In 1994 government adopted the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) as its socio-economic policy framework and spelt out key pillars of delivery, including meeting basic needs and developing human resources. Since then great strides forward have been made to redress past inequalities in access to basic services.
The recently released community profiles from the 2011 Census shows the gains that have been made. The percentage of households that live in formal dwellings increased from 68% in 2001, to 70% in 2007, to 77.6% in 2011. The percentage of households with access to piped water increased from 84% in 2001, to 88% in 2007, to 91.3% in 2011. In 2011 a greater proportion of households were using electricity for lighting and cooking. There have also been substantial improvements in access to refuse removal and sanitation services.
However, this evidence of government’s successes in meeting basic needs are often presented only in the form of provincial and national aggregates, while much of the responsibility for meeting the RDP commitment actually lies at the local government level. Could one argue that there exists a delivery deficit at local level?
A quick analysis shows that the mean access to basic services has shown a marked improvement, but the variation of access to basic services between places, increased. The table below shows the percentage of households in a municipality that receives a certain basic services and reports the mean and standard deviation of delivery for the Census 2001, the 2007 Community Survey and the Census 2011.
It is clear that improvements in average access are only part of the story. There has also been a widening of the distribution of access to services across municipalities. This lies at the heart of the delivery deficit.
Statistics of improved basic services delivery have to be reconciled with news reports of crumbling local infrastructure, specifically local roads, water and sanitation infrastructure. If service delivery is improving all the time, why is it that in a number of towns ratepayer groups have taken control of basic services? Around thirty other ratepayers associations across the country have refused to pay rates and taxes. However, the best indicator of this delivery deficit at local level is the continuing protests over poor service delivery. Municipal IQ’s Hotspots Monitor tracks major service delivery protests and shows that the period since 2009 has been characterised by a significant increase in the number of delivery protests.
Already in the State of Local Government in South Africa report, published in 2009, it was acknowledged that there is no link between national indicators used to assess the comparative performance of municipalities and the planning of the powers and functions assigned to them. The current situation is such that the economic and human resource capacity challenges that face the majority of municipalities are overshadowing the more positive impact that a few effective municipalities may be having on the larger proportion of the population.
This raises two questions, which places are forging ahead and which are falling behind, and what are the possible causes of the delivery deficit?
The figure below shows a plot of index values measuring average services delivery per municipality, using data from the 2007 Community Survey and 2011 Census. Dividing the scatter plot into four quadrants aids the interpretation as follows. Local municipalities in quadrant 3 provided below average access to basic services in 2007 and 2011. Local municipalities in quadrant 2 provided above average access to basic services in 2007 and 2011. However, the places in quadrant 1 are of particular interest. These municipalities provided below average access to basic services in 2007, but improved to provide above average access in 2011.
It is possible to present more detailed profiles of each of the municipalities that provided below or above average access to basic services in 2007 and 2011. The COGTA (2009) report emphasises that municipalities face differing challenges depending on their location and environment and this has resulted in uneven service delivery across the country. Thus, instead of detailed individual profiles it may be of more general interest to examine the differences in the characteristics of those places that provided above and below average delivery and those that improved delivery.
Compared to those that were below average in 2007 and 2011, the municipalities that were able to improve from below average to above average are characterised by a high level of GDP per capita, lower unemployment rates and fewer people in poverty. They are not marked by population density but do have a substantially larger share of people in urban areas. Over the period they experienced population growth, growth in the number of households as well as increased population density. Urban municipalities with higher population densities and greater GDP per capita are be able to provide better access to services, while improved service delivery attracts people.
So what does this all say about the delivery deficit?
A first conclusion is that municipalities provide capital-intensive networked services – the very nature of the services means that improved delivery may require urbanisation and densification. However, the two main obstacles to accelerating basic services are the lack of infrastructure in rural areas and the increase of informal settlements in urban areas. However, municipalities lack the institutional and fiscal powers and functions to confront these obstacles by themselves. Municipalities have been unable to respond effectively to the challenges of making plans for local economic development and fostering investment. Most municipalities, especially the poorer performing ones, need simply to dedicate their energies to providing basic services and infrastructure.
A second conclusion concerns spatial differentiation. Different municipalities face different challenges reflecting socio-economic conditions and municipal competence. Analysis has shown that urban municipalities with higher population densities and greater GDP per capita are able to provide better access to services, while improved service delivery attracts people. Improvers have, on average, fewer vacancies, more spending on goods and services in proportion to the total budget and they relied much less on grants income relative to rates income. The application of policy, planning and the allocation of powers and functions between the different spheres of government will have to take note of the vast differences between municipal spaces across the country. Future efforts to improve delivery will only be effective if it is not based on the current assumption that one-size-fits all.