Enhancing service delivery through decentralisation : a South African experience

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 6
  • SDG 1
  • Abstract:

    South Africa was one of the last African states to obtain a fully democratic government with its first general election in April 1994. Democratising the system of government required a total transformation of all public institutions and the services provided by the state. The popular view was that this could be achieved by decentralising powers and functions to other spheres of government. The South African Constitution, 1996 established three separate, interdependent and interrelated spheres of governments, namely national government, nine provincial governments and 283 (now 278) municipalities. Each sphere is assigned its own powers, functions and responsibilities. Decentralisation has important advantages since it ensures public accountability and responsibility to a greater extent than centralisation. Moreover there is direct contact between voters and political representatives and offi ce bearers in the provincial and local spheres. The success of decentralisation reforms also depends on consistent and coherent national policies, sound legislative and regulatory frameworks for decentralisation, and effective review mechanisms to resolve disputes among all spheres of government. This article argues that in South Africa service provision and good governance can best be achieved through decentralisation. Decentralisation has also been associated with democratisation. It is argued that municipalities as constituents of local government are more likely to be accountable to its constituency. The major priority of the South African government, as set out in the Bill of Rights, is to ensure the provision of a range of services to meet socio-economic challenges, within the constraints of available resources. Local government is the sphere of government that is closest to the people and is best positioned to identify and respond to local issues. This article supports the view that service provision in South Africa can be achieved effectively through decentralisation. Decentralisation and devolution have been pursued to improve the working environment and to encourage innovative ways to increase efficiency and improve service delivery.