the political center avoided the
centralization seen in most of Africa. In 1970, with central government
confidence in local councils at a low point, and with a bureaucratic
battle raging over the future of local government between the Ministry
of Finance and Development Planning and the Ministry of Local Government
and Lands, the Tordoff Commission recommended that Council staffing
and finance be substantially improved. Its recommendations were adopted,
and since then local government has been a major component of Botswana's
political system (Picard, 1987). However, as this case study will indicate,
local government there still faces challenges, and has room for improvement.
Local Resources: While overall resources are higher than found in most
of Africa, local revenue sources are currently very limited. Rural districts
raise funds primarily through fees for services, small business licenses,
and rents for council-owned housing. Urban districts also have these
sources, but their primary source of funding is property rates. Urban
authorities cover their budgets better than rural districts do, mainly
because of their use of property rates. Nonetheless, if Gaborone is
typical of Botswana's urban authorities, even urban revenue collection
is weak (Peters-Berries, 1995).
A serious problem is the failure to levy service fees comparable to
service costs. One of the causes of this failure is the absence of an
effective system to determine the actual costs of these services. Another
is the limited authority that local government has to set fees, as the
Ministry of Local Government Land and Housing (MLGLH) or other central
ministries control fee levels for most local services. Another problem
is a tendency of local personnel to assume that national government
will cover their financial shortfalls (Peters-Berries, 1995). The Local
Government Tax, an income tax, was previously in place but was rescinded
at the height of the diamond mining boom. A new Local Government Tax
and the extension of rate authority to the district councils appear
to be the most viable options for new local revenue. For the moment,
national revenue transfers are substantial and cover extensive local
programs. Botswana's ability to sustain these in the future, through,
may be a problem.
The quality of local government staff is quite impressive
with regard to diversity of personnel slots authorized and filled at
the local level (medical officer, planner, attorney, economist, chief
of staff, etc.), their paper qualifications, and their demonstrated
competence and professionalism. With the exception of "industrial
class" employees (primarily laborers and other unskilled personnel),
all local government personnel have been hired and managed by the Unified
Local Government Service (ULGS) since 1973. ULGS is managed by an Establishment
Secretary and Secretariat, housed in MLGLH. The salaries of these personnel
(about 23-35 percent of local government personnel) are also paid by
the national ULGS, which eases the local budget burden. Other personnel
are the responsibility of local councils (SIDA, 1993; Dahlgren, 1993).
One concern regarding personnel and administrative
systems is the breadth of coverage of qualified personnel. Other researchers
have noted that less competent personnel are in-place in the remote
areas, and that many intermediate posts are vacant throughout the ULGS.
If these vacancies are widespread, they will weaken local governance
(SIDA, 1993; Dahlgren, 1995).
Local Authority: This case requires more detailed attention than the
other two, because the success and challenges of local government in
Botswana are relevant to local government in Southern Africa in general.
Botswana's unique pattern also offers much enlightenment on the general
issue of decentralization and local democratic governance: it shows
how apparent "authority" can be illusory, and its consequences.
The Ministry of Local Government, Land and Housing
(MLGLH) is the "parent" ministry of all local government in
Botswana. As Botswana is a unitary state, local government has no constitutional
status and is a purely statutory creation. Within these statutes, MLGLH
plays key roles in virtually every aspect of local government. These
include controlling or supervising most key decisions regarding local
personnel, budgeting, development planning, self-help projects; ensuring
conformity with national policies and priorities; providing training;
developing new revenue sources; and developing new managerial systems
and procedures. Even when local governments seek greater autonomy, their
primary spokesperson and advocate (and occasionally, foe) is MLGLH.
Thus, this ministry is critical for all aspects of local governance
The ULGS hires, assigns, promotes, disciplines,
discharges and transfers all non-industrial personnel. This system is
responsible for ensuring that all areas have adequate personnel and
discouraging any tendencies toward ethnic concentration of personnel.
However, there are numerous criticisms of the system's appropriateness
for local governance. Specific problems are the lack of control that
local governments believe they have over selecting congenial and committed
personnel, and the disruptive impact that the transfer system has on
local affairs and on the lives of local personnel, particularly of women.
