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Visitors learn Joburg's formula
05 September 2008

Visitors from the coastal resort town of Plettenberg Bay were in Johannesburg to get some insight into setting up a development agency that will help it deal with the imbalances between rich and poor.

Johannesburg Speaker Nkele Ntingane shares information about the City with visitors from Bitou municipality
Johannesburg Speaker Nkele Ntingane shares information about the City with visitors from Bitou municipality

A DELEGATION from Bitou Municipality, in the Western Cape, was in Joburg this week to get ideas on setting up a development agency to spearhead its urban integration project in Plettenberg Bay.

The visitors spent the afternoon on Tuesday, 2 September at Metro Centre in Braamfontein where they met Joburg Speaker Nkele Ntingane and other City officials.

The host was the Joburg Innovation and Knowledge Exchange (Jike), a council department responsible for sharing information with visitors, researchers and other municipalities about the City.

The Bitou team hoped to learn from Joburg's experiences of establishing municipal-owned entities. The team was particularly keen to find out more about the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), the City's agency set up to stimulate and support economic development in selected areas throughout Johannesburg.

Bitou's economic development manager, Ralph Link, said the five officials wanted to learn about the institutional arrangements Johannesburg had put in place to establish its municipal-owned entities.

His municipality had set up its Coming Together: Urban Integration Project with the hope of addressing the imbalances between the rich and poor. "The problem is how do we deal with complexities in projects? We would like to have a vehicle that will help us to implement the projects," Link said.

Welcoming the visitors, Ntingane said the exchanging of ideas was a mutually beneficial engagement. "For we are all in the same business ... improving service delivery in the interests of the communities we serve."

She discussed an experiment being undertaken in Johannesburg separating the executive and legislative powers. "The reason for this separation is to enhance oversight and scrutiny over the executive and administration by elected representatives." This "assists the executive to do [its] job better, and improve service delivery".

This model would be rolled out in Gauteng, and could become the national model, she added.

Development agency
Turning to the JDA, Ntingane said it had had "a significant impact on the quality of life in the city". "Its purpose is not simply about the necessary infrastructure that goes with any development but about creating an environment that makes people want to live and play in the city."

Karen Brits, the director of Joburg's legal and compliance department, explained how the City  had set up its municipal-owned entities.

She placed their development into an historical context - before 2000 Johannesburg was made up of a metro and four metropolitan local councils, with fragmented and uneven service provision.

This changed with the transforming of Johannesburg into a unicity, with an executive mayor at the helm. With this change certain services were corporatised - or became municipal-owned entities - "to create focused municipal entities run on business principles" that were "able to deliver better and specialised services" and build close relationships with their customers.

Municipal-owned entities are separate companies charged with delivering certain services, such as water and power. They are run along business lines, but with a single shareholder - the City of Johannesburg.

"The administrative structure was restructured in such a way to create tighter and more focused core competence with central administration and decentralised regional administrations," she said.

Examples of municipal-owned entities include Johannesburg Zoo, City Power, the Johannesburg Tourism Company and Johannesburg Water.

Factors necessary to ensure that such a restructuring would be successful included:

  • A strong political will;
  • The need for a coherent strategy;
  • Accountability;
  • Engagement with staff and labour organisations;
  • Communication;
  • Fiscal discipline; and
  • A win-win strategy and implementation plan for all.

"Municipalities must structure and manage their administrative, budgeting and planning processes to give priority to the basic needs of communities," said Brits.

She also discussed in detail the interaction between the City and the municipal-owned entities.

After the presentation, the visitors were invited to ask questions and discuss issues raised. They felt that there was much to learn from Johannesburg. "It is a challenge and we still need to have serious engagements on this matter," said Bitou's Speaker, Lawrence Luiters.

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