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LONG READ: Concern as municipalities fail on service delivery

Citizen Satisfaction Index at an unprecedented low

Many municipalities around SA have broken their contract of service with ratepayers. Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

The seventh South African Citizen Satisfaction Index (SA-csi) conducted by Consulta shows that citizen satisfaction and trust in their local municipality has remained extremely low, with none of the major metros managing to meet their residents’ expectations on service delivery. Municipalities also record the lowest satisfaction scores by a far margin for all industry sectors tracked by the SA-csi.

The SA-csi for Municipalities 2020 measures the citizen satisfaction and trust in service delivery in eight category-A municipalities (metropolitan municipalities) as a snapshot – Buffalo City, Cape Town, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Johannesburg, Mangaung, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane. The total sample size was 2427 random interviewees across the metros. Samples are representative of the general population of metros to ensure the robustness of the survey.

eThekwini attained a ‘par’ score. Picture: captureson photography on Unsplash

Of the eight metros polled, Cape Town has again emerged as the best performing metro on the overall citizen satisfaction for “large metros”, recording the highest score for the seventh consecutive year. Cape Town recorded a score of 66.0 out of a possible 100 in the latest index – a two-point improvement on its previous score of 64.1 in 2019. It is also more than 10 points ahead of the par score of 55.7 for all municipalities and well ahead of all other metros.

Ekurhuleni follows, also with a “leader” score of 58.4 and an improvement of 1.7 on its previous score. Ethekwini and Tshwane were “on par” with scores of 57.2 and 53.6 respectively, while City of Johannesburg (51.4), Nelson Mandela Bay (49.8), Buffalo City (46.5) and Mangaung (38.9) come in below par.

Nelson Mandela Bay has seen a sharp decline in citizen satisfaction scores since 2018 when it reached a high of 61.9. Mangaung’s scores declined to the lowest scores recorded on the index in SA.

THE GAP CONTINUES TO WIDEN

What is notable is that the gap between citizen expectations and perceived quality continues to widen, which means that while citizen expectations are increasing, actual delivery and service quality are declining.

Cape Town is closest to delivering the basic services of a local government to that citizens would expect. Picture: Claudio Fonte/Unsplash

Cape Town has the smallest gap (-5.5), which means that Cape Town is closest to delivering the basic services of a local government to that citizens would expect. All other metros’ scores reflect substantial lapses between expectations and actual perceived quality of service delivery, with Buffalo City (-20,5) and Mangaung (-26.1) performing very poorly.

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“Overall, the results show that citizens’ expectations of local government delivery of services are very far from being met with a particular concern at the widening of the gap of expectations to quality. A major contributor to the below par performance is the negative perception of reliability of services,” said Ineke Prinsloo, Head of Customer Insights at Consulta.

Ineke Prinsloo. Picture supplied

“While metropolitan municipalities conduct living standards and lifestyle surveys to assist them plan their services better, the results point to a greater need to use and optimise the data and research to ensure that skills and services are accurately planned and consistently delivered. There is a pressing need for metros in terms of introspection, finding collaborative initiatives to review service delivery failures and to work consistently to turn the downward trend around.”

Key findings of the SA Citizen Satisfaction Survey 2020:
• The overall Citizen Satisfaction level, as an average across all metros, is low at 55.7 – citizens’ satisfaction levels are already low and trust is eroded. Even at this low base, citizen satisfaction levels are nowhere near being met in certain metros like Mangaung, Buffalo City, Nelson Mandela Bay and City of Johannesburg.
• The overall satisfaction score is heavily influenced by the big gaps in the citizen Expectation versus Perceived Quality. This is the measure of what citizens expect, versus what they actually experience in terms of service delivery. While the overall expectations index sits at an average of 73.4 and has increased markedly from last year, the actual perceived quality index (what citizens perceive to get) is at 60.5.
• In terms of specific problems with service delivery, citizens highlight water supply and management, electricity supply, garbage/refuse removal, unkempt streets and rates and accounts as the key things that citizens are dissatisfied with.

Consistent and efficient removal of refuse… one of the basic requirements of municipalities.

When you look at the drivers behind satisfaction levels, citizen mentions mostly related to basics that underpin the very existence of a municipality – water supply and management, electricity supply, garbage/refuse disposal, road maintenance, clean streets and suburbs, and reliable billing/accounts. These are the very fundamentals of why local governments exist.

