Local Government: Municipal Structures Bill: discussion

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

01 September 1998
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

1 September 1998

This meeting was convened for the purpose of providing each opposition party represented on the committee the opportunity to offer an overview of its concerns about the Local Government: Municipal Structures Bill (B68-98). Presentations of approximately twenty minutes were made by representatives of the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Democratic Party, and the National Party. Minister of Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development Valli Moosa responded to their concerns in a twenty-minute presentation of his own. Brief discussion among representatives of all parties followed.

The committee chair, Mr Yunus Cassim of the ANC, explained that the meeting would provide each opposition party the opportunity to express in broad terms its key concerns about the Local Government: Municipal Structures Bill. The chair noted the presence of Minister Valli Moosa and stated that the minister would respond to concerns raised after all the presentations were complete.

Peter Smith of the Inkatha Freedom Party made the first presentation. He stated that he wished to raise four main points. First, the IFP believes that much of the Bill is currently unconstitutional. The IFP advises discarding 50% to 60% of the Bill.

Second, the IFP believes that the Bill does not allow municipalities adequate autonomy. While recognizing that the Constitution places limits on the autonomy of local government, the IFP holds that the Bill overregulates municipalities.

Third, the IFP objects to the failure of the Bill to allow for more than one option for government of metropolitan areas. Mr Smith stated that every party other than the ANC opposes the provision of only one option for metropolitan government: the megacity. He stated the IFP was not opposed to the megacity concept itself; rather, the IFP believes that it should be one of several options available to metropolitan areas. The IFP would support the Bill if it provided a range of options, including two-tier systems, and allowed each province with a metropolitan area to select the option that suited it best. This approach, the IFP contended, would allow for experimentation that would lead to identification of best practices and overall strengthening of metropolitan government in the long term. Mr Smith noted that he has found few examples of the megacity concept in his reading on international experiences of government of metropolitan areas.

Fourth, the IFP is "totally dissatisfied" with the types of rural local government provided for in the Bill. The IFP believes that the government options for rural areas should be expanded. In particular, the IFP advocates adding the system in use in KwaZulu-Natal, which allows a high degree of participation by traditional authorities.

Colin Eglin of the Democratic Party made the second presentation. He began by stating that he and the DP were highly disappointed with the Bill. He stated that he felt most of the input provided by opposition parties and the public during the Green Paper and White Paper formulation process had been disregarded by the ANC and the Department of Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development.

Mr Eglin stated that some key areas of the Bill were unconstitutional, asserting that the Bill would certainly be challenged in the constitutional court unless changes recommended by the opposition were made.

Mr Eglin stated that the Bill was excessively prescriptive and obtrusive, asserting that it did not reflect the intentions of the Constitution to allow for substantial local government independence. He held that in the early periods of South Africa’s new democracy, experimentation with local government systems should be facilitated in order to allow the development of a diverse body of experience.

Mr Eglin stated that the DP opposed the Bill’s "imposition" of a single-tier system of metropolitan government. He noted that arguments that the current 2-tier system is not working cannot be supported because the 2-tier system is very young, having been established only three years ago. In the Western Cape, the 2-tier system is making progress toward its objectives despite having been required to integrate more than 60 municipalities into 6 substructures.

The DP agrees that metropolitan areas should be treated as a single financial resource base, and agrees that redistribution of resources within the area should be facilitated. The DP also recognizes that coordination in bulk purchasing and other areas of logical cooperation should be promoted across an entire metropolitan area.

The DP believes that smaller units of local government are better equipped to manage resources, deliver services, and facilitate popular participation than larger units.

The DP believes it is "nonsense" to put areas as geographically distant as Gordon’s Bay and Atlantis under a single metropolitan administration.

Mr Eglin asserted that the metropolitan local councils (MLCs) provided for in the Bill are "constitutional fig leaves" to conceal a single-tier system. He argued that because these MLCs do not have original and substantive powers, they are doomed to inefficacy and failure.

