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Should local politicians be paid more?

Posted on Thursday, 25 March 2010 16:22

By 2050, two-thirds of all Africans will live in cities. Putting the best people in charge of these bulging metropolises will be vital to help Africa’s cities run smoothly. But is

paying local politicans more money the best incentive?

Read comments from two experts and then have your say below.

“More money and more responsibility”

Robinson Njeru Githae?
Minister of Nairobi Metropolitan Development, Kenya

It was the central government that used to set salaries. We have removed that provision [in proposed changes to the constitution]. Now we are saying it is up to the local authorities. The rule forbidding them from increasing their salaries has been abolished, so those ones who are rich will be able to pay their mayors even more than the central government. I think it’s a good move. At the moment there’s just five years, then they all want to go to parliament. So you don’t get skilled staff at the local level. Every five years you start at the beginning again. If the mayor is elected directly [another proposed change] then he is accountable to the people. This will also be a campaign issue, with people saying, ‘You are paying yourself too much’. If you have the mayors elected directly, you have to give them more responsibility and pay them more because then you’ll be able to attract educated, experienced and qualified people. That can only be better for the city.

“Civil service should be a career choice”

Lael Bethlehem
Chief executive officer, Johannesburg Development Agency

Payment is an incentive, but it’s one of many incentives that govern how people make decisions. It’s about status. It’s also about career because politics also has a labour market. Part of the problem in South Africa is that local government is seen as a fairly unattractive proposition because within the big political parties it’s not seen as important. You might be the mayor of a big city and you might have done well there, but nobody seems to think that that was terribly difficult. People tend to think that local government is about simple things like waste, fixing potholes and picking up the rubbish. Actually, your most talented politicians and public servants should be in cities because that’s where the greatest level of complexity is, but in the culture of our parties, local government is seen as a kind of baby government. If you’re a young politician, you will try to perhaps start in local government, but get out as quickly as you can.

These comments were first published in The Africa Report April-May 2010 edition

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