Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill [B22-2010]: Deputy Minister briefing

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

16 August 2010
Chairperson: Mr L Tsenoli (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) presented its proposed Municipal Systems Amendment Bill to a joint session that included the Select Committee on Local Government. The Bill was in line with the Cabinet-approved goal of the Local Government Turnaround Strategy (LGTAS).  

The Bill sought to make provisions which ensured
fair, efficient, effective and transparent personnel administration with more power granted to the Minister to regulate the uniform setting of regulations for municipal systems, standards and procedures in an effort to guarantee effective governance in the municipal sphere. The absence of these uniform systems, standards and procedures had inadvertently had a negative effect on municipalities as they hired unqualified people to conduct work and encouraged municipalities to implement disparate human resources programmes.

The Bill
allowed for career pathing with increased mobility of staff across the sector (uniform systems and procedures), ensure consistency between the systems and procedures adopted by municipalities and standards set by the Department. The Bill aimed to assist municipalities to build the skills base necessary to exercise their powers and perform their functions by appointing qualified people. This set the scene for the professionalisation of local public administration and human resources. It sought to entrench a culture of improved performance and service delivery by tightening the timeframes for concluding employment contracts and performance agreements and enabled the Minister and other statutory bodies to monitor and support municipalities.

Members asked if the proposed Bill was far-reaching enough or just a stopgap measure. They asked why municipal employees were only mentioned and not mayors. Also asked was whether mayors were eligible for re-nomination in a different municipality to the one in which they were originally elected. Members asked if the Department had consulted the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in drafting the Bill. Performance contracts were criticised for not necessarily guaranteeing quality delivery. Clarity was sought on what the Department would do to assist smaller municipalities.


Members asked about the code of conduct noted in the presentation. The matter of municipal employees running for elective office was interrogated. Members commented on a waiver included in the Bill and its effect on municipalities. Members asked if public hearings would be held on the Bill. They asked about punitive measures to be taken against transgressing municipal employees.

Meeting report

Local Government Municipal Systems Amendment Bill 2010 Presentation
Mr Yunus Carrim, Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, thanked the two Committees for taking the Bill seriously and taking time to listen to the Department’s proposals for the important area of Local Government. He apologised on behalf of the Minister of the Department, Mr Sicelo Shiceka, who could not attend the meeting due to illness. 

Mr Carrim handed over the duties of the presentation to Mr Jackey Maepa, Senior Manager: Human Resource Development, COGTA, who gave the Department’s briefing which covered the Bill’s legal context, the challenges that had led to this legislative response, its objectives and then a clause by clause explanation (see document).     

Mr Maepa said that the absence of uniform standards has had some unintended consequences. This, induced municipalities to adopt disparate HR systems and practices (including remuneration and conditions of service), encouraged municipalities to appoint inadequately qualified persons in leadership positions (3 years average experience/ lack of competencies) and impacted negatively on the ability of municipalities to build the skills base/capacity to perform their functions.

It blurred the lines between a political / administrative career path with negative consequences on the effectiveness of municipalities. This made it difficult to entrench a culture of increased performance and accountability. It created a laizez fair situation where dismissed employees freely entered and exited municipal employment. It made it cumbersome for the Ministry and other statutory bodies to monitor and support municipalities. The implementation of the Municipal Property Rates Act attracted legal disputes from some municipalities with major financial consequences

The State of Local Government Report of 2009, also revealed that –
• there were serious leadership and governance challenges in municipalities
• a number of municipalities were poorly governed or dysfunctional due to the inability to recruit and retain skilled personnel (grading and remuneration systems)
• accountable local government and the rule of law had collapsed in some municipalities due to corruption and patronage.

In its policy response to these challenges, Cabinet approved the Local Government Turnaround Strategy in December 2009 unveiling several proposals to turnaround local government, including the review of legislation that impacts on service delivery. The Municipal Systems Act was identified as one such legislation - impeding municipalities from building the necessary capacity to perform their constitutional functions. This Bill enables the Minister to set uniform standards for municipal staff systems and procedures and is aimed at circumventing the shortcomings highlighted above - by plugging the legislative gaps.

Its objectives are:
The setting of uniform staff systems and procedures for municipalities (snr managers & staff below) will –
• create a career local public administration that allows for increased mobility of staff across the sector (uniform systems and procedures).
• ensure consistency between the systems and procedures adopted by municipalities and standards set by the Ministry.
• assist municipalities to build the skills base necessary to exercise their powers and perform their functions by appointing suitably qualified people.
• set the scene for professionalisation of local public administration and HR.
• entrench a culture of improved performance and service delivery by tightening the timeframes for concluding employee contracts and performance agreements.
• enable the Minister and other statutory bodies to monitor and support.

Discussion
Ms D Nhlengetwa (ANC) asked why municipal employees were only mentioned and not mayors. She asked if mayors were eligible for re-nomination in a different municipality to the one in which they were originally elected.

