The Standing Committee on the Premier and Constitutional Matters (the Committee) convened in a hybrid setting for public hearings on the Constitution of the Western Cape Amendment Bill (Determination of Number of Members) [B7 – 2023]. The engagement on the Bill was preceded by a briefing by legal advisors in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP) on the aim of the bill.
Public representatives in attendance mostly did not support the Bill. The overarching sentiment was that the financial implications in terms of the salaries for the additional number of members were not justifiable. The money could be better used for addressing more complex concerns such as resolving the injustices of the past including land reform, providing employment for young people, support for youth development and funding activists who are working in communities on behalf of Members of Parliament (MPs).
The Committee acknowledged the concerns raised by the public representatives but advised that the number of members had remained unchanged since 1998 while the population size had increased significantly. It was no longer possible for the 42 members of the legislature to effectively do oversight over a population of 7.2 million people. The Committee assured the public representatives that all submissions would be considered. The input from Provincial Treasury on the financial implications would be obtained and made available once the Bill had been deliberated on.
The Chairperson provided the background to the Bill. The Speaker had introduced the Bill in the House and referred it to the Committee which is responsible for Constitutional Matters. The purpose of the meeting was to listen to the input from the public. More members would mean smaller areas of responsibility and increased ability for members to serve their constituencies. More members would be available to attend committee meetings and conduct regular oversight visits and as a result, increase the level of service delivery. More members would mean more committee meetings and opportunities to engage with the public. The public hearings had been advertised via a Facebook campaign. To date, public hearings in George and Saldanha Bay have been held. This was the third public hearing. Two further hearings are scheduled to take place in Paarl and later in October 2023 in Hermanus. The advertisement for the public hearings was sent to mayors, municipal managers, and speakers of all the Western Cape municipalities. The Public Outreach and Education Unit informed the public on their database of these hearings.
WCPP Legislature Presentation
Adv Andre Le Roux, Senior Legal Advisor, and Mr Luthando Petros, Legal Intern, co-presented the content of the Bill. The point of departure is the provision of the Electoral Act of 1998 for the number of seats of a Provincial Legislature to be determined by awarding one seat for every 100 000 of the population residing within the province. The minimum and maximum number of seats are 30 and 80 respectively. The Provincial Constitution, which came into effect in 1998, provides for 42 elected members. But in terms of the Electoral Act, the current population of 7 210 000 residents of the Western Cape should be represented by 72 MPs. The Committee is to decide the appropriate number of additional seats to be awarded. The financial implications vary between R22 million and R96 million annually, depending on the number of additional MPs.
The Bill was introduced in July 2023 when it was referred to the Committee for consideration. On 28 March 2023, the Provincial Parliament proposed changes to the number of seats because the existing number of seats was found to no longer be adequate to optimally represent the current population. On 6 April 2023, a draft amendment Bill was submitted to amend section 13 of the Provincial Constitution. At this stage, the Bill was in the legislative process. Public hearings would continue until mid-October 2023 after which recommendations would be made to the House. Once the House has passed the Bill, the Speaker must refer the Bill to the Constitutional Court for certification by 23 November 2023.
Public Participation on the Constitution of the Western Cape Amendment Bill
The Chairperson invited members of the public to first raise points of clarity and thereafter to make oral submissions.
Ms Lynne Phillips from Mitchells Plain asked if the finances for this massive change were available. She feared that the increase in the number of MPs would mean that less money would be available for service delivery in communities.
Adv Rod Solomons, SA 1st Forum Convenor, stated that his organisation did not support the Bill. He was making an oral submission on behalf of the SA 1st Forum in addition to the written submission on 24 August 2023. He held the view that an increase in the number of MPs was not needed because of the salaries of parliamentarians, which were paid by already struggling taxpayers. He advocated to get rid of parliament and instead to appoint provincial administrators. The focus should be on better service delivery and to rid the province of some of the useless and incompetent MPs. He accused the DA of double standards because the party regularly speaks out against the size of the national government while planning to double the number of MPs in the Western Cape Legislature. It was public knowledge that the Finance Minister had briefed Cabinet and the President on strategic cost-cutting measures because the government was scrambling to find funds to continue paying the R350 social grant. The government also needed to secure billions to fund the basic income grant which would ultimately be funded by taxpayers with the proposed 2% VAT increase. The amendment would add to the ballooning wage bill of the state and increase the burden on South Africans. He found it mindboggling that members of this committee were continuing to advocate for an increase in the number of MPs. He was sceptical about the commitment of the Committee to engage the public considering that such an important engagement had been scheduled for late on a Friday afternoon in the City Centre when people would normally be on their way home. He reminded the Committee that the 2024 elections were around the corner.
