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Citizen Satisfaction Index drops to 5-year low

With municipal elections around the corner, Consulta’s SA Citizen Satisfaction Index has shown many municipalities are failing to deliver on the fundamentals of service delivery.

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Consulta’s 8th South African Citizen Satisfaction Index (SA-csi) shows that Citizen Satisfaction and trust in local municipalities to deliver basic services has dropped to its lowest ebb since the index’s inception. Of the eight metropolitan municipalities polled in the Citizen Satisfaction Index in 2021, it is clear that they are falling far short of meeting citizen’s expectations, with the results being a direct reflection of the dire picture painted by numerous auditor-general and media reports of the dysfunctional state of many municipalities across the country.

The SA-csi for Municipalities 2021 measures the Citizen Satisfaction and trust in service delivery in eight category-A municipalities (‘metros’) as a snapshot – Buffalo City, Cape Town, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Johannesburg, Mangaung, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane. The total sample size was 2 537, and interviews were conducted online and telephonically during Q3 of 2021 across the metros. 

In the 2021 Citizen Satisfaction Index, Cape Town again emerges as the leader on overall Citizen Satisfaction for the fifth consecutive year. Cape Town recorded a score of 61,9 out of a possible 100 – although showing a four-point decline on its previous score of 66,0 in 2020.  Cape Town is also more than 10-points above the same level score of 51,1 for all municipalities and well ahead of all other metros polled, which perform either on or below par. The Citizen Satisfaction Index 2021 also shows that municipalities recorded the lowest satisfaction scores by a far margin for all industry sectors tracked by the SA-csi and Consulta.    

“The results show that citizens’ expectations of local government delivery of services are very far from being met,” says Natasha Doren, senior consultant at Consulta. “The 10-point decline in citizen expectations compared with 2020 is a significant red flag.  Lower expectations are typically the driver of drops in all other metrics of citizen satisfaction, including overall quality (perceived by the citizen), meeting their needs and reliability.  Overall, the below-par performance is driven by widely held negative perception of reliability of services, many of which are teetering on or have collapsed in many local councils.

“When you look at what the drivers are behind satisfaction levels – or lack thereof – citizen mentions related to the basics that underpin the very existence of a municipality – water supply and management, electricity supply, garbage/refuse disposal, road maintenance, clean streets and suburbs, and reliable billing. These are the fundamentals of why local governments exist, yet these are the areas that citizens most flag as their pain points.  Local government structures are the only sphere of government in South Africa where our constitution stipulates a clear mandate: a functional body that ensures that citizens are provided with quality transport and roads; adequate spatial planning and housing; economic opportunities and development; essential services ranging from utilities to fire services as well as recreation and an environment to work, live and thrive in. For millions of citizens, this mandate is nowhere close to being realised.

“The 2021 index indicates that local government is fast running out of road. As citizens get ready to head to the polls for local municipal elections on 1 November, there is every expectation that the growing levels of citizen dissatisfaction will manifest in their votes or lack thereof.  The reality is that service delivery has decreased to substantially below acceptable benchmarks in any industry or sector. For example, Mangaung’s rapid decline represents catastrophic levels in citizen satisfaction by any measure.  The reality is that if the satisfaction scores across all metros were present in any private sector, such entities would not exist in any shape or format in a competitive market environment where consumers, or citizens, have freedom of choice.”

Consulta provided the following key findings of the SA Citizen Satisfaction Survey 2021:

Overall citizen satisfaction score

  • The overall Citizen Satisfaction level, as an average across all metros, is low at 51,1 – further declining from 55.7 in 2020 and reaching the lowest point in five years. This score indicates that citizens’ satisfaction levels are exceptionally low, and trust in the municipalities’ ability to deliver is severely eroded. 
  • All metros showed a decline in overall citizen satisfaction scores compared with 2020, except Nelson Mandela Bay, which showed a marginal improvement of 0,7 index points, pointing to a slight positivity increase.
  • The only metro performing above and significantly ahead of par is Cape Town at 61,9 – also the only leader in the Citizen Satisfaction Index. However, Cape Town still showed a decline of 4,1 index points compared with its 2020 score of 66,0.
  • Ekurhuleni is on par at 52,2 and losing its previous leader position after declining by a significant -6,2 on its 2020 score. Nelson Mandela Bay (50,5) and Ethekwini (50,1), and Tshwane (50,0) are also on par, while City of Johannesburg (47,2), Buffalo City (44,0) and Mangaung (32,6) come in well below par.
  • Mangaung, already on a very low satisfaction score in 2020, decreased a further 6,3 index points to the lowest score recorded across all sectors in South Africa and any of the indices in the 23 international markets where the model is utilised. Mangaung shows a marked and rapid decline over a five-year period from 51,3 in 2017. 
  • Overall, all metros polled show a consistent decline in citizen satisfaction over five years.

