Multi-disciplinary engineering consulting firm GIBB has compiled a business plan, aimed at identifying challenges that exist at the multi-purpose Thusong Centres, in the Eastern Cape, to support the effective functioning of the centres.
GIBB has been tasked by the Eastern Cape Transport Department to determine the reasons behind the community service centre’s decline and to make recommendations for enhanced services provision and better use by citizens.
The Thusong Centres were initiated in 1999 in the Eastern Cape as a primary model for the implementation of development, communication and information, and to integrate government services into primarily rural communities. These centres form part of a comprehensive strategy aimed at tackling factors that limit citizens from accessing government services and associated information.
Services offered at the centre include government information and services, communication services supplied by municipalities, government departments and the Government Communication Information System, programmes and campaigns, training, added skills development and promotion of local development, GIBB points out.
The Tombo Thusong Centre outside Port St Johns in the OR Tambo District was a pilot. Operation of the centre fell under the jurisdiction of the Port St Johns local municipality.
However, after initially being successful, the usage and services offered at the centre seems to have declined, GIBB notes. Consequently, the firm used the centre as a case study to compile the business plan.
GIBB’s business plan identified several key challenges that caused the decline in services and citizen usage, GIBB’s senior associate for traffic and transportation Tobie Pretorius notes.
These challenges are laid out in GIBB’s ‘Business Case and a Transport Implementation Plan to Support the Effective Functioning of Thusong Centres in the Eastern Cape’ report.
Challenges include non-compliance of the building with safety standards, urgent required maintenance, and the absence of government anchor services such as Home Affairs, the South Africa Social Security Agency, Social Development and Postal Services.
Another key challenge includes unaccountable management and responsibility, as well as a lack of municipal capacity and funding to manage the centre.
Further, the company notes that termination of several services is attributed to the fact that no service level agreements were concluded between the various departments providing the services and the local municipality, and that no rent was paid.
To mitigate these challenges, GIBB recommends that the local municipality enter into service level agreements and lease agreements with service providers operating and occupying space within the centre, to ensure provision of services and payment of rentals.
“These agreements will alleviate the financial burden on the local municipality,” Pretorius notes, adding that GIBB suggests financial options and costs for the employment of municipal staff to manage the centre.
Other recommendations include the establishment of a fully-fledged post office, as there is only a post office box service where customers can retrieve their post.
“Further, the introduction of the post office pay points where locals can retrieve pension payments or remittances from elsewhere in the country would be a vast improvement on the current postal service offering,” GIBB reports, adding that another recommendation is the revival of the tele-centre for the Tombo Thusong Centre to retain its status as a hub-type Thusong centre with the offering of office services.
Pretorius stresses the forging of partnerships with other key stakeholders as important to the maintenance and running of the centre.
Owing to scattered and vast nature of rural areas, and the associated transport challenges and expenses citizens incur in reaching the community centre, GIBB also conducted an analysis of a potential public transport system to the centre, which would improve use of the services provided at the centre, Pretorius points out.
GIBB’s report notes that, “discussion with various government department managers indicated that about 260 daily trips to and from the centre would be required if the centre was operating successfully”.
While commercial bus operators indicated that it would not be viable to extend their services to Tombo, the scholar transport system was investigated and GIBB notes that five additional daily services, on a separate operating contract, could be implemented between the morning and afternoon school runs, Pretorius concludes.