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S.Africa public services still face challenges: minister

Published on 14/09/2011

South Africa's finance minister on Wednesday urged local leaders to "forget the frills", fight corruption and improve weak state services that often spark violent protests in poor shantytowns.

“We must be frank that we’ve increased service delivery but we haven’t reached the 100 percent mark,” Pravin Gordhan told journalists in a review of the spending by the country’s 283 municipalities.

“There are many informal settlements, there are many rural areas, where one or other challenges still faces us in terms of getting better services to people.”

South Africa faces regular, often violent, public protests in shantytowns over housing, water, electricity, jobs and corruption.

Gordhan said government “can do much better at making sure that South Africans, regardless of their socio-economic status, live in decent conditions wherever they might be”.

“That’s still a significant challenge that as government we need to take on, and so you are going to have sporadic protests.”

Local spending makes up one fifth of total government expenditure but local authorities face problems using that money well, with dirty audits and missed deadlines.

“What this means is that municipalities need to focus on delivering services … and forget the frills, whether those frills are brand new Mercedes Benz or anything else like that,” Gordhan said.

Other key areas identified in the review were the need for competent leadership and getting municipalities to generate more of their own income and not rely on national funds.

“We’ve got to do more as leaders, political leaders and administrative leaders in municipalities, to cut down on improper procurement practices, fraud and corruption,” he added.

South Africa has dramatically expanded basic public services since the end of white-minority rule in 1994, but struggles to overcome its segregated legacy when blacks were forced to live in poorly serviced areas outside cities.