Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill [B22A-2010]: Adoption, Independent Electoral Commission progress report on local government elections

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

21 March 2011
Chairperson: Mr L Tsenoli (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee considered the B-version of the Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill [B22B-2010], incorporating all changes requested to date. Members went through each clause in the bill. The only objection was raised by the DA, in relation to clause 7. The DA noted that this related to the reports on disciplinary matters, where the DA understood that the objective was to make such reports within 14 days, but the Bill reflected hat the reports would be made quarterly. It emphasised that the purpose of the clause was to prevent defaulting employees from slipping through the net and obtaining employment at other municipalities within that period. However, other Members indicated that they were satisfied that sufficient safeguards against this were in place and that if this were to happen, it would be possible to get a court order setting aside the subsequent employment. The DA Member stressed his concern that the committee was passing something that was not sound. However, although his objections were recorded, the majority of Members voted to adopt the Bill.

The Committee was then briefed by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on its state of readiness for the 2011 local government elections.  The IEC provided a brief overview that covered the two major amendments in the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Amendment Act of 2010, in relation to the casting of Special Votes and to objections material to the result of an election. The presentation then highlighted the outcome of the latest voter registration weekend, with a combined total of 23.6 million voters registered. It set out the timeframes for the various events, including cut-off times for candidate registration.  The IEC noted a slight increase in the number of voting districts and the number of registered political parties, and the basic requirements for appointment of election officials. It noted the challenges as including some logistical problems with 9 000 candidates, the need for distribution of ballot papers to remote areas, the lack of response to tenders to design a new voting paper for the visually impaired, most of who were unable to read Braille,
generally lower voter turnout despite the highest voter registration recorded to date, and continuing disputes around ward boundaries. Parallel structures within political parties, and the giving of unsolicited “advice” by prominent people on election day could also be a challenge.

Members questioned the challenges associated with Ward boundaries and asked several questions around the Special Votes, including whether election officials and other officials involved in security would have the opportunity to vote, whether this facility would extend to those taken ill on the day of voting, and how and when people would be advised that their applications for Special Votes had been approved. They also asked if advice had been sought from elsewhere on provisions for visually impaired voters, probed contingency plans for bad weather, asked whether there would not be challenges in multiple sub-stations, and asked about the disqualification of those standing as candidates, and whether IEC was able to check their standing in payment of their own municipal accounts. They also questioned how the mobile stations would be operating, and whether the IEC anticipated any other challenges, noting that there had been substantial and consistent training, and it was hoped that the same principles would be rigidly adhered to at all stations.

Meeting report

Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill [B 22B-2010]
The Chairperson reminded Members that discussions at this meeting would centre on the B-version of the Bill, which incorporated the amendments discussed in previous weeks. 

The Chairperson went through the Bill page by page and asked Members to raise any objections or concerns.

Mr J Lorimer (DA) said that on page 6, at line 41, he thought that the text should refer to "14 days" as opposed to "quarterly basis".

The Chairperson stated that the 14 days represented the timeframe by which the MEC must respond. However, the Committee had agreed that the report must be submitted to the MEC for Local Government on a quarterly basis.

Mr Lorimer stated that this was not his understanding. He thought that it would be pointless to have a record of disciplinary proceedings in abeyance for three months, as an individual would not necessarily know that disciplinary proceedings had commenced. This would in fact allow for a three-month window period during which an employee could well become employed by another municipality. He noted the precedent of 14 days within the Bill set out on page 4, at lines 52 to 57.

The Chairperson stated that this would add to the reporting requirements of the municipalities, and this Bill was not intended to increase reporting requirements. The purpose of this quarterly report was rather that it should be a general report of what was happening in the municipality during the quarter. The 14 day periods were established when responses were required from various levels of responsibility.

Mr Lorimer stated that he did not agree with this interpretation. He asked if the Committee agreed that quarterly reporting was acceptable.

The Chairperson noted his disagreement, and proceeded with the review of the Bill. 

There were no other objections noted to the Bill.

The Chairperson then asked Members to return to the objections raised by Mr Lorimer.

