The Local Government Ethical Leadership Initiative

The Local Government Ethical Leadership Initiative (LGELI) was launched in December 2020 as a partnership project between the Ethics Institute, the national Department of Cooperative Governance (DCoG), the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM).

What does the LGELI seeks to achieve?

The objective of LGELI is to facilitate a national dialogue on ethical leadership in local government, culminating in the development of a Code for Ethical Governance in South African Local Government by October 2023. This supports the 2016 Local Government Anti-Corruption Strategy (LGACS) that has a specific commitment to '[f]acilitating a national dialogue on governance and ethical leadership in municipalities', that will culminate in a widely consulted document that specifies not only abstract values but specifically how to operationalise good governance and ethical leadership in practice. This vision in the LGACS forms the foundation for LGELI with the envisaged document now being referred to as the Code for Ethical Governance for Local Government in South Africa (the Code).

LGELI Advisory Committee

The project is guided by a nine-member civil-society led LGELI Advisory Committee which consists of representatives from civil society, business as well as ex-officio members from the project partner organisations. The role of the Advisory Committee is to provide strategic advice, guidance and oversight to the LGELI project. It is chaired by Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, the Chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Movement. Ms Mirjam Van Donk, the Chairperson of the Good Governance Learning Network, is the Deputy Chairperson. Other members of the LGELI AC include Dr Sydney Mufamadi, the Director of the School of Leadership at the University of Johannesburg and former Minister of Local Government; Justice Yvonne Mokgoro,  a retired Constitutional Court Judge; Mr Roelf Meyer, the co-founder of In Transformation Initiative (an NGO focussing on international peace processes) and the former Minister of Constitutional Development and Provincial Affairs in the 1994 government of national unity; and Ms Busisiwe Mavuso, Chief Executive Officer of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA). The ex-officio members of the LGELI Advisory Committee are Professor Deon Rossouw, the CEO of The Ethics Institute,  Mr Mbulelo Sigaba, Acting DDG: Institutional Development at DCoG, and Mr Rio Nolutshungu, the Chief Officer at SALGA.


To ensure the relevance and legitimacy of the Code a consultative process of research and stakeholder engagement has been embarked on. This included focus group discussions and interviews which were facilitated in all nine provinces between March and July 2021 with the assistance of the project partners and provincial champions. These discussions were followed up by an online survey rolled out in August 2021. From this research, a LGELI discussion document was compiled to summarise the key findings and the implications for the Code.  This document will inform the consultation processes that will follow during 2022. It is expected that the document will also guide future research-based policy development in the field and stimulate ongoing discussion on ethical leadership in local government.

Research Findings

The highlights from this research are reflected below:

What should ethical leadership look like in local government?

Strong ethical leadership was envisaged in the White paper for local government, the Constitution, and the Batho Pele Principles. The LGELI consultation process indicates that local government leaders should:

  • Be guided by strong values and morals
  • Serve the community and put people first
  • Set an example
  • Be accountable and ensure accountability
  • Ensure good governance and compliance
  • Be competent
  • Be committed and passionate
  • Be courageous

What is the state of ethical leadership in local government?

There is a strong distinction between the levels of ethical leadership in municipalities that have adverse/disclaimer audits and those that have clean audits. In the latter, the levels of ethical leadership are deemed significantly better than in the former.

When asked “What makes ethical leadership difficult in local government?”, the following key themes were prominent:

  1. Politicisation of local government- The lack of separation between the political and administrative spheres was identified as a key challenge. Key sub-themes related to political interference in administration as well as the destructive impact of inappropriate deployment practices. The concern expressed was that when politicians appoint (or deploy) people who have political ties rather than competence for the job into the administration this causes a degradation of the culture of professionalism in the municipality.
  2. Lack of councillor competence- In the quantitative data the lack of councillor competence came up as the single issue most destructive of ethical leadership. From the interviews and focus group discussions, it was evident that it was difficult to lead ethically and provide meaningful oversight and direction for councillors that lack the basic competence and skills to do so.  The democratic process does not set any educational or competence criteria for political leadership, but without some standard, it seems that ethical and effective leadership is unlikely.
  3. Lack of inconsistent consequence management- The lack of accountability, the lack of consistent consequence management, as well as the abuse of accountability processes were consistently raised as major issues which undermine ethical leadership.
  4. Community engagement challenges- Another concern expressed was that many councillors (and therefore municipalities) were not as engaged with the community as they should be. Engagements around the Integrated Development Plan of the municipality were undertaken with a compliance mindset, and there was little to no feedback to, or monitoring from communities.
  5. Capture, corruption and fear- The research shows that municipalities with disclaimer audits are more likely to be prone to corruption with top issues of concern being raised by them relating to criminality, corruption and greed. One gets a sense that governance has almost totally collapsed in these municipalities, and respondents expressed a much higher sense of fear for taking a stand for what is right.

Code Format and Content

When asked about their thoughts regarding the Code for Ethical Governance, respondents agreed on the need for the Code. They also expressed that the Code should be a short or brief document which should be a ‘how-to’ guide for leaders. It should be applicable to municipal leaders at both political and administrative levels. Whilst some called for the Code to be enforceable, many felt that this would go against the intended spirit of the Code and expressed practical concerns on implementing it as such. The following themes were identified as key content areas for the Code, with respondents indicating that the Code should:

  • be a principle-based document which provides clarity on the spirit in which leaders should govern, set out the characteristics of ethical leaders;
  • specify the key governance focus of the municipality which should be that municipalities should be run in the long-term, sustainable interest of the municipality and its communities;
  • include the values and spirit of ethical leadership and should include values such as Fairness, Accountability, Honesty, Integrity, Transparency, Service Delivery, the Batho Pele Principles and as well as the ICRAFT Principles set out in King IV;
  • provide clarity on achieving governance competence in municipalities and set out the good practice in ensuring competence on committees;
  • clarify the separation of powers between the political and administrative arms of the municipality as well as clarify the roles and responsibilities of councillors and the role of officials;
  • emphasise that officials should be appointed based on their skills, competencies and professionalism – not based on political party affiliations;
  • emphasize the need for processes to be in place for accountability and that these processes need to be independent;
  • set out the responsibilities of political parties with respect to local government including the need for political parties to field councillors with competence and character, hold councillors they deploy into municipalities accountable for their actions and avoid becoming overly involved in the running of municipalities.  In addition, political parties should not accept funding from companies or organisations who are suppliers to the municipality. This would give rise to a conflict of interest; and
  • guide the relationship of municipal leaders with communities and emphasise the importance of community engagements as a vehicle for participatory democracy.

Where to from here?

In the coming months, there will be sectoral and provincial engagements on the LGELI discussion document so as to inform the development of the Draft Code for Ethical Governance. This will then be followed by a national dialogue in 2023 that will consider the Draft Code and move towards finalising the Code by September 2023. If you have any questions, queries or would like to be added to the LGELI stakeholder database please email or


by Fatima Rawat & Kris Dobie, The Ethics Institute