Municipal Electoral Bill: briefing

Home Affairs

08 May 2000
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Meeting report

HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
9 May 2000
MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS BILL

Chairperson: Mr A Mokoena (ANC)

Relevant documents:
Minister's Comments (Appendix 1)
Draft Municipal Elections Bill

The Home Affairs Minister, Mr M Buthelezi, in his comments on the Draft Municipal Elections Bill drafted by the Independent Electoral Commission, endorsed each of its provisions without reservation (see document). He was accompanied by the Director General, Mr B Masetla, and IEC officials.

Questions
Mr Grobler (Democratic Party) asked members of the Independent Electoral Commission why there is not on-going registration. He asked why the wait until August to begin registration.

A representative of the Commission responded that, although the question is outside the purview of the Bill, there is indeed a system of on-going registration in place now, including special registration drives in specific areas with low registration.

Mr Pretorius (NNP) asked if prisoners have voting rights.

Mr Buthelezi responded that those imprisoned at the time of an election are not entitled to vote.

There were no further questions and the meeting was adjourned.

Appendix 1:
HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
REMARKS BY MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI, MP
MINISTER OF HOME AFFAIRS
Cape Town: May 9, 2000

The Chairman of the Portfolio Committee, Mr AD Mokoena, MP; Honourable members of the Committee; ladies and gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce before this Committee the Municipal Election Bill 2000. With the introduction of this piece of legislation we are completing the process of the institutional transformation of South Africa from apartheid to a fully fledged democracy. In fact, with the new local government elections scheduled to be held in terms of the Municipal Election Bill, the interim phase in local government will finally be completed.

As we pass this Bill into legislation, we shall have completed a long and arduous journey which began in 1990 when the first apartheid legislation began to be repealed by Parliament, following the epoch-making speech of the then State President de Klerk on February 2. Ten years later, we now have the honour and privilege to pilot the final piece of legislation which signals the complete triumph of democracy in South Africa and the successful transformation of our institutions into a house of democracy.

Local government is perhaps the most important component of the overall democratic edifice. It is the school of democracy for political leaders and the anvil on which the capacity of government to deliver towards the needs and aspirations of the people is constantly tested with the pounding of pressing demands. The Municipal Election Bill is the last of several pieces of legislation which have been put in place to ensure that the new system of local government, in accordance with the Constitution, is finally established across the country.

Our Parliament has already adopted the legislation defining the structures of local government, as well as the legislation defining the administrative systems and procedures in terms of which such structures are to operate. This piece of legislation before the Committee will complete the picture by setting forth the rules in terms of which local government is to be elected. In the past, local government was elected in terms of the Local Government Transition Act which was finalised at the World Trade Centre as part of the negotiated settlement.

Even though endorsed during the drafting of the final Constitution, which makes reference to it, and subject to several amendments by this Parliament, the Local Government Transition Act was not the product of a genuinely democratic process. Amongst many of the features it contained and which reflected the need to seek compromises in order to achieve a negotiated and largely inclusive transformation from apartheid to democracy, was the establishment of an electoral system reflecting the different components within local government inherited from the previous dispensation, namely the statutory and non statutory components.

With the Municipal Electoral Bill, the legacy of apartheid no longer finds any space in our future. The Bill sets forth an electoral system consonant with our Constitution. In this respect, this Bill paves the way for the remainder of the electoral process envisaged in the Constitution which will require the adoption of an electoral Act to regulate provincial and national elections. In fact, within the spirit of the Constitution, this Bill reflects the need of providing for both constituency representation as well as proportional representation. The Constitution requires that such mixed system is to be used also for provincial and national elections when the relevant new legislation will be adopted.

Therefore, with our deliberation on this Bill, we are marking a new path which we will need to walk again when we apply the experience gained during this stage to our deliberations on the national and provincial Electoral Bill. In fact, this Municipal Electoral Bill reflects the constitutional notion that democracy is enhanced and strengthened through the adoption of the constituency system on a ward basis, which holds the political representatives more immediately accountable to their electorate. However, we are aware that constituency systems may distort the electoral outcome and produce unequal representation, especially within the context of local government. Therefore, the constituency system is coupled with the proportional representation system, and the proportional list is used to ensure that the overall results reflect a totally proportional outcome, which is to say that each party contending elections receives a number of representatives directly proportional to the vote it receives.

