The advent of ‘minority governments’ in certain key local authorities and metros takes municipal governance into uncharted waters, with the possible risk of unstable local government in certain areas, says Professor Raymond Parsons of the North West University School of Business and Governance.
“Business will therefore need to engage with a new set of circumstances around local government decision-making and adapt its strategies accordingly. From an economic and business perspective ‘minority government’ at municipal level inevitably injects additional uncertainty into key local decisions around policies, budgets and posts where there is no permanent majority to take long term decisions. If the ‘new normal’ in certain municipal governments is therefore not sensibly managed in the period ahead, it could hamper local economic development and job creation. Economic upliftment must not become hostage to weak or dysfunctional municipal governance.”
Professor Parsons says the test will lie with the leadership of the various political groupings to effectively answer to the new mandate of the citizenry for ‘delivery’, whatever the final political configuration.
“Stability will require compromise. The challenge will be to drive the new political alignments in ways that promote bigger, stronger and better local economies, in which business must play an important role. Business therefore now needs not only to get to know the new political players at local level but also to offer a more collaborative relationship to promote local economic development more vigorously. Business, such as through structures such as Chambers of Commerce, NAFCOC, BUSA, the Black Business Council and Sakekamers needs to ‘step up to the plate’ to assist municipal government performance and encourage a more ‘business-friendly’ climate.”
Professor Parsons adds that much of the business milieu is shaped at local level through infrastructure and the regulatory environment. Business can also supplement local government capacity to facilitate delivery.
“In many local authorities business may well find a more receptive environment now, given the socio-economic challenges that still lie ahead. And where there is ‘minority government’ at local level, the case for business to engage with all political parties, not just the group in power, is even more overwhelming.
“The shifting political landscape at municipal level therefore now requires business to adapt its advocacy and lobbying strategies to cover a much broader spectrum of engagement than has hitherto been the case. Business and the new municipal leadership thus both need to seize the opportunity to forge stronger relationships on which to base intensified collaboration in future.
“It would be similar to the renewed senior business and government interaction currently taking place at national level and would reinforce it. There is now additional scope and opportunity to strengthen ‘bottom up’ economic development, which would be in line with the broad thrust of the National Development Plan.
“We also need to recall that the eight big metros generate nearly 60% of SA’s GDP, hence good governance and efficient delivery remain essential requirements under any new political dispensation.”
Professor Parsons says that the private sector at the local level, especially medium and small business, needs to be more fully mobilized. A more concrete partnership between business and municipal governments in future will not only help to strengthen business confidence, but might even assist decision-making and implementation where there is ‘minority government’ at municipal level’.