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​For all spheres of government to move forward and deliver services effectively, ministers and other politicians need to be held accountable to solid service level agreements.
HOW do you get a reply from a minister – regarding service delivery, the Marshall Street Barracks et al?

If you are around my age, you may remember that great Burt Bacharach song, What do you get when you fall in love? The lyrics went something like this: “What do you get when you fall in love? A guy with a pin to burst your bubble – that’s what you get for all your trouble, I’ll never fall in love again.”

It could be well updated to: “What do you get when you vote for government? A bunch of morons who live in a bubble – that’s what you get for all your trouble, I’m never going to vote again. What do you get when you call a minister? You get a warning to send a letter – after you do, he’ll never answer, I’m never going to vote again.”

The point is, I’m sick and tired of hearing various levels of government either being exhorted to “improve their service delivery” or hearing resolutions that “we will improve service delivery”. What actually do they mean by service delivery? I turned to the only reliable source of information – Google. I googled “service delivery” and found the first three reasons for the mess we are in – (i) everything is out of date (ii) the information is typical government spin and (iii) service delivery seems confined to municipal delivery of services to citizens – and that’s not correct!

The first website was inserted by local government in South Africa and explains what “municipal service delivery” is and why we should understand it and partnerships and the role of citizens blah, blah, blah. This is the kind of document that is fed to international investigative groups to say, “See, we know all about service delivery.”

This was followed by another site of no help – “Service Delivery Platforms” – a Wikipedia site that relates to telecommunication service delivery.

Service delivery protests
Then there was a two-and-a-half-year-old report by the Institute for Security Studies as to “the reasons behind service delivery protests in South Africa”. I guess it hasn’t been updated because the reasons haven’t changed in those two-and-a-half years.

Following that was a website from the Centre For Service Delivery, part of the Human Sciences Research Council, which states that “the multi-disciplinary Centre for Service Delivery (CSD) undertakes scientific research towards understanding and explaining the dominant trends in service delivery provision”. Things are clearly so bad that we have to have a national scientific research centre to explain why the government can’t do its job.

That, in turn, was followed by a whole lot of other equally useless sites, until I eventually found Wonkie simply says it like it is: “What the government in South Africa seems to lack is, ironically enough, exactly what customers expect from business services such as Mr Delivery – solid service level agreements that someone can be held accountable to. Sadly, these measures and those accountable for them either seem not to exist or are well hidden in the state bureaucracy.

“And all this despite the South African taxpayers having to fund a whole new team for Performance Management and Evaluation in the Presidency headed by Minister Collins Chabane. The strategy of denial that problems exist, or acknowledging them and then doing practically nothing significant about them, seems to be the only definite policy in place in the government for the moment – particularly to address major public concerns such as service delivery.”

While I fully empathise with poor communities that have a huge lack of municipal service delivery and am happy to toyi-toyi with them (as far as my back will allow!) and with other communities who suffer from poor service delivery, I want to know why senior officials and politicians themselves are allowed to get away without any form of service delivery? Are we being totally unfair to these people when we expect the courtesy of a reply, or even an acknowledgement of documents addressed to them? Are they truly at a level that we mere mortals (who are also rate and taxpayers who pay their salaries and perks) are being unfair to expect to be treated to even the tiniest speck of common decency?

A major property developer in the city was telling me that to have an issue finally resolved with the City council he had to take the matter to court. He won his case, which the City was instructed to resolve within something like two months. That was 18 months ago and he now has a contempt of court motion that he might have to “reluctantly” launch.

I’m still waiting for a reply to a letter that I wrote to the City manager about four years ago. And some years ago, I phoned the then MEC of finance in the provincial government about a fairly important issue regarding the city, to be told that he didn’t take telephone calls. I must write, I was told, and he would address the issue. A letter and numerous reminders were sent and now, probably six years – and a number of MECs later – I await an acknowledgement.

A fully documented letter to the MEC of local government, plus reminders, requesting an investigation into some provincial legislation met with the same result: utter silence.

A group of heritage individuals and organisations, known as “the group”, fought the decision by the South African Heritage Resources Agency to allow the demolition of some 10 heritage buildings in the inner city and, although it had the decision overturned in a number of the cases, it was not satisfied as to the clearly biased procedures that were followed. An appeal to the minister in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act was simply ignored.

To add insult to injury, the Gauteng provincial government started alteration work on some of these buildings, probably 18 months ago, during which the magnificent brass windows at the Rand Water Board building in Fraser Street, one of the “protected buildings”, were replaced with cheap aluminium. For 18 months the city has been pockmarked with these “protected buildings” that the provincial government started to alter and subsequently deserted to strains of corruption involved in the awarding of the contracts.

I wrote about the Marshall Street Barracks debacle at the end of last year – an issue that had been taken up by Flo Bird of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust. I noted her year-end newsletter to members: “This last newsletter of the year sums up the failures of each level of government in dealing with the city of Johannesburg’s precious heritage, starting with the national Department of Public Works, which refuses to be interviewed or even to answer written questions on their abandonment of the Marshall Street Police Barracks.

“The fire was 10 years ago and yet officials have twiddled their thumbs with no thought for how it could be restored and used. They certainly haven’t responded to the one person who has shown an interest, offering to restore the building and use it to accommodate artists and an artists’ market.

“Obviously, unless the Department of Public Works gets a lease agreement which costs millions of rand it doesn’t consider the matter important. The conservation organisations of Johannesburg have written to the new minister, Mr Thembelani Nxesi, about this, so far without a reply.”

I’m quite sure that politicians and senior officials are excessively busy – after all, this year is centennial celebration and party time for the ruling party. I bet everyone answered their RSVPs to the events – but those would be in the Action box and not the Take no Notice box. So at the end of all that, back to Burt Bacharach

“Don’t tell me what it’s all about – ‘Cause I’ve been there and I’m never getting out – out of those chains, those chains that bind me – that is why I’m here to remind you. What do you get when you call him tomorrow? You only get lies and pain and sorrow – so far at least until the morrow, I’m never going to vote again” – Neil

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