Parliament’s role in Local Governance
In less than three weeks’ time, South Africans will go out in numbers to cast their votes to elect public representatives to sit in the 257 municipal councils across the country, comprising eight metropolitan, 44 district and 205 local municipalities.
We highlight Parliament’s role in local governance.
Parliament’s role in respect of municipalities
Local government is represented in Parliament, in the National Council of the Provinces (NCOP), and other important institutions like the Financial and Fiscal Commission and the Budget Council. In accordance with the Constitution and the Organised Local Government Act (1997), up to 10 part-time representatives may be designated to represent municipalities and participate in proceedings of the NCOP. The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) is the official representative of local government in Parliament.
The NCOP ensures that local government concerns are represented at the highest level.
On a yearly basis, the Auditor-General briefs Parliament on municipal audit outcomes, to inform the national legislature’s oversight mandate. In late June, MPs expressed their anger and frustration with the poor 2019/20 municipal audit outcomes and COVID-19 relief funds expenditure. Out of the 257 audited municipalities across the country, only 27 had received clean audits. Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke found municipalities spent R26 billion in irregular expenditure, R14.4 billion in unauthorised expenditure and R1 billion on the use of consultants to compile financial statements, among other things. “Parliament has the responsibility to strengthen its oversight function over municipalities, to ensure all wrongdoers are held responsible for their actions. This should be its contribution to bringing about stability in local government”, said Committee Chairperson Thamsanqa Dodovu following the briefing.
Also, parliamentary committees, from time to time; as part of their oversight focus on municipalities, hold briefings on issues such as municipal debt owed to Eskom and water boards.
Local Government Week
Local government week is a permanent and integral part of the NCOP programme. The aim of the initiative is to provide an opportunity for national reflection on issues affecting local government and to seek solutions to those challenges, in order to improve the lives of South Africans through accelerated service delivery.
Parliamentarians, senior members of the national and provincial SALGA leadership, national Cabinet and Provincial Executive Councils, Mayors of selected metropolitan, district and local municipalities, the Auditor-General, independent analysts and strategic entities participate in the event. It provides an opportunity for SALGA to heed the call to take its rightful place and utilise its voice in the NCOP more meaningfully, as required by the Constitution.
The outcomes of the deliberations are the subject of a special sitting of the NCOP. See 2020 event.
Municipalities have their own lawmaking powers but national Parliament can also initiate legislation and may assign any of its legislative powers, except the power to amend the Constitution, to municipal councils in the local sphere of government.
The Constitution provides that national legislation will provide criteria for the size of a municipal council. The size of a council is determined in terms of national legislation, namely the Municipal Structures Act.
Questions and Replies
Questions for Written Reply is a critical oversight mechanism for achieving government accountability. In their Questions to the Executive, MPs also focus on the performance of their constituencies and service delivery concerns in municipalities.
Citizens can get redress and assistance through petitioning Parliament. A petition is a formal request to Parliament for intervention in a matter. It can take the form of either a request for assistance on a specific issue or for the redress of a grievance. A bulk of petitions routinely sent to and processed by Parliament would be from citizens seeking the legislature’s intervention to service delivery issues in municipalities across the country. Last term, four out of five petitions sent to Parliament were from residents calling on the National Assembly to investigate lack of electricity and the halting of a construction project in their respective localities. These were referred to committees by the Speaker’s Office for processing.
Section 139 interventions
By and large, an observable challenge in a number of local governments has been their lack of capacity to deliver on the principles of Section 153 of the Constitution which states that municipalities must structure and manage their administrative, and budget and planning processes to give priority to the basic needs of the communities they serve, and to promote the social and economic development of the same communities.
Section 139 of the Constitution authorises the provincial executive to intervene in a municipality when it does not fulfil its executive obligation in terms of legislation. Intervention is a useful remedy that allows the provincial government to intervene to fulfil specific functions which the municipality is unable to fulfil due to a failure or inadequacy on the part of the Municipal Council.
In all this, the role of the NCOP is to authorize the intervention and assist the provincial executive in managing the intervention and protect the institutional integrity of local government against interventions that are too intrusive, not properly defined or not properly implemented. The NCOP must regularly review the intervention as it continues and make any appropriate recommendations to the provincial executive.
Recent trends point to the fact that national and provincial government interventions in municipalities have become more commonplace. At its special sitting recently, the NCOP approved the dissolution of the Tswaing Municipality in the North West. This after the Select Committee on Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs considered the dissolution of the municipality by the North West government on October 5. When the matter was put to a vote, eight provinces voted in support of the intervention and the Western Cape voted against.
In late June, Cabinet took a decision to intervene in 64 dysfunctional municipalities across the country, with possible dissolutions of some municipalities. Following this decision, the Portfolio Committee on COGTA pointed out the need to do things differently because the experience of intervention has not always been positive. ‘Of major importance would be the availability of dedicated technical support that will be essential in providing the necessary know-how to stabilise the municipalities’, said the then Committee Chairperson, Ms Faith Muthambi. ‘Section 139 interventions should be the option of last resort, and early warning systems, together with rapid response teams, must be in place to intervene in municipalities earlier.’
About this blog
"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.