WARNING SIGNS FOR MUNICIPALITIES

Local government structures are the only sphere of government in SA where the constitution stipulates a clear mandate: a functional body that ensures that citizens are provided with quality transport and roads; adequate spatial planning and housing; economic opportunities and development; essential services ranging from utilities to fire services, as well as recreation and an environment to work, live and thrive.

The results pose an important question on whether service delivery is a priority for numerous municipalities – leadership in local government will have to take stock on these results to justify their existence to its citizenry. While metropolitan councils may decentralise powers and functions and services, the accountability for decision making and following through on service delivery vests with the municipal leadership – the findings in the report should serve as warning signs that citizens are not experiencing this at the levels they are expecting,” said Prinsloo.

Water supply is one of the key provisions South African ratepayers in a number of municipalities are dissatisfied with.

The Local Government Turnaround Strategy, introduced by government as a blueprint and action plan towards accountable and efficient local governments points to five areas of fast-tracking delivery to citizens. The results bring impetus for municipal management to refocus on this strategy and on what matters most to citizens: responsive, accountable, effective and efficient local government.

“It is also interesting to note, that the more dissatisfied citizens are, the higher their expectations become. The reality is that the results point to a growing dissatisfaction over the past couple of years of a decreasing trend in value for money on service delivery that citizens fund through payment of utility accounts, rates and taxes. The time has come for local government management to take accountability for their mandated functions and responsibilities,” she said.

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WHAT THE AUDITOR-GENERAL FOUND

In the latest report delivered by Auditor General Kimi Makwetu on July 1 2020, it was revealed that over a three-year period, R4.27bn of local government expenditure was fruitless and wasteful.

In total, 91% of the municipalities did not comply with legislation. Makwetu added that the lapse in oversight and lack of controls relating to compliance were evident in a number of areas, including supply chain management, adding that compliance with supply chain management legislation had regressed over the past few years, with only 2% of municipalities fully complying. Only 20 municipalities received clean audits, and 13 of them were in the Western Cape.

The basic contract between government and citizens has been broken in many municipalities. Is it too late to fix this? Picture: Adeolu Eletu/Unsplash

The A-G emphasised that Gauteng and Western Cape were the only two provinces that had made progress in looking after their finances and provision of services.

“The results of the 2020 Citizen Satisfaction Index align with the findings of the state of municipalities as highlighted in the A-G’s report. The results support the extent of the challenges faced by municipalities as highlighted in the A-G report, with the low citizen satisfaction scores reported in SA-csi supporting evidence that there is a lack of appropriate financial and management skills, low level of co-operation in local government, failure to fill key personnel positions as well as a lack of political will to ensure accountability and proper service delivery,” said Prinsloo.

Citizen trust

“Citizen trust shows a continued sharp decline year-on-year and should be cause for significant concern and intervention.”

She said the AG’s report supports the argument that municipalities are facing urgent challenges insofar as their income is concerned, and with the advent of alternative service providers, it is important for the municipal managers to ensure that services are of a standard that will keep their customers from defecting.

“Bottom line is – local government is the sphere of government closest to the people. It follows that the focus of local government should be on its people and delivering to what the people need and expect as protected in our constitution. An index like SA-csi serves a purpose in that it provides local government with a scorecard that is marked by the voice of their citizenry. The index over the recent past has been tracking in the wrong direction with the gap between quality and expectations increasing by an average of four index points over the past two years.”

Citizens want to hold municipalities accountable for delivery of basic needs and for spending financial capital (provided largely by them) wisely and responsibly.

She said the core value exchange relationship between citizens and local government was centred in citizen’s financial and electorate investment in municipal management, in exchange for delivery of basic needs and being accountable for spending support and financial capital wisely and responsibly. The latest SA-csi result is another negative narrative alongside a number of other indicators pointing to an urgent need for all roleplayers to take decisive action to “change the numbers on the scoreboard”.

Of the almost 20 industry sectors polled by the SA-csi, the municipalities category has consistently fared the poorest since the inception of the index, with the lowest satisfaction scores across all sectors.

About the South African Customer Satisfaction Index
As a strategic tool for gauging the competitiveness of individual firms and organisations and predicting future profitability, an organisation’s customer satisfaction performance, as measured by the SA-csi methodology, provides a predictive indication of how well the firm will perform in terms of future revenue and earnings growth. Supported by both the scientific and practitioner community, the SA-csi is the first independent, comprehensive national customer satisfaction index with international comparability in SA and has collected data from more than 400 000 consumers since its inception in 2012. The SA-csi forms part of a global network of research groups, quality associations and universities that have adopted the methodology of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) via its Global CSISM programme.

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