Citizen Expectations and Perceived Quality

  • The overall satisfaction score is heavily influenced by the significant gaps in the citizen Expectation versus Perceived Quality. This measureswhat citizens expect versus what they actually experience in terms of service delivery.  The overall expectations index has declined by an alarming 10-index points to 63,2, from a par of 73.4 in 2020 – the sharp decline in citizen expectations signals a worrying breakdown in citizens’ trust in their metro’s ability to deliver services.
  • What is notable is that the gap between citizen expectations and perceived quality remains wide at -8,5 as a sector par score, even though citizen expectations have actually declined. Essentially it means that most metros are not meeting their citizen expectations even off a significantly lower base.  Lowered expectations indicate that many citizens have lost trust and given up on expecting anything better from their metros.
  • City of Johannesburg (-9,2), Ethekwini (-10,3), Tshwane (-11,3) and Mangaung (-15,9) reflect substantial lapses between expectations and actual perceived quality of service delivery. 
  • The actual Perceived Quality measure (what citizens perceive to get) is at a par of 54,8 – also showing a sharp decline from 2020’s score of 60,5.  
  • Cape Town leads on Perceived Quality at 64,4 and is well ahead of par (54,8). 
  • On Perceived Quality, Mangaung has plummeted to its lowest ebb at 34,3 and Buffalo City 43,6 – both significantly below par of 54,8.
  • Ekurhuleni follows at 58,4 and Nelson Mandela Bay at 56,3 – the only other metros on par on Perceived Quality.  eThekwini (54,2), Tshwane (52,2), Johannesburg (51,3), Buffalo City (43,6) and Mangaung (34,3) all perform below par. 
  • Customer Expectations are highest in Cape Town (71,3) and lowest in Mangaung (50,2) and Buffalo City (51,6). 

Detailed Service Quality Evaluation

  • The key drivers of citizen satisfaction and the aspects under evaluation in the index include refuse removal, maintenance of and building new roads, keeping parks neat and tidy, providing clean drinking water, access to electricity, sewage and stormwater drainage management and street lighting.
  • According to the survey, Cape Town is the only metro that delivers on every one of these measures at margins significantly above par. 
  • Ekurhuleni follows on par with most of the scores on aspects under evaluation.
  • Mangaung performs well below par on all these scores, indicating a collapse in all service delivery aspects that matter to citizens.

Complaint Incidence and handling

  • Mangaung has the lowest complaint handling score of 21,9, well below the par score of 35,7 and a high complaint incidence of 53,9 which indicates that citizen complaints remain largely unresolved. 
  • Ethekwini has the highest complaint incidence rate (57,9%), followed by Tshwane (54,7%), Mangaung (53,9%), Ekurhuleni (52,3%), Cape Town (47,9%), Johannesburg (47,4), Buffalo City (40,9%) and Nelson Mandela Bay (34,4%) with the lowest incidence rate.
  • Buffalo City has the best complaint handling score (48,1) followed by Cape Town (43,9) and Ekurhuleni (38,1), Nelson Mandela Bay (37,9) and Tshwane (36,6). Ethekwini (32,6), Johannesburg (28,6) and Mangaung (21,9) all perform below par on complaint handling.
  • In terms of citizens’ top-of-mind mentions or complaints, water supply and management is the leading issue for all citizens, followed by electricity supply and then refuse removal.

Citizen Trust

  • Citizen Trust has declined to its lowest point since the index’s inception, dropping to a par of  53,6 in 2021, from 60,7 in 2020 and 64,9 in 2017.
  • Cape Town is the outright leader on the trust index at 65,1 almost 12-index points above par and at least 10-index points ahead of any other metro.
  • Ekurhuleni (54,8), Nelson Mandela Bay (53,7), Tshwane (53,4) and Ethekwini (52,1) follow on par, while Johannesburg (48,4), Buffalo City (44,3) and Mangaung (38,4) are well below par on Citizen Trust.  All metros show a sharp decline in Citizen Trust scores compared with 2020, some with 10-index points and more, except for Nelson Mandela Bay which remained the same.

Says Doren: “Citizen trust in the ability of municipalities to deliver to expectations shows a continued sharp decline year-on-year and should be cause for significant concern and intervention. The results pose an important question on whether service delivery is a priority for numerous municipalities and whether they can justify their existence to its citizens.  Citizens want responsive, accountable, effective and efficient local government. The results of this index point to a growing dissatisfaction over the past couple of years of a decreasing trend in value for money on service delivery that citizens fund through payment of utility accounts, rates and taxes.  The time has come for local government management to take accountability for their mandated functions and responsibilities or face the growing defection of residents and businesses from dysfunctional municipalities to run better councils resulting in continuous erosion of servicing revenue streams – all of this has massive implications for local economies.”

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