Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fire me if I don’t deliver!

- Linda Jaquet -

"I’m here to make a difference and if after a year, there are no visible achievements, the Council can tell me to go.” These were brave words indeed from Prince Albert’s new Municipal Manager, Juanita Fortuin, at the start of our interview and ones that many a cynical resident of Prince Albert would laugh out loud at. Seeing my raised eyebrow, she added: “Tell you readers to call President Zuma’s Hotline if they think we are not performing. That will keep us on our toes”. She added “All of us in the Municipality will all work hard to make sure that there will be no reason for people to call him!”

By the end of our interview an hour later, I felt confident that Fortuin would not only keep her promise, but would also work very hard to meet her objectives and ensure that there would be no grounds for her to be asked to quit.

Fortuin started her new job in Prince Albert on 1 September, after four years as a senior official in the Western Cape Department of Local Government and Housing in Cape Town. There she headed the Integration and Governance directorate, which worked closely with municipalities and their Integrated Development Plans. She regards her time in the Department as a superb grounding for any job. “The Department invested a lot in teams, leadership and Emotional Intelligence. The job was high-paced and if you can survive there you can survive anywhere,” she said.

Fortuin’s negotiating and decision-making skills were also tested when she was seconded for three months to the Premier’s office early last year to manage the Xenophobia Programme precisely because of her strong project management skills. The Provincial Government has gone the Project Management route in recent years and during her time at Local Government Fortuin consistently exceeded in meeting her targets.

“The words ‘I can’t’ and ‘It isn’t possible’ are not in my vocabulary – anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I have high expectations of myself, as I have of those I work with. You have to be versatile, build relationships and trust people and of course, you have to be open and transparent”

Fortuin’s appointment is for three years – until 2012 - and she says that she has every intention of fulfilling her contract. She compliments her predecessors and the management on smoothing her path and says that she is looking forward to using what she knows and the skills that she has. “With our small cadre of management and a team that is proud of where they work, you can move development systematically and effectively with visible results and improve the level of service to all parts of town,” she says. “We have to show the community that we have the capacity and appetite to deliver; and at the same time demonstrate to the Provincial and National Governments that we have the capacity and the appetite to spend funds that have been budgeted for specific projects.”

Although less than a month on the job when interviewed, Fortuin had firm views on areas that need urgent attention. She is intent on bringing the community and the Municipality closer together and will actively implement a public participation plan. “I am fortunate to have Heinrich Mettler, a deployee from the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) on board to assist with technical work and attend to infrastructural problems that have been outstanding for some time,” she said. She is determined that members of her team will have to account for work that is not done. Furthermore, Fortuin wants to use skills available in the community. “After all, that is what social responsibility is all about,” she explains.

Fortuin started her professional career as a social worker in Knysna. After six years, she undertook development studies and after some time with the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (SANCA), joined the Independent Development Trust (IDT) as a development programme manager. Here she was responsible for the Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Programme for the Central Karoo and got to know Prince Albert and surrounding towns well. It was here too that she became a development activist.

Four years ago she was head-hunted by the Department of Local Government. So as not to lose her to the private sector, the Department proposed that she enrol for a year-long international course in Organisation and Systems Development and funded her studies in full. She will complete the course in September 2010 and will have to travel away from Prince Albert for a week at a time to complete the remaining three legs of the course.

Fortuin has a daughter at university and a teenage son at school in Cape Town. At present, she spends the weekends with them but once she is more settled in Prince Albert will spend more weekends in the month here. Although she has little time for relaxation, when she does she enjoys reading and swimming.

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