In interviews at three local government site visits located in different
areas, the same complaints were made by legislative and administrative
personnel: arbitrary and abrupt transfers of personnel were disruptive
to local projects and programs, they hurt smooth administrative functioning,
team-building, morale, and the employees' personal lives. Town secretaries
and councilors in particular complained about being unable to ensure
that they were assigned personnel committed to their goals and familiar
with their particular needs and problems. These patterns were also noted
by Picard (1987). Since ULGS' control extends to personnel training,
development, and performance appraisals, local authorities rely on government
training centers that are managed by MLGLH. Supervisors must receive
permission from the ULGS to send employees to training workshops. The
result is that a request for training must compete against similar requests
made by all other local authorities. Limited resources led many requests
for training to be denied or delayed.
Recent changes however are gradually expanding local control over junior
appointments. By the end of the current national development plan, 85
percent of local government posts will be filled and administered by
local authorities. However, this does not address the most pressing
concern of local officials: the senior staff. Some type of national-local
civil service system may be needed to give security and homogeneity
of service, to help ensure professional competency, and to maintain
links between sector ministries (i.e., health and education) and local
officials. However, an end to arbitrary and rigid transfers, greater
deference to hiring choices of localities and personnel, and improved
status vis-à-vis the national civil service are also needed.
From one perspective, local governments already largely control their
budgeting. Localities are entirely responsible for preparing their annual
estimates. MLGLH reviews budgets primarily for arithmetic accuracy,
to ensure that none are in deficit, and for conformity with national
policies regarding personnel (that certain posts are filled, certain
teacher-pupil ratios are followed, certain health facilities are staffed,
etc.). Of course, pay levels must be met along with other benefits.
Emergency conditions, like the recent drought, may require certain extra
activities and funding by local governments. And, new and existing centrally
directed capital investments (schools, bore-holes, sewage systems, clinics,
roads) must be staffed and maintained. Still, within these guidelines,
local governments prepare their own budgets.
But what does this local government control over their budgets really
amount to? At every site visit, local officials (both professional/administrative
and political) agreed that MLGLH's oversight actually left them with
little autonomy. In fact, recurrent commitments are so high and so driven
by policy decisions made in Gaborone, that local officials believed
they had virtually no latitude at all to identify and respond to their
own unique priorities and problems. Local needs that they deemed to
be particularly pressing, like absence of storm drains to solve flooding
problems in one area, health initiatives in another, low-cost housing
in a third, were ignored because all revenues were already committed
elsewhere. Salary and vehicle costs alone were so high that little was
left over for any local initiatives (Peters-Berries, 1995). If a problem
was not on the agenda of a national ministry with the ability to channel
funds to meet the need, it was not addressed. If such ministries felt
that something should be done, it was usually accomplished, regardless
of local priorities (Briscoe, 1995; Channaux-Repond and Kanengoni, 1995).
Local professional personnel felt discouraged by this pressure. Local
political leaders felt that their work was futile and that they were
unable to respond to their constituents.
In contrast to recurrent budgets, the status of capital budgets was
unambiguous. These were clearly determined through a top-down process,
with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) telling
the MLGLH how much was available in each sector area (health, education,
roads, etc.). for local projects. MLGLH then apportioned it to the local
governments. They, in turn, reported that most of these grants were
consumed by investments required by national ministry norms. In any
case, MLGLH decided which projects would be funded, so that local governments
were uninvolved in policy-making, despite the fact that these decisions
also had significant implications for local governments' recurrent budgets
Central regulation and oversight also impede the timely completion of
capital projects. Before starting a project, local authorities must
submit a project memorandum to the MLGLH. The ministry then forwards
the memorandum to the MFDP for approval. There is no assurance that
the project will be funded in a timely manner or in its entirety. For
example, in Kweneng, 20 million Pula (approximately 8 million dollars,
US) was requested for an approved capital project, but the district
received half that amount. Lobatse often experiences a six to seven
month delay in the receipt of capital funds after it submits project
memoranda. Once a project memorandum has been approved, ceilings are
provided for each capital project. The limits are often incompatible
with the financial requirements of the proposed project. The central
government also requires authorization and appropriation for each certificate
of payment to release funds. Thus, projects with multiple contractors
often force local authorities to make repeated requests and trips to
the center for payment of invoices. The tedious and time-consuming process
can be costly to local authorities, since contractors who have not been
paid within 21 days of the execution of a contract may assess interest
against the amount they are owed. Delays in the receipt of funds or
the payment of invoices for contractors often cause problems for development
projects. This, of course, follows the "repetitive budgeting"
model noted by Caiden and Wildavsky (1974).
