Role of a ward councillor
Each ward councillor is elected by a specific geographically-defined ward within the municipality. The ward councillor, therefore, is expected to make sure that concerns related to his or her ward are represented on council. The Municipal Structures Act, 1998 provides for the establishment of ward committees to assist the ward councillor in understanding the needs and the views of the community.
A ward committee should consist of up to ten members who serve as volunteers to advise the councillor, and may represent a certain sector, e.g. women’s groups or ratepayers associations or a geographic area or community within the ward. The ward councillor serves as chair of the ward committee and must hold regular meetings. A council may have a detailed policy on a ward councillor’s responsibilities as ward committee chair, specifying the number of meetings, the type of reports to be made to the ward committee, etc. Ward councillors are also expected to hold regular public meetings within the ward, and can interact directly with any interest group even if that group is not represented on the ward committee.
Councillors serve as representatives of the people
Councillors sit in council on behalf of their constituents. Newly-elected councillors represent different political partyies and/or organisations. Councillors need to interact with each other as every councillor is mandated by their respective voters. It can be a challenge for councillors to work together and co-operate in the interests of their municipality as a whole.
Councillors are the elected representatives of the people and are mandated as elected representatives to make decisions on behalf of their constituencies.
As elected representatives councillors need to carry out their duties in a transparent and accountable way. This means that councillors do not act as individuals and do as they wish. Their actions must be visible to the public so that the public (or party to which the councillor belongs) is able to object when it they feel their interests are not being adequately represented. In order to find out what is happening at council level, the public has the right to attend council meetings, and get records and reports provided by council.
Councillors serve as facilitators of community/constituency input
Councillors are expected to be in close contact with their constituencies ‘on the ground’ and to keep council informed of the real experiences and views of the residents within the municipality. Local government legislation has in several places emphasised the importance of public participation as a means to influence council processes. This means that elements of a participatory democracy are also in place in South Africa.
Citizens do not have a vote on council, but are meant to influence their councillors to represent their views on any topic that affects them. Councillors have a duty to be accessible to the public to allow for that input.
Councillors serve as a communication link between council and community
Every council will be involved in various planning and policy-making processes, and specific programmes or projects that are being implemented. The council will also conduct information campaigns on issues affecting the community. Councillors need to communicate these activities to the public in the interests of increasing transparency and promoting public involvement in these activities.
Councillors help monitor the performance of the municipality
Councillors act as a key feedback mechanism for monitoring:
- whether the municipality’s plans and programmes are achieving the intended effect
- whether services are being provided in a way that is efficient and fair
- whether capital projects as committed to in the IDP are actually taking place according to plan within a reasonable timeframe.
As ward councillors in particular often receive complaints from the public on specific problems they are in a good position to advise the public on how to resolve their issues. They can also assist their constituents in making formal complaints or petitions, as may be appropriate, for submission to the municipality, and can help follow up on the concerns brought to them.
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