Toxic Political Leadership and the Problems of Professionals in Free State Municipalities
The 2016–17 Audit Report by the Auditor General points to the deterioration in audit results of South African municipalities. This deterioration confirms the perennial dysfunctionality of municipalities, at least from the governance perspective. Corporate governance is a function of leadership. Municipal councils are, therefore, responsible for the overall performance of municipalities they lead. Sound regulatory framework, good plans, clear strategies, policies, and systems are inadequate if not supported by highly gifted and ethical leadership. The Auditor General’s Audit Report suggests that local government struggles the most in the area of ethics. The Principal-Agent Theory argues that appointed officials are more likely to subvert the interests of an organisation. However, this article argues that the primary source of problems in municipalities is a combination of ineptitude and unethical political leadership taking root. This conclusion is based on the empirical comparative cases of eight municipalities in the Free State Province. The conduct of councillors makes it difficult to attract and retain professionals in municipalities, resulting in notable deficiencies in the delivery of services. Essentially, councillors are the root cause for governance failure in municipalities arising from a number of factors. Findings in this study contribute towards the understanding of the impact of leadership in the failure of municipalities to meet good governance and developmental objectives. Further, they deepen the theoretical understanding of the political-administrative interface.