Thus, capital projects have remained a cumbersome, centralized process
for local governments. A local process ostensibly designed to register,
assess, and encourage local development (i.e., each locality has a senior
economic development officer and engages in a grassroots development
process) has in effect been prevented from fulfilling this promise,
making local government appear rather irrelevant to any critical eyes.
In the past, district and urban planning were not at all coordinated
with the national development plan. The district and national plans
covered different periods and were prepared at different times. The
consensus is that district plans rarely affected national plans, which
ultimately controlled all investment decisions (Chanaux-Repond and Kanengoni,
1995). Indeed, local planning was mostly ignored (Briscoe, 1995). One
highly placed respondent reported that local development projects essentially
were approved when they fit into the national ministry plans. However,
national and district plans (in 1995) were being prepared simultaneously
for the National Development Plan - 8 , and it appeared that efforts
were being made to incorporate some local priorities via what they are
calling "matrix planning." It was too early to predict how
well this might work at the time of this research, but strengthened
input for localities in the capital investments of sectoral ministries
is desirable if local governance and decentralization are to progress
As noted above, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP)
plays a major role in local government. Because of local governments'
overwhelming dependence on the central level for subventions to cover
recurrent budgets, MFDP's role in determining the amount to be allocated
to these grants (subventions) is extremely important. MFDP, of course,
determines the amount of the capital development budget. While MLGLH
allocates the shares to go to each local government, MFDP retains final
authority to approve or deny any specific project (through the project
memorandum requirement) and controls disbursement of revenues for each
invoice as projects are implemented. In virtually every respect, local
governments are subject to decisions made at the central level, through
a complex and often cumbersome process. Other ministries with major
impact on local government include Health and Education. Unlike most
African countries, Botswana's local governments are responsible for
elementary education and primary health care. Personnel involved in
delivering these services are employees of the local governments. Day-to-day
management is provided by the local authority which appears to discharge
it rather competently.
There is, nonetheless, a strong ongoing role for the "parent"
ministries in the areas of health and education. They set staffing levels
and standards, determine minimum equipment levels, provide ongoing training
and professional support, and set conditions of service. In the case
of the most professionally qualified service-sector employees (medical
doctors), their subordination to the local government "chain of
command" is not entirely clear to the parties concerned. Much of
the redundancy of this situation is desirable. When primary health care
was essentially separated from the national Ministry of Health in Nigeria,
standards and morale were severely reduced in the field, and local government
support was often inadequate (Olowu and Wunsch, 1995).
Local Political Process: The local political process is far more developed
in Botswana than in either Swaziland or South Africa. Botswana has had
uninterrupted democracy and civilian rule since independence even though
a single party has dominated until recently. Nonetheless, the local
political process is unevenly developed.
Municipal (urban) councils are the most developed institutions involved
in the local political process. Councilors interviewed at three research
sites seemed well-informed and interested in local administration. Nonetheless,
they face challenges (as part time officials) in keeping abreast of
and contending effectively with full-time, professional administrators
whom they do not hire nor fire, nor over whose programs have they really
much control. The three councils visited utilize a similar committee
structure to conduct business. Committees focusing on education, health
care, social services, trades and licenses, and finance exist in Lobatse,
Goborone, and Kweneng. Committee members select the chairperson, and
in Lobatse and Gaborone the mayor sits as an ex-officio member of all
committees. The frequency of committee meetings varies. In Gaborone
council committees meet once per month, while in Kweneng the district
council's committees meet in conjunction with the formal council sessions.
The position of mayor currently has little authority in Botswana.
In Kweneng District councilors were articulate and clear as to their
roles in local government. The district councilors identified the following
functions as their primary responsibilities: meeting constituents and
seeking feedback, informing the council of the needs of constituents,
defending the council's decisions before constituents, advising constituents
of council actions, meeting with village committees and village extension
teams to determine needs, encouraging self-help
among the constituents to avoid dependence on the council, increasing
knowledge of government policy, and supporting each other as councilors.
Councilors employed several strategies to keep
attuned to constituents. In Lobatse, they sponsored meetings in their
wards to exchange information with constituents. Councilors also held
membership in civic organizations and reported they used these affiliations
to stay informed of the concerns of the community. The Lobatse town
council is attempting to develop a newsletter on local government that
will be widely circulated in the community. Councilors in Gaborone sponsored
forums in their wards. The mayor of Gaborone also toured the city with
members of Parliament and visited each ward. In total, the mayor convened
25 meetings and used the occasions as an opportunity to gauge public
sentiment on a variety of issues. Kweneng District councilors met with
constituents in conjunction with regular sessions of the council. There
is little coordination of effort between district councilors and members
Councilors, however, are not as well prepared as
administrators to discharge their duties. The separation of powers is
unclear, and councilors do not have a command of pertinent public policy
issues. The fact that citizens do not have a direct financial stake
in local government may force councilors to develop innovative means
by which to engage constituents. Citizens who do not see a direct link
to local government may simply discount the importance of local authorities.