Mr P Marais (FF+) remarked that the Western Cape is the best-governed province out of the nine provinces. He compared the 73 MPs in Gauteng and 80 MPs in KwaZulu-Natal which both are geographically smaller in size than the Western Cape with 42 MPs. A decision about the number of 71 members has not yet been made. The decision requires a two-third majority vote in Parliament and the budget also needed to be considered. He pointed out that other provinces are not bound by a Provincial Constitution because they follow the National Constitution. Members of the public should instruct their political parties to vote on the Bill which should serve as a guarantee of the right to influence the decision. The aim of the Bill is to improve service delivery considering the influx of people to the province.
Mr C Dugmore (ANC) found Mr Marais’ statement about the Western Cape being the best-governed province inappropriate. The quality of service depends on where one lives and in some areas the services were not desirable. He acknowledged that people from different provinces are moving to the Western Cape and Gauteng and found the reference to the geographical spread a valid point. He was advocating for a strong national and a strong provincial government in contrast to adv Solomons’ proposal to scrap the provinces. The number of MPs might only increase slightly. MPs are under pressure to serve in multiple committees. He contested Adv Solomons’ notion of useless MPs because many members do serve their constituencies well. It was not correct to imply that MPs are useless.
Adv Solomons replied that he did not make a blanket statement and was referring to the useless and incompetent ones. He reiterated that some of the MPs are useless and incompetent. The argument about the size of the Western Cape could be made if any other province wanted to increase the numbers but the country could not afford more politicians. The Northern Cape with 30 MPs is bigger than the Western Cape. The quality of services was good for some, depending on where they live. Before 1994, the government oppressed and discriminated against people because it was legislatively allowed. The fact that the IEC provides for one MP to represent 100 000 citizens could be taken on review. The country could not afford the expenditure to renovate the building to accommodate even ten more politicians. People need to have a better quality of life with dignity and security. He appealed to MPs to carefully consider their vote. He would be watching to see which MPs would be forming part of the two-thirds majority in favour of the increase in the number of members. He stated that he was representing a civil society organisation and not a political party as referred to by Mr Dugmore.
The Chairperson reminded members of the public to hand in written submissions to the Committee Coordinator, Ms Kamish-Achmat. He extended an invitation to also attend subsequent public hearings in Paarl on 22 September 2023 and in Hermanus on 18 October 2023. It was important that everyone’s voice is heard in the interest of democracy.
Further Public Participation
Mr Gelderbloem from Mitchells Plain expressed his disappointment in Mr Marais’ input, considering that he was from the same Khoi background as himself. The two-thirds majority would be achieved if the ANC, EFF, and DA all support the motion. The community was not consulted when municipal and electricity rates were increased.
Mr Marais replied that the vote had not yet taken place.
Mr Gelderbloem said Mr Marais should be ashamed for suggesting an increase in the number of members.
The Chairperson called the meeting to order.
Mr Gelderbloem submitted that he did not expect an MP of Khoisan heritage to increase the burden and pain on the people of the Western Cape.
The Chairperson said the decorum of the House must be preserved and cautioned against a dialogue.
Mr Farouk Davids from Mitchells Plain did not support the Bill. He proposed an increase in the appointment of administrative staff to create more jobs in order to improve effective service delivery.
Mr Romano Kock from Mitchells Plain did not support the Bill. The public was being asked to support an increase in the number of MPs but it was not consulted for the increase in electricity rates. Councillors only approach communities when it is in their interest.
Stephen from Mitchells Plain said Mr Marais should not use the Bill for a debate. The situation in Johannesburg should not be used as a point of reference. He acknowledged that MPs are under pressure and therefore supported the Bill but he did not appreciate Mr Marais’ tangent. The issue should not be forced on the community. As an experienced politician, Mr Marais should address the public professionally. He was in support of the Bill if the intention was to improve the lives of citizens in terms of service delivery.
Mr Faizel Brown from Mitchells Plain was undecided in his view about the Bill. He was born in District Six and 50 years on, he was still waiting to return after being forcefully removed. He asked how this Bill would address unresolved issues and improve the situation of people who had suffered under apartheid. The land reform in this province is not being managed properly because families are still being evicted from farms. There are deeper issues to address because communities are not making progress, whether it relates to service delivery or the injustices of the past.
