LGSETA | Mar 22, 2021

An analysis of the competency levels for ward committee members

Ward committees are governance structures consisting of elected representatives from communities, serving as links between ward councillors, municipalities and residents and relaying concerns of the communities to the elected councillors. The councillors then relay the concerns to the relevant municipal departments and facilitate the implementation of a solution. Ward committee members and ward councillors are expected to act in the best interest of the communities they represent.

The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) developed a Code of Conduct for ward committee members - whilst this Code of Conduct and other guidelines exist to ensure ward committees function as envisaged, the effectiveness of ward committees is stifled by the limited education and skills levels of its members. Research conducted in 2008 by the Project for Conflict Resolution and Development reported that in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, only 9% of committee members held a post-matric qualification, whilst 16% did not complete matric. As these results are from a metropolitan municipality, it is assumed that the education and skills levels would be even lower for ward committee members in rural municipalities. Our research indicates that there is indeed a difference between education levels in rural vs urban ward committees, although the general level of education appears to have increased since the research was conducted by Bendle.

Ward committee members are often assigned the responsibility of managing a specific portfolio, and are expected to report on any matters relating to their portfolios at monthly ward committee meetings. The ward councillor oversees all portfolios and submits a consolidated report to the municipality. During interviews, ward councillors indicated that ward committee members, however, often lack the necessary skills or experience to manage their assigned portfolios successfully. This prevents them from making valuable contributions as ward committee members.

To gain further insights into the competency levels of ward committees, LGSETA commissioned a study aimed at understanding the skills gaps that currently exist in ward committees, as well as the training interventions and support structures required to address these skills gaps and enable ward committees to operate more effectively. Key findings from this study are highlighted below.

Skills gaps
In an article written in 2008, Napier highlights that the eligibility criteria for election into a ward committee does not specify minimum requirements in terms of education, skills and expertise. As a result, ward committees are generally elected based on availability and popularity and therefore, may not be well equipped to deal with issues that arise. Some members have no prior experience in interacting with and reporting back to their communities, managing budgets or compiling reports.

Primary research found that 53% of respondents reported having a post-Matric education, whilst 26% of respondents obtained Matric. The results further showed that 25% of respondents from rural ward committees obtained a qualification beyond Grade 12, as opposed to 67% in urban ward committees - indicating that rural ward committees have significantly lower levels of education than urban ward committees. When analysed by municipality, it appeared that the education levels of ward committee members in metropolitan municipalities are generally higher than those in district municipalities.

The figure below expands on the findings obtained from primary research regarding the skills required by ward committees, as determined by the percentage of respondents who selected that skill as a skill that ward committee members are required to possess, as well as the extent to which ward committees currently possess said skills.

As can be seen, 94% of respondents indicated that communication skills are required, with 98% of respondents indicating that they are significantly, substantially or extensively skilled in communication (as can be seen in the graph below).

 Other key findings from the study, regarding skills gaps, indicated that:

  • The skills in which the lowest number of respondents indicated they were skilled were budgeting, basic accounting and policy development
  • Only 47% and 48% of respondents indicated that budgeting and basic accounting, respectively, are required skills
  • Skills gaps are more apparent in rural ward committees
  • Not all ward committees received training and those which did, were not trained consistently or effectively
  • Respondents indicated further training on the responsibilities and duties of ward committee members is required
  • The lower education profile of certain ward committee members reduces their ability to benefit fully from training provided
  • Portfolios are assigned based on members’ interests rather than their skills and prior experience, resulting in a lack of skills required to manage the portfolio successfully

The lack of skills of ward councillors and ward committee members severely impacts their ability to make significant contributions to the ward committee. One interviewee indicated that in some instances, ward councillors have taken it upon themselves to try and educate the ward committee members who lack the necessary skills, in an attempt to improve their ability to execute their duties and make a better contribution.

The table below illustrates the skills gaps across each of the municipalities.

Training interventions required to address skills gaps
In order to effectively fulfil their duties and responsibilities, ward committee members or ward councillors require training in both soft skills and hard skills.

Whilst the majority of respondents received training, there were varying opinions regarding the effectiveness of the training received, with several respondents citing that further, more relevant training was required. Proposed training interventions included training on local government operations, policies and procedures, further training on the roles and responsibilities of a ward councillor or ward committee member, and portfolio specific training. Respondents noted that when training ward committee members, there needs to be an element of customisation in the training to allow ward committee members to receive training relevant to the portfolio they are responsible for.

In conclusion
Ward committees that are properly constituted, independent and well-functioning may improve the communication and deliberative aspects of key council processes and deepen local democracy in South Africa. Low levels of education hinder the effectiveness of ward committees, as does a lack of support from the municipality and a lack of understanding of their roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, the geographic representation within a ward committee can affect the extent to which the ward committee is aware of the needs of their community, thus affecting its effectiveness.

The legislation for local government in South Africa obligates municipalities to provide support to ward committees and build their capacity – this will not only require appropriate training interventions, but also strong support structures from organisations such as LGSETA and municipalities. Building the capacity of ward committee members may allow them to make a more profound contribution - ultimately, this may result in ward committees performing their intended functions more effectively. Communities may benefit significantly as their needs and challenges will be identified and addressed more successfully.

 

This article is part of a series reporting on research commissioned by the Local Government Sector Education & Training Authority (LGSETA) (Contact: matodzir@lgseta.org.za)

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