local government

Keeping the Taps Running: How Cape Town Averted ‘Day Zero,’ 2017 – 2018

Leon Schreiber
Country of Reform
Internal Notes
originally published 2/21/2019

In 2017, Cape Town, South Africa, was on a countdown to disaster. An unprecedented and wholly unforeseen third consecutive year of drought threatened to cut off water to the city’s four million citizens. Faced with the prospect of running dangerously low on potable water, local officials raced against time to avert “Day Zero”—the date on which they would have to shut off drinking water to most businesses and homes in the city. Cape Town’s government responded effectively to the fast-worsening and potentially cataclysmic situation. Key to the effort was a broad, multipronged information campaign that overcame skepticism and enlisted the support of a socially and economically diverse citizenry as well as private companies. Combined with other measures such as improving data management and upgrading technology, the strategy averted disaster. By the time the drought eased in 2018, Capetonians had cut their water usage by nearly 60% from 2015 levels. With each resident using little more than 50 liters per day, Cape Town achieved one of the lowest per capita water consumption rates of any major city in the world. The success set a benchmark for cities around the world that confront the uncertainties of a shifting global climate.

Leon Schreiber drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Cape Town, South Africa, in November 2018. Case published February 2019.

Empowerment Through Reform: Restoring Economic Activity in the West Bank, 2007−2009

Jennifer Widner, Tristan Dreisbach, and Gordon LaForge
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform

Upon assuming office in mid-2007, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad faced an economy in shambles. Devastated by a loss of revenues and international aid in the wake of Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory, which brought to power politicians deemed terrorists by some in the international community, average real gross domestic product per capita in the West Bank and Gaza was about 40% below its 1999 level, and the government was broke. To restart the economy and demonstrate that the Palestinian Authority could manage a socioeconomic crisis in a manner befitting a sovereign state, Fayyad and his colleagues created a detailed development plan that helped secure financial resources from international donors. With that money, the government undertook an ambitious community development program, building thousands of small-scale infrastructure projects across the West Bank. It also negotiated an easing of some of the Israeli-imposed movement restrictions that were stifling both commerce and investment. The West Bank then posted two years of double-digit economic growth and expanded, private-sector activity, but the occupation’s political challenges stymied the Fayyad government’s ultimate goal of Palestinian statehood. 

Jennifer Widner, Tristan Dreisbach, and Gordon LaForge drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Ramallah, Nablus, and Jericho in June and July 2019 and in other locations during 2019 and 2020. The case is part of a series on state building in Palestine, 2002–05 and 2007–11. Case published June 2022.

Measuring Citizen Experiences: Conducting a Social Audit in Vietnam, 2009-2013

Rachel Jackson
Focus Area(s)
Core Challenge
Country of Reform

In late 2009, following three decades of gradual economic and governance reform by Vietnam’s one-party government, three organizations came together to implement a social audit across the country. The Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI)—a joint policy project of the United Nations Development Programme, the Vietnamese nongovernmental organization the Center for Community Support and Development Studies, and the Communist Party–affiliated Vietnam Fatherland Front—aimed to draw information about citizen perspectives into decision making in Vietnam. It also sought to formulate quantitative measures of provincial performance and governance. Based on public surveys, PAPI aimed to provide a reliable picture of citizen experiences with provincial government along six dimensions: participation in government at local levels, transparency, vertical accountability, control of corruption, implementation of and adherence to public administrative procedures, and public service delivery. By 2011, PAPI was able to measure governance quality in all 63 provinces in Vietnam. The survey project represented the nation’s first large-scale effort to systematically gather information about citizens’ experiences with their local and provincial governments. It also led some provincial governments to create action plans that would improve the services citizens received and boost the rankings of those provincial governments in the index.

Rachel Jackson drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Hanoi in July 2014. Case published December 2014.

Associated Interview:  Jairo Acuña-Alfaro

Michael Sutcliffe

Ref Batch
Ref Batch Number
Country of Reform
Daniel Scher
Michael Sutcliffe
Interviewee's Position
City Manager
Interviewee's Organization
eThekwini municipality
Nationality of Interviewee
South African
Place (Building/Street)
City Hall
Date of Interview
Reform Profile
Michael Sutcliffe discusses the process of transitioning local and provincial government with the end of apartheid in South Africa. He explains the process through which the different provinces were delineated and sub-national government was built by the African National Congress party. Sutcliffe discusses efforts to strengthen local democracy and the troubles of attempts to use boundary changes to solve service delivery problems. He also touches on the challenges of working with the Inkatha Freedom Party in KwaZulu-Natal province. Sutcliffe also discusses why he believes provincial level government is unnecessary and why the focus should be on national and municipal government.
At the time of this interview, Michael Sutcliffe was city manager of eThekwini municipality, which incorporated the city of Durban, South Africa. Sutcliffe also served as African National Congress member of the legislature of KwaZulu-Natal province from 1994 to 1999 and was chairman of the Municipal Demarcation Board.  Sutcliffe was an anti-apartheid activist and member of the United Democratic Front prior to the end of apartheid in South Africa. From 1982 to 1991, he was an associate professor at the University of Natal in town and regional planning. He earned a master’s from the University of Natal and a doctorate from Ohio State University. 
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Michael Sutcliffe Interview

Rebuilding Public Confidence Amid Gang Violence: Cape Town, South Africa, 1998-2001

Richard Bennet
Focus Area(s)
Core Challenge
Country of Reform

Violence in neighborhoods on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, escalated in the late 1990s. In areas like Manenberg and Hanover Park, gangs dominated community life, interrupted the delivery of public services, and in some instances threatened civil servants working in housing offices, medical clinics, and libraries. Following the African National Congress’s victory in the first democratic local government elections in 1996, city officials sought new ways to reduce the impact of the gang presence on the delivery of community services. Ahmedi Vawda, executive director of the Directorate of Community Development (called ComDev), and his team thought that the only ways to succeed were to build confidence among residents—thereby increasing their resolve in standing up to the gangs—and to lower the attraction this way of life had for young people. By giving a greater voice to residents, including greater discretion over service delivery, the team hoped to build social capital and gradually enlarge the space under public control. The ComDev team mapped the economic and social challenges facing the most-vulnerable communities and created Area Coordinating Teams (ACTs) that enabled local organizations to play major roles in governance. These forums increased community understanding of local government responsibilities—along with the community’s role in development—by identifying areas where municipal funding could support community initiatives. Although the ACTs did not take direct action against the gangs, in the neighborhood of Manenberg they provided a space for local participation in development projects and laid the foundation for progress by soliciting local feedback for city services, by asserting the presence of government in previously insecure areas, and by restoring a degree of community confidence.

 Richard Bennet drafted this case study on the basis of interviews in Cape Town and Pretoria, South Africa, in March 2011. Case published May 2012.