Ms M Wenger (DA) noted that previous discussions had suggested that a quarterly basis for reporting was too long a time-frame, as it was possible that within the three month period people would fall through the cracks and be re-employed by municipalities. An earlier proposal had suggested that reporting would occur within seven days of the conclusion of the case, so that the MEC and Minister could get involved. The Committee had later agreed to change that seven-day period to fourteen days. Now the Bill was reflecting the original position of quarterly reporting, but this had already been cited as defeating the purpose.

The Chairperson noted that the other processes in the Bill would ensure that such an individual would not be re-employed. 

Mr Lorimer stated that the intention was to make this information available to other municipalities, so that defaulting individuals were not employed by mistake.

The Chairperson noted that there were provisions in the law that prohibited employment of such persons. 

Mr Jackey Maepa, Senior Manager, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) pointed to page 6, line 44, the new subsection (9).  This read that "The Minister must maintain a record of all staff members that have been dismissed for misconduct". He noted that municipalities did not have to wait to make an entry into this database, and records could be updated quickly for all municipalities to view.  The quarterly reporting was simply a standardised performance reporting requirement. 

Ms D Nlhengethwa (ANC) noted that if a person was re-hired by another municipality, the MEC could apply, through the courts, to have that hiring reversed.

Mr Maepa stated that clause 2, at the new subsection (8), covered this eventuality.

Mr Lorimer asked how long this would take, and how much it would cost to reverse a hiring decision.  He stated his concerns that the Committee would be implementing an imperfect instrument. 

The Chairperson noted that the intent was not to add to the reporting requirements of municipalities, especially by imposing short time frames.

Ms W Nelson (ANC) noted that this issue was never previously a point of discussion.  She did not see that there was a real problem, because of the other mechanisms in place. 

Ms Nlhengethwa added that individuals were required to self-report that they had outstanding disciplinary proceedings against them.

Mr Lorimer noted that in practice there were municipalities who were hiring people without conducting proper background checks.

The Chairperson then reviewed the entire Bill, by page and line, asking the Committee to vote on each clause.

The majority of Members indicated their acceptance of each clause. Mr Lorimer reiterated his objections to page 6, at lines 40 and 41.

The majority of the Committee then voted to adopt the Bill, with Mr Lorimer’s disagreement being recorded.

Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) briefing on progress on 2011 local government elections
Ms Pansy Tlakula, Chief Electoral Officer, Independent Electoral Commission, gave a briefing on the readiness of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC or the Commission) for the 2011 Local Government Elections. 

Ms Tlakula noted that there had been two major legislative amendments passed by the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Amendment Act of 2010.  The first amendment was to Section 55, relating to Special Voting.  This section stated that a
ny voter who was unable, on voting day, to cast his or her vote at the voting station in the voting district where he or she was registered, may, in the prescribed manner, apply for permission to cast a special vote within that voting district prior to the appointed day. The second amendment was to Section 65, relating to objections material to the result of the election. This section defined what was covered by “any aspect of an election”, enhanced the powers of the Electoral Commission when deciding on an objection, reviewed the period within which the objection must be disposed of, clarified the powers of the Electoral Court, and, most importantly, re-regulated the process to enhance effectiveness and fairness. Objections could now be filed either before or after the results. 

Ms Tlakula noted that the certified voter's roll currently stood at 23.6 million voters. She presented slides that provided the breakdown of voter registration by province. She then jumped directly to her slides on the comparison of verified voters in both national and local government elections since 1999. She also noted that the number of voting stations had increased from 10 000 in 1994 to 20 859 in 2011.

Ms Tlakula noted that the IEC was implementing a number of Civic and Democracy Education (CDE) drives in collaboration with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Chapter 9 institutions and political party representatives, to raise awareness prior to the elections.  She noted that IEC was also working with special sectoral stakeholders such as the South African National Council for the Blind to explore options for the visually impaired.  She noted that the IEC had put out a tender for a ballot template that would benefit the visually impaired.  There were currently no offers to produce the template.

She reviewed the communications campaign plan for the elections, including targeting the youth on Twitter and a mobile phone site. 