Councilors must simultaneously seek to solidify their position in local
government and increase confidence in their representation among constituents.
Presently a number of civic and voluntary organizations
function in Botswana. Civic organizations such as the Lions Club, Rotary
Club, Youth Council, and church-affiliated organizations encourage self-help
and provide some limited local assistance. In Lobatse, the town council
awarded grants up to P 18,000 to these small, community-based organizations.
The Gaborone City Council recently received permission from the Ministry
of Local Government, Land and Housing also to provide small grants to
civic organizations. Some of the larger organizations have offices,
but most do not. It is not clear that these organizations, in 1995,
were serving as serious linkage mechanisms between citizen, elected
official, and administrator. Some were dependent on donor grants to
survive. However, a base is there on which such a process might develop.
Political parties were quite active at the local
level at the time of this research. Indeed, in each of the two urban
sites visited, the majority of the council was composed of the national
opposition party. However, it is not clear from our interviews that
this was energizing governmental-grass-roots interaction, or leading
to any new policy directions. There appear to be few ideological and
only nascent class differences between the two major parties (Danevad,
1995). Like civic and voluntary organizations, it appears as more a
latent structure that might become vitalized, perhaps if local governments
were to have more programatic and policy discretion.
Local Government Effectiveness: Local governance
in Botswana presents a complex and mixed picture of local personnel
and institutional capacity. On the positive side, a workable and working
administrative structure is in place, and, at least in the more accessible
areas, is generally filled with competent personnel. In the governance
of city, town, and district council affairs, this structure has been
able to prepare and execute budgets dealing with the personnel, supply,
and maintenance functions of several large, complex departments and
activities. For the most part, they appear to manage these functions
well, although often requiring supplemental payments and allocations
to complete each year. Several written studies validated these field
findings (Peters-Berries, 1995; Picard, 1987; Tordoff, 1988; SIDA, 1993;
Local authorities, furthermore, engage in local
physical planning, prepare development plans with specific project proposals,
and manage the implementation of a large number of capital projects
on an annual basis. In doing this they must, among other things, deal
with a slow, cumbersome bureaucratic process to obtain funds from MFDP,
and balance the requirements of contractors, MLGLH, and MFDP. Achieving
this balance in itself reflects substantial institutional and personnel
capacity. In general, personnel interviewed were professional, knowledgeable
about their responsibilities, and articulate about the problems of the
local governance system. As a result, perhaps, local governments in
Botswana have an excellent record of delivering such key services as
water, education, and health (Tordoff, 1988; Holm, 1987).
Another area of local activity is implementing relatively
small, labor-intensive projects connected with the drought relief effort.
According to several interviews and one study (Meyer, 1995), local authorities
exhibited some skill in doing this and in resolving personnel, fiscal,
managerial, and technical problems in the process.
Consensus exists among written sources (Peters-Berries,
1995; Chanaux-Repond and Kanengoni, 1995; SIDA, 1993) and local respondents
that financial administration is the weakest point in local governance.
Budget projections are frequently inaccurate, audits often as much as
three years behind, and funds sometimes misallocated (i.e., capital
funds into recurrent expenditures). In 1989-90, only three of fourteen
urban and district councils produced their final accounts on time. Only
two received unqualified approval by auditors. Also, district councils
have exerted few cost-saving measures, probably in part because of absence
of incentives as well as shortfalls in capacity (Briscoe, 1995). Other
problems include minimal capacity to collect local revenues and little
evidence of ability to analyze expenditure efficiency. The extremely
poor cost-recovery system for local services is an example of this.
Also, estimates and actuals regarding locally collected revenues often
differ by 100-200 percent (Briscoe, 1995).
Local governments regularly apply for supplementary
grants. Since these appear to be regularly approved, this may be as
much a financial strategy as a problem of competent budgeting and expenditure
control. Also, the need for grants often results from unpredictable
natural events such as drought (Briscoe, 1995).
The second area of weakness is personnel management.