Mr Carrim responded that the issue of mayors and councilors would be dealt with in further legislation that was forthcoming but not in this current piece of legislation.

Mr A Matila (ANC; Gauteng) asked if the Bill was far reaching enough in terms of punitive measures for under-performing employees. He asked how the Department would deal with defaulting councils.

Mr Carrim replied that the Bill was a stopgap measure which would be altered as more consultative sessions were held. The Bill essentially created deeper links between municipalities, provincial governments and national governments. He said that because it was a stop gap measure, there were issues which were yet to be addressed. The issue of punitive measures would be dealt with in the forthcoming legislation dealing specifically with the area of underperformance.

Mr P Smith (IFP) asked if the Department had had consultations with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) prior to coming up with the Bill. If so, he asked whether SALGA was happy with the outcome of the proposals included. He said that in his view the Bill seemed to be a stopgap measure. He asked why the amendments in the Bill were deemed more important and took precedence over other possible amendments which could have been made to more pressing areas in local government. He expressed his happiness with the proposal in the Bill to create a symbiotic yet non-intrusive relationship between parties and municipal managers. He asked why that did not transcend to affect mayors as well. He sought clarity on the definition of a political party as noted by the Bill and on the performance regulations stipulated in the Bill. He commented that the establishment of performance contracts did not necessarily test the quality of performance or services rendered. He sought clarity on the code of conduct proposed by the Bill. 

Mr Carrim responded that SALGA had been consulted during the drafting of the Bill and had voiced acquiescence to the Bill in its current format. Mr Carrim said the Bill was indeed a stopgap measure to try and provide more oversight for the Department over local government which had been a problem area for some time. The Department was making an effort to fix aspects of the municipal system and this Bill was one of the first steps in fixing an imperfect system. A political party was an organisation which was registered with the Independent Electoral Commission and that the stipulated periods mentioned in the Bill were still up for discussion.  Mr Maepa added that SALGA would eventually seek clarity on its role as the Bill progressed towards being passed.

Mr A Williams (ANC) asked how smaller municipalities could be expected to pay for additional staff to improve capacity. He sought clarity on whether SALGA would be expected to go through the Department when negotiating with worker unions due to one of the provisions in the Bill.

Mr Carrim replied that weaker municipalities would be reinforced by the appointment of strong municipal managers who would be thoroughly qualified to deal with issues arising at those municipalities.

Mr A Watson (DA; Mpumalanga) sought clarity on the code of conduct proposed by the Bill. He commented that he thought that performance contracts were very necessary and relevant. The waiver of appointment requirements included in the Bill would create a loophole which would allow certain municipalities to appoint unqualified people into key positions and could create room for corrupt practices. He commented that municipal workers who were contracted to a municipality should resign prior to seeking election in municipal elections. He asked why the Bill did not make mention of repercussions for transgressing municipal employees.

Mr Carrim said the issue of repercussions would be addressed in future legislation.

Advocate Andre Gaum, Legal representative: COGTA, explained that the waiver was developed in order to assist smaller municipalities and was only constituted in particular and certain cases.  The code of conduct was instituted to give a basic foundation under which municipal workers were held accountable.  
 
Mr W Doman (DA) asked if there would be advertised public hearings on the Bill. He commented that the Bill did not make mention of what conditions constituted someone being dismissed from their position, noting that it was a problematic area. He asked if the Bill would be classified as a Section 75 (legislation not affecting the provinces) or Section 76 (legislation affecting the provinces) Bill.

The Chairperson responded that public hearings were being advertised and would duly be held. Deputy Minister Carrim said that the stipulated periods were still under discussion/debate.

Advocate Yolandé van Aswegen, Principal State Law Adviser: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development said that the Bill was being proposed as a section 75 Bill.

Ms F Boshigo (ANC) said that she disagreed with Mr Watson’s view on the matter of the waiver which he criticised. She thought it was a useful provision.

Mr Smith clarified that the conditions constituting suspension were not mentioned in the Bill.

Mr Carrim responded that that would be dealt with in forthcoming legislation.

Mr Williams said that the Department should provide the Committees with stipulated periods for performance before the Minister of the Department intervenes to fix prevailing problems in a municipality.

The Chairperson lamented the excessive use of unexplained acronyms in the Bill’s presentation.

Mr Carrim responded that the Department committed to stop the excess use of acronyms except where it was absolutely necessary in future endeavours.

Mr M Mokgobi (ANC; Limpopo) commented that the Bill was providing direction on ways to fix the municipal problems which were prevalent. He asked what constituted an independent candidate.

Mr Maepa responded that an independent candidate was a candidate who was not a member of a registered political party.

Mr B Nesi (ANC; Eastern Cape) commented that the Bill had some ambiguous language and that he hoped that it would be cleared up prior to the Bill being passed.

The meeting was adjourned.





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