Municipal Systems Bill: discussion

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

20 June 2000
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT
21 June 2000
LOCAL GOVERNMENT: MUNICIPAL SYSTEMS BILL

SUMMARY
Deliberations continued on the Municipal Systems Bill. Debate centred on the mechanisms and procedures that municipalities must seek to establish to facilitate and promote public participation. The committee agreed to the following:

· that the bill makes specific reference to women as a disadvantaged group that municipalities must take into account when establishing procedures to enable participation in local affairs.

· that members of municipal administrations be held accountable to the public for decisions they make, and, where necessary, assist the councillors in answering to the community.

The committee tackled how to effectively ensure that all members of the municipality were made aware of meetings of council. It was agreed the existing methods of disseminating information would not reach all areas of a municipality. The committee could not reach any agreement on how to resolve this issue.

The Chairperson suggested a clause be added to allow for the public to appeal against closed meetings of council. The Department was not in favour of an appeals procedure, arguing that well-organised lobby groups could delay meetings of council indefinitely, and thus hinder the council's ability to function properly. The Chair felt the public had a right to challenge closed meetings, and asked that a clause be drawn up for consideration by the committee.

MINUTES
The committee continued its deliberations of the Municipal Systems Bill. The Bill seeks to establish the basic principles and mechanisms to give effect to the collective vision of developmental government.

Clause 8: Mechanisms, processes, and procedures for public participation
Ms Borman (DP) proposed that 8(1) specifically state that municipalities should only establish procedures and mechanisms to enable community participation when it is within the limits of their financial and administrative powers. The ANC felt, however, that this would create an excuse by which municipalities could justify neglecting disadvantaged areas.

The Chair stated that no change was necessary since 8(1) dealt solely with replying to questions posed by ratepayers and residents, and as such, it did not impede on a municipality's financial or administrative capabilities. Only 8(3) was dependent on finance and administration, and mention had been made to account for lack thereof.

Mr Bhabha (ANC) was concerned that councillors were being held accountable by the community for decisions being made by the administrative sector, even though councillors had no power over them. He suggested provision be made that when councillors account directly to the community that executive members must also be present. Mr Smith (IFP) disagreed stating it was the function of the councillors to direct the administration, and that measures such as performance tests could be implemented to ensure the administrative staff was functioning properly. He clearly indicated that all responsibility for the municipality must lie with the politicians. Mr Bhabha (ANC) reiterated that it was essential that a mechanism be established to hold the administration accountable during a period of political transition. The Chair proposed the clause include mention that where applicable, the administrative staff must be available to assist the councillors if the matter so desired.

The Chair noted that the Commission on Gender Equality wanted specific mention of women made in 8(2). Section 8(2) makes provision that municipalities take groups with special needs into account. Ms Borman (DP) suggested that all disadvantaged groups be listed, but members argued the problem with specifying individual groups was that it would then be necessary to define what was and what was not disadvantaged. Ms Southgate (ACDP) felt that women were included in "other disadvantaged groups", and so separate mention was not necessary. The general consensus among the committee was that it would be best to keep the subclause as broad as possible so as to account for all persons who could be viewed as disadvantaged. This was due, in part, to the realisation that identifying disadvantaged people in the community would vary greatly, and would also be subject to the council's discretion.

Mr Elroy Africa, from the Department of Provincial and Local Government, stated that Chapter 3 was an enabling provision, and so it was not required to be specific. In addition, 8(2)(c) was intended as a catch-all clause so that it would be applicable to all municipalities.

The Chair articulated that the clause should be reformulated to be "more gendered." He asked the department to provide revised options of 8(3) to include mention of women. Dr Bauer advised that the clause must make reference to the disabled as persons with special needs and not as disadvantaged. The committee agreed to reformulate the clause.

Section 8(4) enables a municipal council to establish advisory committees to advise the council on any matter within the council's competence. The DP and ACDP argued that advisory councils should include councillors. Mr Smith (IFP) thought that 8(4) should be taken out since it created confusion. He felt the clause would be too restrictive in allowing councils to set up committees. Dr Bauer stated the intention of the clause was to create a mechanism to further public participation, and to facilitate co-operative discussions between the council and the community. Mr Africa added that this clause was an attempt to institutionalise public participation. The committee did not come to any agreement.

Clause 9: Promotion of public participation
Ms Borman (DP) proposed that municipalities should only strive to build the capacity of communities if it was within their financial and administrative capabilities. The Chair agreed in principle, but felt that if mention was made of financial and administrative capabilities in this section, it would also have to be included in numerous other sections. Mr Smith (IFP) pointed out that this clause dealt with the promotion of communication, and so finances and administration were irrelevant.

The Chair asked the department to look into the possibility of including a provision at the beginning of the bill that took into account the financial and administrative capacity of municipalities. He added it was important that this bill not overburden municipalities in their attempts to capacity-build.

The Chair questioned whether provision should be made for public participation in the provincial budget. The department responded that minimal procedures for public participation were already set out in Chapter 4 of the Public Finance Management Act. It was decided that it would not be plausible for each council to establish budgetary allotments for public participation.

Clause 10: Public notice of meetings of municipal councils
The committee debated the meaning of public notice. It was thought that municipalities would not have the capacity to ensure that all members of the municipality could be made aware of urgent or ordinarily scheduled meetings of council. Mr Smith suggested that meeting times be included on electricity and water bills, but it was still debated whether that would reach the entire municipality. The committee was in agreement that the current method of posting a schedule outside of the Council building was not sufficient. Members were unsure how to ensure public notice would reach the entire municipality. It was put forth that the bill enforce mechanisms that would bring about full public participation. Dr Bauer stated that it would not be possible to prescribe such mechanisms into law.

The committee could not reach a decision. The Chair concluded that unless a member could submit a more acceptable version, the clause would remain as is.

Clause 11: Admission of public to meetings
Mr Smith (IFP) thought the content of 11(1) was confusing. He suggested that the clause be replaced by section 160(7) of the Constitution. The Chair disagreed, stating it was too general.

The Chair suggested a clause be added to allow for appeals against closed meetings. Ms Manche, Acting Deputy Director-General for the Department of Provincial and Local Government, felt appeals would cause delays, and allow for well organised lobby groups to hinder the council's ability to function properly. The Chair asked that a clause be drawn up for appeal procedures, and the committee would decide if it was problematic.

It was proposed that 11(2) be deleted. It states that a municipal council must give 14 days notice that a meeting will be closed to the public. It was thought the clause did not account for meetings that would be scheduled due to emergencies. The Chair asked the department to determine whether or not emergency meetings would be covered under 11(1)(a) and (b), and for advice on how to limit the scope of closed meetings.

Ms Borman (DP) argued that 11(3) was in direct conflict of section 160(7) of the Constitution. 160(7) stated that a municipal council must conduct it's business in an open manner, and may only close its sittings when it is deemed reasonable due to the nature of the business conducted. 11(3) allows the executive committee to close all of it's meetings without just cause. The committee was unsure as to whether there was a conflict since the bill refers to the executive committee, whilst the Constitution refers to municipal councils. The Chair asked that the Department investigate the matter.

The meeting was adjourned.

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