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Fiscal Performance and Sustainability of Local Government in South Africa – An Empirical Analysis

23 September 2012
Publication Type: Working Paper
JEL Code: H71, H72

This paper analyses fiscal performance in terms of own-revenue collection and sustainability of local municipalities in South Africa. Criteria such as gross value added, revenue collected from own sources, debtors outstanding, the ageing of debt and dependency on grants are considered. The conclusion is that a large number of municipalities do not comply with the requirement that a “reasonable” amount of current expenditures be financed by means of own resources. Furthermore, local government finances are featured by substantial variance as far as collection of own income is concerned. While close to half of them finance more than 50 percent of their current expenditures from own resources, about one third are largely dependent on grants from upper spheres of government and generate less than 20 percent of current expenditures from own resources. As a whole, the fiscal sustainability of the local government sector, given the current scenario of flows, is a reason for concern. In order to comply with international criteria for solid fiscal performance, a number of municipalities will have to improve their performance with regard to own-revenue collection. The reason for this phenomenon seems to be the problem of “soft budgets” and an historic dependence on grants to finance not only capital expenditures but also most, if not all of, current expenditures. Due to historical and political factors, local governments in South Africa differ substantially in terms of potential revenue base, but it may be that in many cases potential revenue is not exploited and that the high level of dependency on grants is the result of inefficiency and lack of political will to be more self-reliant. In view of the wide-spread protest actions against poor quality of service delivery at the local government level, fiscal authorities should take a fresh look at the extent to which these governments are accountable for being more financially independent. This would help prevent the accumulation of debt as a result of growing backlogs in service payments.

Series title: Working Paper 201
1 January 2011
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