The first local government elections for transitional local, rural and district councils were held on November 1, 1995. Fully representative local government structures were established five years later. There are now wall-to-wall local authorities covering the whole of the Eastern Cape.
From the beginning, poverty levels in many local authorities meant that many people could not afford to pay for services. Their local tax base was also minimal or even non-existent. Systems were also weak and assistance was provided to update financial records, cleanse databases and implement proper revenue management.
While all municipalities have developed Integrated Development Plans in response to numerous development challenges, a multiplicity of problems persists. These include: inadequate intergovernmental planning, execution, monitoring and review, lack of professionalism, perceived political interference in the functioning of municipal bureaucracy, absence of consequence management and weak systems of accountability for both public representatives and public officials. Political and governance instability remain widespread and there is misalignment between political and administrative leaderships. High rates of leadership turnover are another problem, creating discontinuities in vision, programme implementation and sustainability. There is also no long term strategy to build technical, financial and administrative capacity at local government level.
Some municipalities are not financially sustainable due to their low revenue base: approximately 31%, especially those in the rural areas, do not have sufficient ratepayers. They also struggle to collect rates from those who can pay, because of inadequate systems. While plans are in place, few municipalities have managed to achieve financial stability.
Faced by a multiplicity of difficulties, municipalities in the province have not progressed to the level of developmental local government envisioned in the Constitution and the Local Government White Paper. They swing instead between "transaction-led” and "IDP-led” forms of government. Going forward, the aim should be to shift municipalities from lower levels of maturity towards effective developmental institutions.