Turning to the election timetable, Ms Tlakula noted details. On 3 March 2011,
Acting President Kgalema Motlanthe announced the date of election as 18 May 2011. The Voters’ Roll was closed on 10 March, following proclamation of the date of election by the Acting Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Mr Nathi Mthethwa on 10 March. The IEC had consulted with the Party National Liaison Committee on the Election Time-Table, on 11 March 2011, and the election timetable was then published in the Government Gazette of 11 March 2011. The Voters’ Roll to be used for the 2011 municipal elections was certified, and was made available for inspection on 18 March 2011. By 25 March, at 17h00, all political parties and independent candidates who intended to contest the 2011 municipal elections must notify the Commission of their intention to participate.
By the same time on that day, political parties and nominators of independent candidates must have nominated ward and independent candidates, and submitted party lists of candidates. Payment of the prescribed deposit was due at the same time and date.

Political parties or independent candidates would be notified of any non-compliance regarding outstanding documents on 4 April. They would then have until 17h00 on 8 April to submit any outstanding documents to the Commission.
Any candidates who did not comply would be removed from the lists.

The Commission would compile a list of the parties that would be contesting the elections, and certify their candidate lists on 12 April.  The Commission would also, on that day, compile a list of candidates who would be contesting in each ward.

The starting date for submission of applications to cast Special Votes was 15 April. This would close at 17h00 on 3 May.

On 21 April, the Commission would give notice that the copies of the list of voting stations, and their addresses, were available at municipal offices. The IEC would also give notice of the routes for mobile voting stations, including locations and estimated times of stopping.

On 29 April, the Commission would issue certificates to persons whose names appear on a party list and to each ward candidate.

From 08h00 to 17h00 on 16 May, registered voters who qualified for Special Voting would cast their special votes at the voting station in the voting district where they were registered.

From 08h00 to 17h00 on 16 and 17 May, the Commission’s voting officers would visit the homes of registered voters who qualified to cast Special Votes and who had applied for home visits.
Normal voting would be held on 18 May.

Tlakula then presented slides that outlined the increase in election deposits.  Amounts were increased slightly from the 2006 local government elections. She also noted the number of voting districts and their breakdown by province.  She explained that larger voting stations would be broken down into voter substations, in order to ease the congestion.  For example, a school would be a voting station, but several classrooms within that school would each be voting substations.  People would then be assigned alphabetically to classrooms, in order to cast their vote.  Each voting station would have a Presiding Officer, and each classroom would have a Deputy Presiding Officer.
She noted that there were currently 176 registered political parties.  108 were national parties and the remainder were provincially based.  There would be approximately 200 000 election officials used for these elections.  She noted that IEC was mindful of the requirement to select officials who would be capable of performing the work.  The principle criteria for the appointment of Presiding Officers was that they
must not, in the preceding five years, have held political office or have been a candidate in an election or have been politically active for a political party, and also must not, within that same time, have held any office in an organisation that had party political affiliations or aims. To ensure this, Party Liaison Committees were consulted on the appointments of presiding officers before contracts were concluded.

Turning to voter turnout she noted that local government elections had in the past been steady at 48%, but it was hoped that this could be increased this year.

Tlakula then outlined the noted current challenges. There was generally lower voter turnout in municipal elections, despite the highest voter registration recorded to date. Some ward boundaries continued to be dispute, and this caused dissatisfaction in some communities. There were complex logistical demands, with approximately 9 000 candidates, and a need to distribute ballots to remote locations, and to find a suitable template for visually impaired voters. Parallel structures within political parties could be a challenge.  It would be necessary to ensure that only one authorised representative from political parties would be in contact with the IEC.

The Chairperson noted that voting district boundaries had also been a challenge in the past and he asked if they still continued to be a challenge now. 

The Chairperson asked if the IEC could send the tender for the ballot template outside South Africa.

The Chairperson asked if there were other amendments to the
the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Amendment Act, 2010 that were not mentioned during the presentation.

Ms Nlhengethwa asked if Presiding Officers would be eligible for special votes. 

Ms Nlhengethwa asked if the IEC had any interactions with other countries regarding ballot papers for the visually impaired. 

Ms Nlhengethwa asked when voter registration would be closed in the municipalities and IEC offices. 

Ms Nlhengethwa wondered if the IEC verified, when candidates and voters registered, whether they had paid their municipal services bills or any outstanding fines. 

Ms Nlhengethwa asked if mobile voting stations move while people were still on their way to vote, or were still in queues to vote. 

Ms Nlhengethwa asked if the IEC was sure that it had enough ballot papers.

Ms Nelson asked if the IEC had plans in case of bad weather.