This Bill has been drafted by the Independent Electoral Commission, which, as you know, is an independent constitutional organ of the State, established and operating directly under the Constitution. As the Minister of Home Affairs, I had the privilege of piloting this Bill through Cabinet. I now have the honour and the privilege of submitting it to Parliament, where I carry the responsibility for its approval. However, I am aware that this is not my Bill, even though I endorse each of its provisions without reservations. I believe that this is the first time that a bill is submitted by Parliament via a Minister of State but effectively directly from an independent constitutional commission. Therefore, also in this respect, this Bill highlights how our democracy is growing healthier and is functioning to expectations.

This Bill has been published in the Government Gazette and I am sure that all the members of this Committee have had an opportunity to read and study it. Many stakeholders and role players who are not as intimately tasked with the responsibility of closely following this type of legislation as the members of this Portfolio Committee undoubtedly are, have also read, studied and commented on this Bill. This has enabled an important debate on the Bill to commence and develop prior to its formal introduction to Parliament, which is the very purpose of publishing a Bill before its parliamentary stage. Therefore, also in this respect we have witnessed how our democracy is working as intended within the line functions of Home Affairs.

The existence of this debate enables me to avoid giving to members of this Committee a didactic presentation of a Bill which you have undoubtedly read. However, I must point out a few differences between the Bill before you and the one which was published in the Government Gazette. Some of such differences are the product of certain amendments which were requested by Cabinet during its deliberations. Others are the consequence of the Bill originally being published by the Minister for Provincial Affairs and Local Government in order to maintain the pace of the legislative process. The draft was considered by the Independent Electoral Commission in finalising its own draft, which was the one finally approved by Cabinet and now before you, with a few amendments suggested by Cabinet and agreed to by the Electoral Commission.

Such amendments relate to the prescription that the location of voting stations also reflects population density and the need to ensure that everybody present within the voting station's boundaries may vote on election day. Some amendments also relate to the thorny issue of the disqualification of people who are imprisoned on the day of elections. Furthermore, the Bill makes provisions for special votes for voters on official duties related to the electoral process on election day.

In other respects, the Bill secures and applies the gains of democracy within the municipal electoral process. Implementing the Constitution in this regard, the Bill provides for the application of the national voter's roll to municipal elections and prescribes how the voter's roll is to be used for this purpose. The Bill provides who may vote and the dynamics of the electoral process, starting from the setting of the election date and ending with the declaration of the results of the election. Provision is made that this entire process be run by a clear, widely publicised and rigid timetable. The Bill provides both for party lists and for independent candidates.

As in the past, this Bill also provides for mobile voting stations and for impartial observers during all stages of elections. The mechanics of elections, ranging from the ballot papers and boxes to the appointment of presiding officers and party agents, are somehow already familiar to our electoral system and should not offer cause for major surprise. Many of such aspects have been repeated because the Electoral Act of 1998 applied only to the 1999 election and could not be used for purposes of local government elections. Similarly, the voting procedures on election day and the counting and verification procedures after elections have somehow become standard as they have been tested during the elections we held since liberation.

As in the past, this Bill makes provision for the adoption of an electoral code of conduct which is set out in Schedule 1 of the Bill. In doing so, there is recognition that the success of elections is a shared responsibility between government and all the political parties participating in them. There is great emphasis in the Bill and in its code of conduct on preventing, redressing and repressing conduct which may unduly influence voters, or give rise to violence or criminal conduct.

The Bill sets in place the mechanism to enable our government and all responsible political parties to rise to the challenge of providing our nation with a local government election which is genuinely free from any type of violence or intimidation. The Municipal Election Bill also entrenches the tradition developed in the last democratic election that political parties are actively involved in the administration of the electoral process.

This Bill is now before your parliamentary committee for deliberation and expedited approval. It is important that the Bill be finalised before Parliament rises for the winter recess. I have been advised by the Department of Provincial Affairs and Local Government that unless this Bill is passed before the winter recess, an election date might not be declared for this year. It is regretful that this Bill was not submitted to Parliament earlier to meet the deadline for the formulation of the parliamentary schedule, which was set for April 20 last.

I must thank the Deputy President, His Excellency J Zuma, for his assistance in fast tracking this Bill in spite of the delay on the side of the Department of Home Affairs in carrying out my instruction that the Bill be tabled. I also wish to thank Advocate Enver Daniels, Chief Legal Adviser, for having certified this Bill for its approval to Parliament, working during the weekend. I hope that the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs may dedicate to this Bill the attentive consideration it deserves and requires. I extend my best wishes for an efficient and successful deliberation to all the members of the Portfolio Committee as they apply their minds to this important and historical piece of legislation. I thank you.

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