Ms Biance Booysen from Kraaifontein did not support any Bill that would be taking money away from suffering communities. In terms of her calculations, the Bill would add R1.3 million expenditure per person should the number be increased to 72 members. The money could be used to compensate for past social injustices and paid to community activists who are doing the work on behalf of the MPs. Activists have been finding it difficult to get money to run soup kitchens while the money is available in the coffers of Parliament. She was saddened that R96 million was available for people who already had money while she had to feed ten families out of her own pocket. She stated that ‘the City does not work for us, it works on my nerves’.
Genevieve from Stellenbosch felt nervous, frustrated, and conflicted. She understood the need for the increase but so much else could be done with the money than just paying more people. She asked how this Bill would benefit her who was being squeezed financially. The money is for people to live luxury lives but no real development is taking place in the communities that they are supposed to serve. She did not support the Bill.
Mr Mario Paulsen from Mitchells Plain did not agree with the Bill. He was concerned for the future of the children. He found it unacceptable that money is given to people who are wealthy instead of people who are suffering and do not have money to buy school clothes and decent food. School children going hungry was a major concern and it would become a bigger problem if the R350 social grant is taken away.
A male member of the public said the timing of the Bill was bad and needed to be taken into consideration. Activists who represent people on the ground risk their lives with some even being on a hit list for making sure that people are taken care of. He understood the ratio of 1: 100 000 and about the geographical spread but the timing was not right to advocate for more members. The Committee should be more strategic and work for a better Western Cape for all.
Ms Phillips from Mitchell Plain did not support the Bill. The money could be used to address issues such as the increase in substance abuse and suicide cases. She asked what the impact would be of employing more MPs who are not dealing with problems in their constituencies. Development in poorer communities is limited to the building of speed humps but no constructive development was taking place. In light of the socioeconomic challenges in her community, she could not support the Bill.
A male member of the public from Stellenbosch understood the workload of MPs but also felt that the timing was not right. He suggested that instead of employing more MPs, the productivity of existing MPs should be monitored and ineffective members should be fired. He supported the activist groups who were focusing on improving the lives of communities.
A female member of the public was against the Bill. She understood the legal argument to increase the number of MPs but questioned the lack of support for social inequalities and the shortfall in skills and knowledge development for young people. The people in Parliament are not considering the new dispensation due to their advanced ages. Fresh minds are needed to drive the economy forward.
Resolutions and actions
Ms Baartman proposed that national counterparts should be engaged given the references made to local and national government mandates. It was important that comments from the public, that fall outside the mandate of the Committee, should land up on the correct desk.
The Chairperson said public hearings were not merely a tick-box exercise. The Committee makes laws and exercises oversight over the executive, which includes visiting communities. All the input would be taken into consideration and all voices would be heard. The Bill was about service delivery but the Provincial Government cannot be blind to the suffering of people. The Committee wants to make sure that the government supports the people. How this is done, forms part of the Bill. The input from Provincial Treasury on the financial implications would be obtained and made available once the Bill has been deliberated on.
Further Public Participation
Ms Marguerita Brand from Cloetesville in Stellenbosch did not support the Bill. She is a Community Warrior for Change and with her colleagues, works in the community every day. She is one of the pensioners whose September 2023 payout had been delayed since pension day. She expressed her disappointment in the lack of service delivery in her community in Cloetesville. One of her colleagues had to sell her car to help feed some of the people in the community. A teacher at a school in her community had requested parents to pack sandwiches to prevent their children from going hungry. She sometimes finds it difficult to keep up with the work in the community but does not allow herself to get tired of doing the work.
Ms Johanna Muller from Mitchells Plain said activists would be able to do more with the salaries of MPs if it were given to them. Civil servants were not doing their job. Other ways of getting the job done should be considered.
Mr Hendrik Swarts from Atlantis was representing a substructure of the Traditional Authority of the Nama-Khoi community. He would prefer that money for pensioners and people living with disabilities be increased. He requested that more money should be invested in youth development and youth education. He was concerned that his son would not be able to get a job as a mechanical engineer once he completed his studies because of the affirmative action policy, which he argued should be scrapped. He did not support the idea of the Bill.
A female member of the public enquired about the closing date for submissions.
The Chairperson replied the closing date is 18 October 2023, which is the last day of public hearings.
The meeting was adjourned.
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