With municipal elections rapidly approaching, South Africans are being flooded with promises from numerous political parties. Research shows that this tends to create higher expectations among citizens and residents of the various municipal districts within the country, but how satisfied are people with the current level of service delivery that they receive from their municipality?
According to a new citizen satisfaction study released by the South African Customer Satisfaction Index (SAcsi) municipalities are falling dismally short of the expectations of their citizens. The independent study measured satisfaction among residents of municipal services across eight of the largest SA metropolitan municipalities. The overall score of 59.5 out of 100 is pointedly lower than the average scores across a number of private sector industries reported by Consulta. It is also much lower than the latest local government American Customer Satisfaction Index report of 64 out of 100.
The SAcsi surveyed 2 679 residents in a randomly selected sample comprising residents in the major municipal districts of Cape Town, eThekwini, Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Nelson Mandela Bay, Mangaung and Buffalo City.
Cape Town successfully maintained its previous leadership position, scoring significantly higher than the average at 70.3 out of 100 (marginally down from 2015: 71.9). eThekwini, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni scored on par with the average at 61.4 (2015: 65.4), 59.5 (2015: 61.5) and 58.1 (2015: 58.3) respectively. All the other measured municipal districts scored below industry par: Johannesburg at 54.7 (2015: 60.2) Nelson Mandela Bay at 54.0 (2015: 51.8), Mangaung at 52.9 (2015: 51.5) and Buffalo City at 47.6 (2015: 47.1).
Prof. Adré Schreuder, founder of SAcsi and CEO of Consulta, is calling on municipalities to heed the warning signs of resident dissatisfaction. “Citizens are voicing their frustrations in increasingly violently ways. The data details what their biggest concerns are and where municipalities can make the greatest impact on the daily lives of their residents. Perhaps the time has come to include citizen satisfaction as a formal scorecard of effectiveness for each municipality. Low scores are a three-year trend for municipalities, so this is not a case of one bad year. None of the eight major municipalities are meeting the expectations of their residents, although Cape Town residents rate services as closest to their expectations,” he says.
Cape Town’s citizen satisfaction score is 70.3 out of 100. Cape Town has achieved the highest scores in all of the elements that make up satisfaction: perceived quality, gap between expectation and delivery, trust and complaints handling. This achievement is more remarkable given that Cape Town residents expect more from the municipality than residents in any of the other municipalities measured, which means that a higher standard needs to be met. “Cape Town’s expectation score is almost six points higher than the average (73.6 compared to average of 67.9). Its citizens are more trusting of what they are hearing, likely as a result of delivery on promises,” explains Prof. Schreuder. Cape Town has the smallest gap between what citizens expect and the actual delivery. Perceived quality in the minds of Cape Town residents is 10.9 points higher than the average score. Cape Town also recorded the lowest complaint levels of all the measured municipalities.
eThekwini’s citizen satisfaction score dropped from on par in 2015 (65.4) to below par in 2016 (61.4). It is the only municipality whose residents expect less of the municipality this year, likely as a result of political in-fighting reported in eThekwini. Perceived quality is on par with the average but trust in eThekwini has declined for the third year in a row. Complaints are 5% lower than 2015, but Prof. Schreuder cautions that this may not be cause for celebration. “While declining complaints score seem positive on the face of it, a decline could also be due to residents giving up complaining because they have lost faith that their complaints will be resolved. Complaints will also decline if the available complaint channels are not operating properly, effectively making it difficult for residents to raise their concerns,” he says.
Expectations in Tshwane remained constant this year, as did perceived quality. Citizen satisfaction dropped by a notable two index points since last year, retaining Tshwane’s performance as on par with the average. There were fewer complaints recorded in 2016 than 2015, though it should be noted that the survey was done before the recent June 2016 unrest, which would likely have had an impact on the results. “Tshwane’s citizen satisfaction score was below par in 2014. In 2015 Tshwane’s score was on par with average and this year the municipality managed to maintain an on par rating, though it is likely that the recent protests will have a negative effect on citizen satisfaction,” says Prof. Schreuder.
Citizen satisfaction has remained relatively stable in Ekurhuleni at 58.1 out of 100 in spite of an increase in perceived quality (61.9). This is as a result of a slightly greater expectation-delivery gap. In addition, trust in Ekurhuleni has declined back to levels first reported in 2014, which goes hand-in-hand with an increase in complaint reporting this year. “Ekurhuleni has very high complaints incidence of 47% and this figure has been rising each year for the past three years. Most complaints centre on water problems, followed by street & road quality and electricity problems,” says Prof. Schreuder.
Citizen satisfaction in Johannesburg is at its lowest level in three years at 54.7 out of 100 (down by almost six index points from 60.2 in 2015); this also shifted its status from ‘on par’ last year to below the average in 2016. Residents indicate a significant chasm between expectations and delivery – the only municipality with a greater gap is Buffalo City. This is in line with a significant drop in perceived quality this year - at 56.4 out of 100, this score is also the second lowest across the eight municipalities. “The protracted rubbish collection strikes possibly weighed heavily on the minds of Johannesburgers, as the data was collected during this period of 2016,” says Prof. Schreuder.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, the citizen satisfaction score was 54.0 out of 100 – an improvement on last year’s score. Expectations rose significantly in 2016, probably as a result of the high profile change in the city’s management. Perceived quality was rated below par, although it has significantly improved from its 2015 score. “Residents appear to have been buoyed by the prospect of improvements in municipal services with the appointment of new management in Nelson Mandela Bay. This rise in expectations appears to be justified with higher perceived quality. High expectations can result in disappointment if the delivery does not match the expectation,” cautions Prof. Schreuder.
In Mangaung, the citizen satisfaction score increased slightly to 52.9 out of 100 but this was not enough to move the municipality out of the category of below par. Perceived quality improved significantly by six index points, which is still below the average score. “Taking the trend over three years, it is clear that Mangaung has made some improvements. There are fewer complaints each year and complaints are better handled each year too,” says Prof. Schreuder.
Buffalo City’s citizen satisfaction score is 47.6 out of 100 – the lowest of all municipalities measured. There are slightly higher expectations recorded than last year but the gap between expectations and delivery is the largest. Buffalo City residents reported the highest level of complaints at 54% - that is one out of every two residents - which correlates with their experience of reliability of 49 - also the lowest of the eight municipalities. “Verbatim comments we received from respondents included issues with rodent problems and the most basic municipal services,” says Prof. Schreuder.
Drivers of satisfaction, common complaints
The top drivers of satisfaction in order of importance to residents are water problems, street & road quality, electricity, parks & public areas and garbage & trash.
Prof. Schreuder says that the key drivers of citizen satisfaction are also the issues which feature in complaints about the worst performing municipalities. “The top three issues revolve around keeping municipal areas neat and tidy, maintaining existing infrastructure and providing reliable services. The verbatim comments from respondents lead us to conclude that citizen-centricity, reliability and trust that services will be delivered as promised are essential. As much as these comments feature as positive statements about better performing municipalities, citizens in the worst performing municipalities complain about the lack of delivery of municipal services such as refuse removal, deteriorating roads, problems with storm water drainage pipes and providing clean drinking water.”