Ms Wenger asked how applicants for Special Votes would be informed whether their applications had been successful, and who would inform them.

Ms Wenger asked what would happen to voters who registered illegally in the wrong area.

Ms M Segale-Diswai (ANC) asked how counting would be done in the voting stations and substations if voting was occurring in different rooms. 

Ms Segale-Diswai asked if contingency plans were in place if a person suddenly became ill and was hospitalised on voting day. 

Mr J Matshoba (ANC) asked for clarity on the breakdown of political parties by province.  For example, the Northern Cape had only one political party registered.

Mr Fanie van der Merwe, Commissioner, Independent Electoral Commission noted that in addition to the stated requirements for candidates, there was now a requirement for candidates to sign an undertaking to be bound by the Electoral Code.  This was the first time such a requirement would be required for local government elections.  The second requirement was that the candidate must sign a declaration that he or she was not disqualified from standing as a candidate. 

Tlakula noted that the IEC did not have the capacity to investigate whether or not a candidate was qualified to stand for election, hence the new requirement to self-declare that they were not otherwise disqualified. Ms Tlakula noted that there was no requirement for either voters or candidates to have paid their municipal bills to be qualified.  Qualifying or disqualifying factors were stipulated in law. 

Ms Tlakula noted that the IEC voting stations were placed within the Ward boundaries.  Mobile station hours were determined in advance and published by the IEC.  Everyone who was still in the queue to vote would be given a chance to vote before the mobile station moved to a new location.

Ms Tlakula noted that, in regard to papers for the visually impaired, Braille ballots were not generally of use because most visually impaired persons could not read Braille.  The template that was currently in use was creased locally by a visually impaired person.  Most jurisdictions on the continent did not accommodate visually impaired persons.

Mr van der Merwe stated that the only other amendment in the Act that he could recall that had not yet been mentioned was that central payment of deposits for parties with candidates contesting elections was now formalised in the Act and in regulations.

Ms Tlakula noted that the second category of Special Votes would include such persons as police officers.  Special votes would be cast two days in advance, given that the police were expected to deploy their personnel one day prior to the elections.  However, police officers who were deployed well in advance of voting day may not get a chance to vote. 

She stated that voter's roll closed on 10 March 2011.  Voter registration in all municipal electoral offices also stopped on that date.  Anyone not on the roll on 10 March would not be eligible to vote in this election. 

Ms Tlakula noted that in the previous election, there was no shortage of ballot papers.  She explained that Section 24(a) of the Electoral Act then stated that the persons could vote wherever they wanted.  Such a provision made planning impossible, as people moved from voting station to voting station to try to find the shortest queue. In fact, more than five million ballot papers had ended up being unused.  In this election, it was made very clear that a person would have to register where that person lived, and would have to vote at the same place, so a similar problem should not recur.

Ms Tlakula stated that the IEC monitored the weather patterns and did have contingency plans in place.

She stated that those who applied for Special Votes would know at the time of registration if their applications had been approved. A person who had not applied for a Special Vote, but who might end up in hospital or ill on voting day would not be able to vote. The illegal voter investigations were completed last Friday. 

Ms Tlakula noted that the procedure for counting of votes in voting stations with substations was still under debate. She noted that there were problems inherent in moving ballot boxes between rooms.  This issue would be finalised soon. 

Ms Tlakula stated that the slide outlining political parties by province represented those parties that were contesting elections only in that province.  It did not represent parties that operated nationally. 

The Chairperson asked if the IEC anticipated that it would experience other problems.

Ms Tlakula stated that IEC had dealt with problem-planning by training of electoral personnel to apply the law equally in each of the 20 000 voting stations.  She also noted the challenge presented by figures of political or traditional prominence, who would provide unsolicited “advice” at voting stations. Ms Tlakula noted that IEC also provided guidance to electoral personnel to handle such situations.  She also remarked that, operationally, the IEC processes were quite sound and almost foolproof in recording of results. 

Mr Matshoba asked how trustworthy the CSOs were likely to be in providing civic education. 

Ms Tlakula replied that CSOs were free to do what they wanted on their own accord. However, when CSOs were accredited and working under the IEC, they were bound to be impartial.  She noted that there were not many cases where IEC was using CSOs. 

The meeting was adjourned.


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