egov has been the pioneer for bringing in meaningful discussion on e-Governance through its various platforms – conferences and print media. In yet another effort towards bringing stakeholders under a single platform, egov magazine in association with National Institute for Urban Affairs (NIUA) and United States Agency for International Development (USGAID) organised the Knowledge Exchange Series II on September, 5, 2008, in Ambassador Hotel, New Delhi.
egov Knowledge Exchange Series II focused upon Local Governments in South Africa by bringing in a fruitful discussion on the context and reforms of local bodies in South Africa and sharing such knowledge with our Indian counterparts. The Series II started off with a welcome note by Ravi Gupta, Chief Editor, egov whereby he explained the need for such exchange of knowledge across countries through debates and public awareness in the context of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) which can change our lives for the better. Welcoming all the distinguished speakers from Durban and the dignitaries he welcomed all for exchanging ideas on good governance.
In his introductory remarks Lee Baker, Chief of party Indo-USAID Fire (D) Project, United States Agency for International Development introduced the key points of discussion. He highlighted the importance and the challenges the Indian cities are facing and the government response mechanism through Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNURM) for tackling governance and infrastructural issues. He said that with the opening of the Indian economy in the 1990s cities took a different turn. The growth of the economy resulted in the increase in the population. He said that there are cities in India where the population has doubled in 15 years. Baker brought into light the fact that Indian cities accounts for 30 per cent of the total population but it contributes 60 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Indian economy. He further said that there are major issues surrounding infrastructure in these growing cities. He mentioned that the reforms which have taken place such as reform of property taxes introduction of e-Governance are of great importance in terms of local governance.
He called upon the speakers from Durban to speak about the issues such as the structure of government grants, inclusion of private sector in the service delivery mechanism, how do they approach the low income groups in the urban areas and which are the nodal agencies for dealing with local governance in Durban.
Dr. Michael Sutcliffe, City Manager, e-Thekwini Project, Durban, South Africa started his presentation with an overview of South Africa’s local governance scenario. He reflected that South Africa has a lecacy of colonialism with problems of racism and authority of control, advisory governance which were part of the British dominated state. The new governance which was built up was representative and participatory democracy. The local governance in Durban provides basic amounts of water and electricity on a free basis. Earlier only 25 percent of the people in Durban had access to portable water and now the number has risen to 95 per cent and the local government aims at increasing it to 100 per cent by the end of this year.
Local government is a seperate sphere of government that is independent. He further said that in Durban the municipalities have the right to govern on its own initiative. The constitution promotes developmental local governance in the country for giving priority to the local needs of the community.
He also mentioned that his country has various structural associations at different levels such as the South African Local Government Association at a national level, Metropolitan Manager’s Forum, and also city to city relations with – Chennai in India, Chicago, Rhoterdamn at an international level.
Going into the intricacies of local governance in South Africa, Sutcliffe talked about the major challenges that South Africa is facing in the context of globalisation. The first is the porting sector which was built in many years ago and the main challenge now is to keep it in the pace of the economic growth.The port in general and the logistics surrounding that are some of the major issues in Durban today. Manufacturing is the second denomination in the economy. The thrid key challenge is how to grow the tourism industry.He said that the major elements contributing to such growth are through – infrastructural development and ICT. Durban also aims at hosting some of the prominent international games such as FIFA World Cup, Olympics in the future for which they are already in the process of building a stadium of global standards. The stadium as Suttcliffe mentioned has a flexible capacity of seating from 75, 000 people to 90,000 depending upon the requirements of the game. Apart from these, the Durban Municipal Council is also building up 16,000 houses each year for the native population. These housing is aimed at relocating the slum population of the city. GIS as a technology is also used for monitoring water supply and wastage on a daily basis. In his concluding remarks, Sutcliffe said that institutional governance, usage of ICT are critical in making local governance successful in Durban.
Sutcliffe’s presentation was followed by Krish Ashwanth Kumar, Deputy City Manager, Treasury e-Thekwini Project, Durban, South Africa who focussed on the sustainability aspects of local governance. He touched upon the essence of governance in a transforming economy and society without losing the intention of creating a sustainable local governance. He said that esuring sustainability and viability in local governance is ensured by the productive, well – governed and inclusive local bodies.
Speaking about the vision of local governance in Durban, he stressed upon the point that in Durban, it is believed to have a People First Policy for providing world class citizen services. He said that the budget is prepared on a consultative basis for participative budgeting through various stakeholders and regional hearings. Apart from this the annual report is also presented to the communities.
Kumar further said that the key issues concering local governance in South Africa are – rationalisation of pension funds, common pay curve, asset management, economic, effective and efficient system, common coordination employment at local, provincial and national level of government. Kumar also spoke about the Revenue Management where he said that the model is one of a self funded and the asset management which are important parts of the South African local governance.
In his presentation, Willy Govender, e-Thekwini Project, Durban, South Africa said that the e-Thekwini project has to cater to approximately 1,40000 non-residential and a large chunk is still residential. He stated that the Municipal Property Rates Act came into effect from 2005 onwards which primarily looked at a uniform system across the city based on the principles of simplicity and certainity while taking into account the historical aspects of the region. The valuation process under the Revenue Mangement system is purely a statistical one which includes things such as: data analysis, model specification, data transformation, model testing and rating policy. It is said that the evaluation is published and the public at large gets a 30 day period to refute the evaluation process.
Govender further said that the e-Thekwini Project created on Ramco’s Virtual Platform for which they have the Intellectual Propoerty Rights (IPR). The benefits of the system are marked as accuracy, faster payment process and a steady income. In his concluding remarks he said that usage of technology for the good management in financial, administartive and economic management.
Highlighting the Indian perspective in local governance, Chetan Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs, India briefly spoke about the Indian scenario of local governance. He stated that India has 4000 local bodies to take care of a growing population. Reflecting upon the presentation made by his counterparts from Durban, Vaidya mentioned that some of the issues are common to both India and South Africa. Sustainability is one such issue and he said that the JNURM is focussed towards achieving the same. Reforms such as e-Governance, GIS tax based system and pension schemes are some of the aspects that the misssion is focussing upon. Agreeing with the point that usage of technology is crucial for urban local governance, he said that we should not restrict ourself to Personal Computers only, but should also emphasise upon data, storage and application models of ICT.
The presentations were followed by an interactive discussion on issues of asset management, sustainability and what has been the role of e-Governance in local bodies. Overall, the egov Knowledge Exchange Series II was a success with a full house audience participation that stayed till the end and participated effectively in the closing discussion as well. The event was concluded with a vote of thanks from Ravi Gupta who announced that there would be more such events coming in the near future and egov will continue in its endeavour of bringing together stakeholders from across the spectrum to discuss issues of e-Governance.