Respondents agreed that local governments were able to accomplish some
routine tasks but believed them incapable of the range of personnel
functions that complex personnel departments pursue. Personnel development,
discipline to resolve difficult personnel problems, efficiency studies,
reconfiguration of personnel assignments, and the like exceed present
local capacity (SIDA, 1993; Dahlgren, 1993). If there were to be a phased
increase in local personnel responsibilities, such capacities would
need to be enhanced.
A final concern at the local level is weak management
information systems and a lack of programmatic focus at the local level
in the various sectors. Local personnel, one key study found, did not
conceptualize their areas in a strategic, problem-focused, and systematic
sense. This may stem from the habit of expecting direction from the
center and the reality of central dominance over planning and capital
investment decision. Regardless of the cause (central preemption or
local passivity), there is little local strategic or programmatic initiative
(Langlo and Molutsi, 1994; SIDA, 1993). These, however, are relatively
sophisticated functions, and many local governments in the developed
world could be similarly criticized.
This paper began by positing three variables to explain the performance
of local governance. Drawing from the diverse literature which has accumulated
on decentralization and local government in Africa, it argued that three
factors were necessary for effective local government: resources, authority,
and a working, grassroots-based political process. Greater levels of
each of these were expected to be positively associated with improved
local government performance, with the latter including internal operations
and delivery of services appropriate for local needs.
Local governance in the Republic of South Africa
is entering a dynamic era. In applying this paper's analytical framework,
one finds it characterized by high levels of resources and authority,
but with a political process undergoing rapid change. Historically,
the political process was viable, but only for the enfranchised and
empowered white minority. That political process is obsolete, though
remnants of it are still visible. The current post-apartheid political
process is weak at the local level in all respects: civil society, political
parties, the legislative arena, information flows, and informed and
Local government performance in Nelspruit reflects
this transitional pattern. It has, for the moment, retained the managerial
and organizational capacity of the old resource-rich system, but it
has yet to begin redirecting its services and activities to the populations
for which it is now responsible. In these regards, our analysis of Nelspruit
validates the model offered in this paper. Its performance, at least
in delivering services, must be regarded as weak.
Our second case, Swaziland, is at the very beginning
of the process of building viable local, democratic governance, and
not surprisingly it is a work "in progress." While indicators
of performance were, at the time of this research, quite discouraging,
it must be remembered that the reforms that established this system
were recent, with some (elections) less than a year old. As the model
used in this paper would predict, Swaziland does not now have anything
like effective local governance.
In our last case, Botswana, local government displays
unusually high levels of performance, both in its internal management
and its record of delivering services (e.g., schools, water, roads,
relief, and health care) throughout most of the country. In each respect,
it is unusual for Africa, and indeed for most of the developing world.
Contributing to Botswana's success are several key
factors: a substantial and sustained flow of fiscal and personnel resources;
a national climate which has remained open to local party politics;
an open and critical media; and activity by diverse voluntary and civic
organizations; a stable legal environment and a sustained commitment
from the center to maintaining real local government; and significant
responsibilities though, limited authority, for local governments. The
outcome of these factors is that local governments are able to perform
many activities and functions, but personnel (both political and professional)
are frustrated by the encumbrances which prevent them from doing more.
As a result of this last problem, it is not clear that the "time
and place" information, which is the relative advantage of local
governance units, is being used by the national ministries in their
policy pronouncements. Nor is it clear that national ministries are
inspiring localities to take initiative. It appears there is little
or no flexibility for unique local problems, needs, and priorities,
whether in diverging from national guidelines or in shifting resources
from health or education into other areas. For example, health or education
might be better served in an area by upgrading transportation rather
than by building additional facilities or hiring more staff. Under the
current system, recurrent budgets are largely prescribed by national
policy, and capital budgets are entirely under national control. Nonetheless,
while local autonomy is limited, and while there are still personnel
and operational weaknesses in Botswana's local government, it clearly
has made vast strides and appears the best of the three cases studies
in providing quality local governance which responds to local needs.
With only three case studies, it is of course impossible
to test all logically possible combinations of these variables. However,
each of the three case studies offered a different pattern, and did
allow a preliminary test of the general hypothesis: the higher the levels
on these three variables, the better the performance of local government.
They also offered a possibility to explore specific configurations of
the three variables, how each uniquely affected local government effectiveness,
and what their theoretical implications might be. Table 3 summarizes
the paper's findings.
|| Resource Availability
|| Local Political
Management and Operations
| South Africa
|| very strong
|| very strong
|| very weak
|| very weak
|| very weak
|| very weak
Note: Evaluations range from: very weak, weak, moderate,
strong, very strong.
