Citizen Satisfaction Reflects On Election Promises As Expectations Are Rising

The latest Citizen Satisfaction of the SAcsi for Main Metro’s has just been released. Given the backdrop of the eminent Municipal Elections, the findings of this study has, in the 3 years that it has been running, never been of more interest to citizens and politicians alike.

Service delivery, as provided by aspects of Government, is the interface where the voting population experience, first hand, the result of the majority (and hence, democratic) outcome of their balloted opinion.

Unfortunately, ballots do not allow for deeper insight into citizens’ opinions on matters regarding service delivery – albeit that in a free, fair and democratically mature society, balloted opinions will reflect some view on citizen’s satisfaction with service delivery.

The latest SAcsi results (reflective of citizen’s satisfaction ratings with service delivery in the Main Metro’s over the last 6 months) were surveyed in March and April 2016. The first major finding is that Citizen Expectations are the highest it has been in the last 3 years. This is understandable, given the backdrop of increased electioneering (read: promises made) in view of the ballots to be cast on 3 August 2016. In fact, some commentators are of the opinion that the coming Municipal election has been elevated to something just short of a National Government election.

The only exception to this increased expectation, was the Metro of eThekwini (Durban). Given the often perceived factionalism within the ruling party in this metro, campaigning has been more challenging than usual. As a result, the effect of electioneering on customer expectations was not as positive as it was in other provinces.

In addition to electioneering, expectations are also impacted by previous experience. In this regard, City of Cape Town has been top of the log since 2014 and thus this historic performance also contributed towards the steadily increasing expectations for this Metro.

It should be noted that the field work of this research was done in March/April 2016, prior to the recent riots (20 June 2016) in Tshwane over dissatisfaction with ANC electoral candidature.

Perceived Quality of Municipal Services in most of the Municipalities is either very similar or slightly improved relative to last year, with the exception of the City of Johannesburg and eThekwini, where perceived quality is at a three-year low.

In order to understand the reasons for citizen’s Perceived Quality ratings, we need to understand the Metros’ performance in specific areas of service delivery – both qualitatively and quantitatively. To this end, the SAcsi measure includes a verbatim comment on the satisfaction rating, attribute rating scales, as well as verbatim comments on complaint lodging.

Road maintenance is overall the poorest performing service aspect of all Metro’s – even for this year’s top-performer, City of Cape Town.

Water and electricity supply, although being the service delivery aspects in which all municipalities perform best, is also a major source of citizens’ complaints. This can be seen against the backdrop of rapidly expanding supply networks, sometimes without the maintenance and upgrading of network capacity to support the reliable supply of these services. These infrastructure-related aspects together with the shortage in skilled technical personnel within municipalities, impacts directly on the citizen’s experience of services rendered.

Furthermore, the current nationwide drought has put new emphasis on not only water quality aspects, but also water supply volumes. In fact, citizens most frequently indicate water problems as the principal driver of their satisfaction rating.

Citizens of the City of Johannesburg make little differentiation among the 4 areas of poor performance, i.e. road maintenance, maintenance of storm water drains (this probably refers to the prolonged Pikitup strike in March 2016), sufficient road infrastructure (probably with reference to the multiple lane closures in various areas of the city for road maintenance underway) and faulty street lights. Inaccurate municipal accounts have also been plaguing Johannesburg residents since 2010 when the new billing system was introduced.

When it comes to complaint lodging, citizens indicated that, water supply problems constitute the type of complaint being logged most often, followed by electricity supply interruptions. Tshwane, Mangaung, Johannesburg, eThekwini and Ekurhuleni are the Metro’s where water supply makes up the biggest category of complaints.

Further to the complaint logging, as part of the TCF (Treating Citizens Fairly) outcomes, the ease with which complaints can be lodged is the lowest rated aspect across municipalities. Hence, this is an area for improvement across Metro’s.

The complaint incidence rate is high across all Metro’s (minimum being Cape Town). The highest incidence rates are in Buffalo City with 54% of respondents reporting a complaint during the 6-month period of review, Ekurhuleni (47%) and Mangaung (44%). Of concern here is the rate of complaint incidence in Buffalo City and Ekurhuleni has shown steep increases over the last 3 years. Complaint Handling is also an area for improvement across the board, with citizens generally providing municipalities a very poor complaint handling score of 39.4 out of a possible 100. This, again, is probably (at least in part) a result of the skills shortage plaguing the country. The stark contrast with 2016 (to date) Private Sector Complaint Rates and Handling (as measured in the SAcsi), of 54.2 and 13.1%, highlights the poor state of Metro’s with regard to complaints. Cape Town does seem to be better at handling complaints logged, with a score of 50.4.

