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Planning for Informality webtool turns spotlight on municipal progress in informal settlement upgrading

Isandla Institute | 2019-03-19 | 596 views

About the Planning for Informality webtool

The Planning for Informality webtool was developed by Isandla Institute in partnership with Open Data Durban and launched in August 2017. Municipalities, mandated by the National Department of Human Settlements, have committed to upgrading 750 000 informal settlement dwellings by 2019. Comprehensive informal upgrading strategies and plans are important elements in achieving this goal. The webtool tracks how the major metros are progressing towards this, based on reporting and policy commitments in core annual municipal documentation. The core municipal documents include the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) reviews, Built Environment Performance Plan (BEPP), Service Delivery Budget and Implementation Plan (SDBIP), and Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF).

The Planning for Informality webtool measures the progress of South Africa’s response to informal settlements. It is believed that a better understanding of informality in South African cities will allow for better decision-making and analysis. The webtool also opens up data about municipal upgrading plans and strategies and makes it accessible to a wider audience for transparency and accountability purposes.

Our approach

The webtool was developed through detailed analysis of settlement upgrading data and strategies contained in local government strategic documents from the eight South African metropolitan municipalities (‘metros’). This data was reviewed and distilled into 40 indicators, which were further classified into five main categories. A scorecard system was designed to gauge commitments made and the performance of metros in providing evidence to support these. Each category per metro was scored against the average strength of evidence for its constituent indicators. The five categories of indicators are:

  1. Informal settlement upgrading strategy
  2. Backyarder support plan
  3. Forward planning and land release
  4. Progress towards MTEF Targets
  5. Participation and empowerment

This score was reached through a three-stage assessment process to ensure the moderation of scores. The score is not a qualitative assessment of city strategies, but rather an indication of the depth of a municipality’s strategy as related to each indicator and category identified. The core municipal documentation on which these scores are based forms part of the data index of the webtool.

The intended users are government officials, the NGO community, concerned citizens, and community leaders. The Planning for Informality webtool is updated annually as municipal documents are released.

Progress towards addressing informality - observations from 2018/2019 review

Municipalities are required to submit plans and strategies, reviewed annually and aligned to budgets, in various documents such as the IDP and BEPP. This reporting is a requirement of National Treasury in order for municipalities and municipal entities to qualify for grant funding. Additionally, municipal reporting establishes a base for citizens to hold local government accountable to their commitments. We conducted the third annual review of the core municipal documents for our recently completed 2018 review. Although municipal documents are not standardised across the metros, we were able to make some general observations.

Firstly, in some instances where metros had developed an informal settlement upgrading strategy, it read with ambiguity and uncertainty. While a general strategy is important, the implementation of such a strategy and successful uptake relies on the details. This also limits the extent to which citizens can hold municipalities accountable. Secondly, clear reporting on budget alignment with upgrading projects is lacking. The level of detail in budget line items generally does not account for specific upgrading interventions as most of the allocations are aggregated. This makes it unclear how the municipal plans correspond to the allocation of funds.

Thirdly, we also observed that most municipalities have not developed a clear land release strategy for informal settlement upgrading. In the context of the current land debate, and urban land in particular, we anticipated a more nuanced and proactive response to land acquisition for housing.

The general lack of attention given to land release was similarly observed in the review of the 2016/2017 municipal documents. This is a concerning trend and suggests that metros have struggled to proactively respond to the need for forward-looking land strategies in relation to informal settlements.

Lastly, municipal plans and strategies for informal settlement upgrading need to strengthen their focus on linking priority informal settlements to the urban network via the city’s urban network strategy, particularly those located close to integration zones.

What does this mean for social accountability?

While there is variety in the level of information provided in the BEPP, IDP, SDBIP and MTEF documents of the various metros, some common points were made above as to the lack of updated information, missing strategy elements and the appropriateness of strategies. For example, only three of the eight metros have strong evidence of some form of land release strategy, and based on the evidence it cannot be determined if the other five metros do in fact have strategies in place or have merely failed to include them in the documentation assessed.

An explanation of these deficiencies may be that they are due to the lack of standardised reporting requirements in relation to BEPP, IDP, SDBIP and MTEF documents in general, and informal settlement upgrading in particular. Thus it is difficult for external stakeholders such as communities, NGOs or the private sector to assess the details and appropriateness of a metro’s informal settlement upgrading programme.

There appears to be insufficient municipal focus on participatory informal settlement upgrading, as evidenced by the lack of attention paid to this in the documents reviewed.

Metros should be presented with the argument that this lack of transparency and social accountability only fuels mistrust of the metros by communities and increases their impatience with slow or inappropriate delivery. This results in more contested upgrading projects and programmes, and thus impacts the metro’s stability and efficiency. It is therefore beneficial for metros to improve their level of transparency and social accountability with regard to informal settlement upgrading, and reporting in general, with attention given to balancing transparency with risk in the level and type of information provided. A whole-hearted move to more participatory informal settlement upgrading will also assist in this regard.

Written by Jens Horber and Rebecca Matsie, Isandla Institute

Slum upgrading remains the most financially and socially appropriate approach to addressing the challenge of existing slums. UN Habitat (A Practical Guide to Designing, Planning, and Executing Citywide Slum Upgrading Programmes 2015 (PDF), page 15)

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