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The Citizens’ Voice Programme’s main objective is to raise the citizens’ voice in the regulation of water services and to provide means for the public to provide meaningful input into the planning for and implementation of service delivery and the regulation thereof. It aims to improve communication on water related issues in municipalities; achieve an increased role of citizens in the regulation of water services; and to establish a working relationship with the communities and CSOs in a structured manner.

The process is an integral part of National Government’s drive to improve the regulation of services. Citizens’ Voice is a tool whereby the aims of public participation in strategic planning for service delivery, as well as in regulation of services can be fulfilled.

Regulation means making sure that rights are met and that service providers provide at least a minimum level of service and deliver on promises in accordance with the rules. Citizens need to know who to go to if problems are not fixed and they need to be able to organise with others to solve problems collectively.

The long term aim of the Citizens’ Voice is to improve in quality service delivery. The short term objective is to educate councilors, citizens, and CSOs about water services and how to engage with council. The medium term objective is to facilitate citizens in playing a monitoring role and the long term objective is for society to engage at the strategic level to influence policy.

The Citizens’ Voice process includes a training programme comprising 12 modules which are delivered to Councilors, Officials, CSOs and communities. This is followed by the setting up of forums to enable ongoing sustainable interaction between citizens and the municipality in order to improve service delivery.

The modules include the following topics:

Module 1 – Introduction and people’s rights (includes legislation and how it can be utilized and the budgeting process).

Module 2 – The different spheres of Government.

Module 3 – The life cycle of water from dams to taps to toilets.

Module 4 – Using water wisely and meter reading.

Module 5 – Sanitation and hygiene.

Module 6 – Pollution abatement and water quality.

Module 7 – Tariffs, billing and meter reading.

Module 8 – Poverty and affordability.

Module 9 – Regulation,monitoring and evaluation.

Module 10 – Identifying gaps and planning the way forward.

Module 11 – Energy and water.

Module 12 – Biodiversity and water.

The Citizens’ Voice programme was piloted in the Ethekwini Municipality in 2010 where The Mvula Trust delivered the initial training to Councilors and Civil Society and established the first user forums where there could be ongoing interaction between the municipality and members of the public. The Ethekwini Municipality went on to establish forums in each of its 17 zones and the process is still ongoing. In 2010/11, the training programme was delivered successfully to Councilors, Civil Society and Communities in the Msunduzi Municipality with support from the Department of Water Affairs. However, other priorities prevented the setting up of platforms for ongoing interaction with the public as planned.

An evaluation of the Citizens’ Voice programme in 2011 outlined its main successes as:

  • The building of greater trust amongst critical stakeholders;

  • a greater willingness to engage at local level;

  • Better service delivery as a result of stakeholders working together at local level. (This was particularly important in Ethekwini as important changes were made to increase the free basic water allocation in response to interaction at the forums);

  • The development of a programme that is replicable for other municipalities;

  • The establishment of a CSO user forum was a success in that it enabled significant relationship building between the municipalities and the city’s CSOs. There was frustration, however, expressed by the municipality at the level of engagement not being thoroughly based on community positions and by the CSOs as they did not have the resources and capacity to establish community positions and do basic community research. The CSO forum has since been integrated into Ethekwini’s area-based forums.

The Embassy of France supported the process by funding a programme training Civil Society Organisations to conduct community research and enable a higher level of interaction with the city. The Embassy of France’s support also enabled the Citizens’ Voice process to be extended to include biodiversity and environmental resources and energy issues in the Citizens’ Voice training manual.

This initiative has utilized a public education method for strengthening public accountability. The building of trust amongst stakeholders that have hitherto been antagonistic is a significant achievement and lays the foundations for good governance in the delivery of water services. Part of the success of this initiative has been that it is only part of a larger thrust of eThekwini Water Services’ commitment to public outreach. The political will from the administration has been the pillar in making these successes possible. The active role of an NGO in facilitating community engagement has also contributed to the trust building that has been a pre-requisite to taking things forward.

The Mvula Trust offers Citizens’ Voice programmes which are specifically tailored to the needs of a particular municipality and can design courses relating to specific aspects of the programme.

For more information, contact: Virginia Molose or Lindy Morrison.