Delivery of free basic services to indigent people remains an ongoing challenge for South African municipalities. According to Paul Smith, Local Government Support at Kagiso Trust, this may be attributed to poor data management, which impacts on all aspects of functioning, from customer management to revenue collection. Here, Smith outlines how data optimisation can help improve service delivery to the country’s poorest households.
- Understanding the customer base
Smith explains that although there is only one account holder in each indigent household, there may be many more residents within the households. Unless municipalities have an accurate grasp of who can afford to pay and who cannot afford to pay and maintained understand the scope of their customer base, they cannot plan properly for free basic service delivery.
- Improving available information
Unreliable data makes it almost impossible for municipalities to deliver efficiently: understated indigent registers have implications in terms of debt for local government, while overstated indigent registers impact on revenue, Smith says.
- Improving revenue collection and debt management
Municipalities’ ability to provide free basic services is negatively affected by inefficiencies related to revenue collection and debt management, as municipalities are expected to cross subsidize the cost of FBS with own revenue. Under collection of revenue compromises their ability to make payment to bulk service providers like Eskom and the water boards. Smith points out that, accurate data can help municipalities forecast revenues more accurately and implement effective credit control measures.
- Enhancing internal capacity
Smith insists that municipalities’ optimal functioning depends on adopting an approach that focuses as much on staff development as customers. “No institution can operate efficiently if it is inadequately resourced; if skills, attitude and capacity are not at appropriate levels. Unfortunately, this is the scenario facing most of our municipalities. People development must therefore be a central pillar for any solution aiming to improve municipal delivery of services . We need to ensure that staff are equipped, empowered and motivated to do their jobs properly. This will decrease municipalities’ reliance on external consultants and thus contribute to their sustainability.” Less emphasis must be placed on providing technical solutions to dysfunctional municipalities until municipal staff are suitably ready to embrace innovation and technology.
- Creating an exit strategy for the indigent
The ultimate goal for municipalities is to help indigent citizens become economically active, increasing the municipal tax based and addressing social economic challenges. For this to happen, municipalities require data related to the skills, capacity and experience among their unemployed to feed into a well planned and executed Local Economic Development program.
Smith reveals that Kagiso Trust has developed a tool called the Kagiso Data Optimisation System (“K’DOS”), which helps municipalities validate their customer data through an online web interface, thus improving operational efficiency and billing accuracy and promoting local government sustainability.