In general, Metro’s Perceived Quality Indices really come into context when Perceived Quality is compared with Citizens’ Expectations.

Residents of Cape Town generally feel that their expectations are and have been met over the last 3 years. The closest contender in this regard is eThekwini, where movements in Perceived Quality followed movement in Expectation and the Expectation-Delivery Gap has been comparatively small. The same can however not be said for any of the other Metro’s. Two Metro’s in particular, fall significantly short of Citizen Expectations – particularly based on the most recent results: City of Johannesburg and Buffalo City. Although Buffalo City has shown a marked improvement in their Expectation-Delivery Gap, the gap is still alarmingly big. In the case of Johannesburg, the tendency seems to be deteriorating at an increasingly rapid rate.

The significant gap closure observed for Nelson Mandela Bay might be ascribed to the effect Danny Jordaan has had as newly appointed Executive Mayor who as recently as 6 June 2016 announced ambitious plans for improving the metro’s administration‚ attracting investments and delivering better quality of service. It seems that not only did the involvement of Dr. Jordaan increase Citizen Expectations, but it seems that the initiatives launched in this Metro are having the desired effect on Citizens’ Perceived Quality as well.

Mangaung deserves a special mention for their sustained progress in closing the Expectation-Delivery Gap in this Metro.

SAcsi_Municipalities_Graph 1

As a result of the overall increasing Expectation-Delivery Gap, the measure of Citizen Satisfaction, the SAcsi, is at an all-time overall low of 59.5. The American counterpart of the SAcsi Municipal measure, the ACSI Local Government measure (calculated using the same measurement instrument and analysis methodology) indicated an overall Citizen Satisfaction Index of 64 for research done in 2015 in their latest publication. Hence, South African Citizens are comparatively less satisfied with their Local Government than American citizens are.

Following from the latest SAcsi results, the majority of the municipalities have dropped from their 2015 performance. The most prominent deterioration in Citizen Satisfaction over the last 3 years was in City of Johannesburg, eThekwini (although still the closest contender for the top spot) and Buffalo City. It could be argued that these Metro’s are some of the ‘easier pickings’ for opposition party election promises.
SAcsi_Municipalities_Graph 2

The most highly prized possession for political parties, following from Citizen Satisfaction, is citizens’ Trust (and possibly their votes). As Trust follows from sustained closure of the Expectation-Delivery Gap or sustained progress towards closure of this gap, Cape Town and Mangaung are in the pound seats. eThekwini, in spite of being the runner-up in terms of Trust (again), has shown a consistent downward trend on Trust, which is consistent with this Metro’s significant drop in SAcsi performance in 2016 (relative to the 2014 and 2015 performance). Other Metro’s indicating an all-time low on Citizen Trust, are Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and City of Tshwane.

The question of whether or not citizen’s will voice their trust (or lack thereof) in the current standing Municipal Government, remains to be seen on August 3rd. It is evident, however, that South African voters generally tend to be hesitant to voice dissatisfaction – even if they are less than confident that their Metro will deliver the proper services. This may be as a result of some cultural norms, but the potential impact of intimidation and unrealistic promises could not be ruled out.

The promises being made by the ANC, DA and EFF, as published in their respective election manifesto’s, seem to be aligned with the burning issues Citizens experience. Although it should be said that opposition parties seem to jump at the opportunity to primarily focus on aspects of National importance (e.g. Job creation, Health Care, Education, Elimination of Corruption, Safety and Economic and Land Reform). The ANC, being the ruling party (by a massive margin) have the luxury of primarily focusing on Local Government aspects (Water and Electricity networks, Sanitation, Refuse Removal), but still includes more general aspects like Job Creation and Corruption.

Thus, it looks like the right aspects are addressed in the elections promises, but previous experience has shown poor ability to deliver on these promises.

Closing Thoughts

It would seem that, from a service-delivery perspective, some Municipalities are more within reach of opposition parties than others. Conversely, some Municipal Governing parties are safer than others. As our democracy grows, politicians will increasingly be kept accountable for the election promises they made.

For more detail on the findings of the 2016 SAcsi Citizen Satisfaction results, click here.