The table clearly supports the paper's working hypothesis.
Beyond the general hypothesis, the three cases offer insight into several
sub-patterns. In South Africa, for example, strong resources and authority,
in a technocratic and legalistic political community, led to local governments
which were highly efficient but de-coupled from the majority of their
constituents. At the time of this research, 1995, the city surveyed
in South Africa seemed almost robot-like in its continual attention
to doing what it had historically done in the way it had historically
done it! Professional city personnel seemed aware of the need to change
direction, even anxious at times, but no real redirection had occurred.
Perhaps the momentum of any large bureaucracy (e.g., habits, policies,
standard operating procedures, existing clientele) explained this. It
is unclear, however, what, if anything, will emerge to create the new
political process for Nelspruit's local government. Without an external
"push" from an active, sustained political process its technical
and organizational excellence could be destroyed by public frustration
and political rancor.
Decentralization in Swaziland is only a few years
"old" and lacks resources, authority, and a local political
process, and is performing poorly. In terms of the model presented in
the introduction to this paper, Swaziland is deficient on all three
key variables: authority, resources, and political process. As a result,
its local governance performance is currently rather poor. Local management
is weak and few services are being delivered. However, local governments
are in place and functioning, and if nurtured may be expected over time
to improve in their performance. For those who would abandon the policy,
it would be well to consider that many similar criticisms were made
of local governance in Botswana in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Picard,
1987), and it has traveled a long distance since then. What the Swaziland
case should tell us, in conjunction with other cases, is not that decentralization
and effective local governance are not possible, but that they are not
Much progress is needed in Swaziland: revenues must
be expanded, personnel upgraded, fiscal and personnel management systems
strengthened, town councils developed, ties to communities enhanced,
services rationalized and upgraded, and the like. But a framework for
local governance has been put in place by electing local officials,
by outlining some limited local responsibilities, and by establishing
at least a basic cadre of professional personnel. This is the minimum
framework necessary to build on for future progress. Key investments
need to be made now in developing local cadres and administrative systems
in order to carry on decentralization. Without these investments, stagnation
and regression may ensue.
The proposed national policy on urban government
may resolve many questions of the legal status and clarify the role
of local government in Swaziland. Key issues addressed by that policy
include: (1) authorizing local governments to use revenue sources currently
controlled by the central government; (2) releasing HUD and local governments
from control over local capital improvements held by the key national
ministries (Finance, Planning and Development, and Public Works); (3)
clarifying the boundaries and role to be played by the Tikundla system
in local governance. Improving the quality of local personnel (already
a focus of several donor programs) paired with these expansions in authority
and resources should enhance local governance. As local governments
currently hire and discharge their own personnel and have control over
their recurrent budgets, these are not issues. An eventual fourth issue
might be the expansion of local authority to cover additional areas
such as housing, primary and intermediate health services, and primary
education. National control over these areas necessarily limits the
impact that decentralization/localization can have on energizing grassroots
involvement in capital development and enhancing service delivery.
Botswana, overall ranks the highest on our three independent variables,
and has the strongest overall performance by local government. Nonetheless,
its relative weakness in local authority seems closely related to serious
discontent expressed by local officials (both professional and political)
regarding their ability to fine-tune national programs to local needs.
Weaknesses in planning and local initiatives may also be related to
this. Also, the still low level of local resources mobilized in Botswana
for local government may at least in part be explained by the still
incompletely developed local political process. As for continued short-falls
in management and operations, they can be explained by the relative
youth of Botswana's local government systems, and overall continual
weakness of the nation's personnel base. For Botswana's local government
to reach the next plateau of performance, locally raised resources and
local authority must be expanded. These might empower local administration
at the same time that they energize local political process.
In summary, local governments in Southern Africa present a mixed but
not discouraging picture. The variance among them can be explained by
their respective environments and policy choices, and tend to confirm
the model as hypothesized. At the theoretical level, South Africa must
develop a viable political process. Swaziland must continue down the
road it recently started, enhancing local resources, sustaining local
democracy, and gradually expanding local authority proportionality.
Botswana has the "easiest" challenge, gradually to enhance
the authority and responsibility its localities already have. Of course,
translating theory into policy is often difficult, as it involves such
unknowns as political will, good luck, and astute leadership. These
are rare in any political system.
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