In mid-March, Good Governance Africa (GGA) will release the newest edition of its flagship assessment tool, the Governance Performance Index (GPI). The GPI provides a holistic overview of the state of local governance in South Africa and the forthcoming report will be the fourth since the GPI was launched in 2016.

The purpose of the GPI is to assess how South Africa’s 257 metropolitan, district, and local municipalities are functioning with respect to their mandate as outlined in Chapter 7 of the Constitution.

Specifically, governance quality is evaluated according to four core dimensions: administration and governance; leadership and management; planning, monitoring and evaluation, and service delivery. Because of their larger budgets, South Africa’s eight metropolitan municipalities are scored on the additional category of economic development.

Of these, service delivery is the category weighted most given the Constitution’s stress on the critical role municipalities should play in providing households with affordable and quality services, such as piped water, adequate sanitation, and regular waste removal.

Considering South Africa’s history, and persistent inequality, another component of service delivery the GPI considers is the extent to which municipalities support the most vulnerable households, also known as indigents.

The 2024 GPI report features several critical additions, including the introduction of a scoring and ranking system for district municipalities, as well as a more forensic breakdown of municipal performance by province, and according to the Treasury’s Municipal Infrastructure Investment Framework.

This better facilitates an “apples with apples” comparison, amplifying the usefulness of the GPI for policymakers, researchers, the private sector, citizens, and the municipalities themselves.

Two women stand on the main street in Alexandra township.  Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP

To create the score and rank, the GPI draws on publicly available data from credible public institutions, most notably the Auditor General, Statistics South Africa, the Treasury, and the Department of Water and Sanitation.

Data gleaned from other sources, including the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ State of Local Government Report, play a prominent role in the interpretative and analytical component of the GPI.

In this respect, it is also critical to reflect on the ability of independent research organisations, such as the GGA, to create tools like the GPI, which is only possible precisely because South Africa’s hard-won system of democratic governance has mechanisms that necessitate a degree of transparency.

For instance, municipalities are required by the terms of Section 71 of the Municipal Finance Management Act to report financial management data every month. Once a financial year is complete, statutory institutions such as the Auditor General independently verify these submissions.

Because of these accountability mechanisms, researchers and the public can access both the treasury’s municipal finance database and the auditor general’s assessment of municipal functionality on indicators ranging from leadership quality to human resources management.

Reporting issues of non-compliance, such as the amount of irregular expenditure by a municipality in a given year, also provides the public with information on potential financial mismanagement and, in more serious instances, potential malfeasance.

Although the enforcement of anti-corruption measures needs to be substantively tightened, discarding the transparent and independent institutions that form the cornerstone of a democratic system will make it significantly more difficult to deal with corruption.

The two core aspects of curbing corruption – awareness and enforcement — are also mutually reinforcing in this regard. Without institutions that provide a clear overview of the state of public malfeasance, it is very difficult to put pressure on law enforcement agencies to push for prosecution.

In a similar vein, the data collected by Statistics South Africa during Census 2022 is, to a large extent, publicly available, despite the presence of some statistics that would be perceived as unflattering to any government.

Further, StatsSA has been transparent about the fact that the national census undercount for people was just over 31%, substantively higher than the norm in countries that have similar statistical capacities.

From a more in-depth perspective, StatsSA has also been open about which provinces, and among which demographic groups, the undercount was most prevalent, as well as the methodology through which these undercount values were determined.

This enables researchers to better discern the degree to which various estimates pertaining to demography, education, development and access to services are reliable.

Government departments can play a crucial role in providing a transparent and accountable overview of various issues within their sphere of responsibility. One encouraging initiative, because it concerns local governance specifically, is the Department of Water and Sanitation’s relaunching of the “Drop Programme” reports.

Taken together, the Blue Drop, Green Drop and No Drop reports provide a range of key stakeholders, including the public, with granular insights into the quality of water and wastewater management systems, as well as the efficiency of water distribution systems. The focus of the reports is on the 144 municipalities that have Water Services Authority responsibilities.

In addition to the critical analytical insights these reports offer researchers, they also serve as a useful point of departure for initiating necessary projects designed to improve the quality of these systems for the benefit of citizens. For instance, to accompany the release of the latest Blue Drop report in 2023, the Department of Water and Sanitation announced that it was working with other government departments to implement support programmes in 30 of the municipalities where water and wastewater management systems are in the most critical condition.

This type of initiative highlights the advantages that democratically responsive and transparent governance can provide, as long as sufficient political will and the necessary resources exist.

A further advantage of transparent governance is that it provides critical segments of society, including the government itself, with the opportunity to assess progress against a baseline. Thus, the success of the water and sanitation department’s initiative will in large part be measured according to whether the 30 municipalities can improve their performance in future Drop Programme reports.

Similarly, Good Governance Africa’s Governance Performance Index can, as an independent tool measuring the quality of overall governance in a municipality, provide the public with a useful framework within which to determine whether governance is improving.

Ideally, through being provided with greater context on some of the key drivers of municipal functionality, the same citizens would be better placed to effectively participate in the democratic process in and between electoral cycles, as a means of holding public officials accountable.

Ultimately, the goal of any civic-minded government department, research organisation or citizen should be to form part of a broad coalition of actors striving to effectively merge analysis with action. A necessary condition of that process is the presence of transparent, responsive and accountable governance institutions.

Pranish Desai
 | Website

Pranish is a Senior Data Analyst within the Governance Insights & Analytics programme. He holds a Master of Arts in-Science obtained with distinction from the University of the Witwatersrand. This degree formed part of the Department of Science and Innovation's National e-Science Postgraduate Teaching and Training Platform. His research interests include comparative politics, local governance, quantitative social analysis and political geography.