In 2016 local elections many political parties will be asking you to vote for their candidates in your ward. But how will you know if these candidates are capable of being a good ward councillor? Will they be able to represent the interests of you and your community?You need to have skills and experience in order to be a councillor, because it’s not an easy job.But councillors get well paid, so you need to be sure that the candidateyou vote for is capable of doing the job. Here are some ways to help you elect a goodward councillor.
A ward councillor has to understand three things well in order to be able to represent the interests of you and your community. If they don’t have a good understanding of these three things, they can’t be good councillors, and they will not be able to represent you properly. Unfortunately, even if they have other good qualities, such as honesty and being hard workers and good communicators, they still have to have this essential knowledge: it’s what the job is about.
First, the candidate must have a good knowledge of the community – the candidate must understand the community well and know its main problems. Find out if the candidate knows:
The number of women, men and children living in the ward;
How many people are employed and unemployed;
What the housing needs of the community are;
If the elderly and children are looked after and protected ;
The state of education and health facilities;
The state of sports and recreation facilities;
If there is good transport;
What development is taking place in the area, and what developments are needed;
Are services being properly delivered? If not, how will they fix the problems?
A candidate who doesn’t know these things doesn’t know the community – and can’t represent youand your community properly.
Second, the candidate must understand how local governmentworks –the candidate must know how a municipality functions what the responsibilities of a councillor are. Find out if the candidate knows:
How Integrated Development Planning (IDP) and Local Economic Development (LED) in your municipality works;
The laws governing how municipalities, councillors and officials work, especially the Municipal Systems Act (which contains the “Code of Conduct for Councillors”), the Municipal Structures Act and the Municipal Finance Management Act;
The ways in which the public can participate in municipal affairs and especially in decisions which affect them directly.
A candidate who doesn’t know these things doesn’t know how local government works – and can’t represent you and your community properly.
Third, the candidate must have a good understanding of how municipal finances work –the municipality uses your money, and your councillor is responsible for ensuring it is properly spent. Find out if the candidate:
Understands how the municipal budget works, and how municipal finances are planned and managed. Can they explain these things to you? ;
Can do arithmetic – if the candidate cannot work with numbers they will not be able to understand the budget properly;
Knows and understands the Municipal Finance Management Act.
A candidate who doesn’t know these things doesn’t know how municipal finances work – and can’t represent you and your community properly.
You must check if the candidate has this knowledge to do the job. If they don’t have a good knowledge of the community,a clear understanding of how local government works and how its finances are planned and managed, then how can they represent you properly?
In addition to the essential knowledge, a ward councillor should also have some other important skills and qualities.
Good Communication Skills– can the candidate communicate well with the people in your ward? Can they speak and write well? And, very important, can they really listen to others, understand them and respect their opinions?
Conflict Management Skills – can the candidate deal with conflict between different people, and help solve problems through discussion and negotiation?
Ethical Leadership Skills –the candidate must be honest and trustworthy, and must promote the interest of the community, not his or her private interests. You must be confident that the candidate will not be bullied by powerful people who want them to support decisions that are not in the best interests of the community or may even be illegal. If they cannot stand up for their community, or against corruption, then they cannot represent you properly.
Transparency – can the candidate discuss issues, even difficult problems, openly and publicly instead of trying to hide things away? You don’t want a councillor who does things in secret, behind your back.
Accept Criticism – can the candidate accept criticism (especially constructive criticism) and use it to improve their performance?
You can find out more about the knowledge and skills a councillor needs in the “Handbook for Municipal Councillors” produced by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). This will give you a very good idea of what knowledge and skills a good councillor needs. You can find this book, the “Councillor Induction: A Handbook for Municipal Councillors, 2011” on the SALGA www.salga.org.za. SALGA offers the Councillors Development Programme for people who need to learn the knowledge and skills needed to be a good councillor.