Strengthening Local Government Oversight and Accountability

Increasing Government Responsiveness Through the Application of ICT-based Solutions: The MPACs Example

The lack of effective oversight and accountability on the local level in South Africa undermines the legitimacy of municipalities and offers space for political interference. Digital solutions help tackle this problem by developing an alternative approach to increase government responsiveness. The most challenging part of conducting effective government oversight is understanding various documents on different topics that fall under local government competencies. The most complex documents are those connected to fiscal and financial management, including budget tables and corresponding revenue and expenditure reports. Municipal Public Accounts Committees (MPACs) have failed to improve government responsiveness because they are unable to read and analyse these financial and performance reports. To reduce this gap, the GIZ, in cooperation with Rhodes University, has offered a set of small-scale solutions.

The “Ten Key Questions for MPACs” tool has been developed. This digital template provides an easy-to-use web page, which is pre-programmed to allow users to enter financial data and calculate answers to ten key questions connected to municipal financial performance. The template includes instructions and explanations on how to read and analyse budget tables and financial reports. Through this template, users can determine how much revenue the municipality has collected and , how much it has spent on capital expenditures compared to what was planned. It also assesses if the municipality has more liabilities than assets. Finally, by filling in the data, users can produce annual, quarterly or monthly reports. MPAC members can use these reports to pose questions and request explanations and justifications for critical decisions in the local council. This digital solution makes it possible to prevent financial loses before the end of the financial year and before any damage to the budget has been caused. More than 60 people from different backgrounds, junior and senior, with largely varying levels of digital literacy have already been trained on how to use the tool. All of them have rated the tool as being very useful. On a long-term basis the goal is to reach more than 1,000 users who are directly involved in oversight and accountability on the local level.

Inspired by the “Ten Key Questions for MPACs” tool, GIZ has supported the development and implementation of additional online-based oversight tools. These new tools include a “Financial Performance Analysis Tool”, a 26-question tool which incorporates and expands on the ten key questions for MPACs; an “Annual Report Checklist” to allow councillors and researchers to review municipal annual reports; a “Performance Management Tracking Tool” to monitor non-financial performance and a “Recommendation Tracking Database” to monitor the implementation of previously adopted recommendations.

These tools have been combined into a package that will be freely available to MPACs across South Africa to strengthen governance processes and improve horizontal accountability within the municipalities. They have been connected to a central dashboard that tracks user behaviour and produces statistics and figures. Through the dashboard, it is possible to monitor the use of tools, make constant system improvements, and offer future innovations. The overall goal of these digital tools is to notably improve the ability of municipal oversight bodies to oversee the work of local governments. This reinforces democracy by creating the necessary conditions for a system of checks and balances. Ultimately, citizens will benefit the most from a more efficient and sustainable provision of public services.

These innovative digital tools have been developed through the GIZ’s Governance Support Programme (GSP II) in South Africa. The programme's goal is to implement principles for a more transparent, accountable, effective, and efficient delivery of public services on the local level. GSP II technical advisors regularly train MPAC members and support staff with an accredited certificate course based at Rhodes University. The programme supports internal audit units, while also ensuring a more systematic approach to smart cities and the application of smart solutions.