Mr Eglin stated that the DP is concerned about the position of executive mayor and the mayor’s power to delegate power to a committee that he appoints. The DP is worried that neither the mayor nor his/her council is elected and is therefore not accountable to the public. The DP also perceives problematic overlap in the responsibilities of the executive mayor and the metropolitan CEO.

Armiston Watson of the National Party made the third presentation. He stated that the NP agrees with the IFP and the DP on most points raised. He claimed that many people across the country have been raising similar objections to no avail; he feels that these objections have had little effect on the policymaking process.

Mr Watson stated that the NP feels the Bill fails to realize the vision of local government set out in the Constitution. He said that his fears about the Bill’s fundamental construction of local government were confirmed when Advocate Trengove’s opinion made it clear that the Bill treats local government as tantamount to a line function of national government. He feels that this violates the spirit and intent of the drafters of the Constitution.

The drafters of the Constitution also intended a two-tier system for metropolitan areas, Mr Watson stated. The NP acknowledges the right of the government to introduce the option of a one-tier system, but strongly believes that other options should be allowed.

Mr Watson pointed out that the current restructuring of metropolitan areas has cost more than R500 million in the Western Cape alone, and a second restructuring under the terms of this Bill will be costly.

Mr Watson stated that the NP believes the Minister Of Constitutional Development And Provincial Affairs should have no role in deciding the types of government established in metropolitan areas; this power should lie solely with the provincial government.

Like the DP, the NP is concerned about the Bill’s provisions for appointed executive mayors and their appointed councils; this dual delegation of powers seems undemocratic and inappropriate.

Like the IFP, the NP believes that a wide range of types of local government should be available for selection.

Overall, the NP feels that the Bill is unconstitutional, unfair, and not responsive to the needs of "the people."

After the three opposition parties made their presentations, Minister Valli Moosa delivered a response.

Mr Moosa stated that local government reform is one of the greatest challenges that the national government is facing because of the diversity of local circumstances and the power of vested interests in localities. He noted that many countries are unable to undertake fundamental local government reform because of the depth of their entrenched interests and said that South Africa is unlikely to undertake a local government reform process on this scale again.

Mr Moosa stated that the key criterion for local government should be: are citizens receiving value for money? Local government, he said, should develop a business-like approach to service delivery.

Mr Moosa noted that nearly all South African institutions, including the private sector and unions, support some level of national government involvement in the regulation of local government. National government needed to provide some structure to local government in order to prevent a "free-for-all" proliferation of local government types with little coherence or rationality.

Mr Moosa stated that his ministry has received complaints about a widespread lack of accountability of local councils and councillors to their constituents. He said that the Bill is intended to enhance accountability and democracy at local level.

Mr Moosa agreed with the opposition parties that every effort should be made to ensure the Bill is completely constitutional. He recognized that the final determination of its constitutionality would be made by the constitutional court, not Parliament.

Mr Moosa stated that the government did not enter the local government policymaking process almost two years ago having predetermined the results; rather, the ANC’s thinking on local government developed as the Green and White Papers were drafted.

Mr Moosa stated that many of the opposition’s concerns about MLCs are unfounded; he emphasized that while their powers might not be original, they can be substantive. He stated that metropolitan areas should be allowed to determine the responsibilities and authority of their MLCs themselves, without interference by national government.

Mr Moosa noted that the megacity structure was necessary in South Africa’s metropolitan areas because of the need for coordination across a metropolitan area in key sectors, including transport, energy, water, and tourism. Also, megacities would be more competitive in the increasingly globalized market. He noted that support for the megacity concept was growing, even among people who had once been vehemently opposed to it.

Mr Moosa stated that he is convinced that tribal authorities play a crucial role in South Africa. He noted that tribal courts effectively resolve many problems in rural areas, usually by mediation toward consensus rather than by punishment. Without these authorities, magistrates would be hopelessly overloaded. He also recognized their important role in administration of land.

Mr Moosa stated that tribal authorities are not local governments, however, and do not easily lend themselves to service delivery. He stated that strong cooperation between tribal authorities and local government should be established throughout South Africa’s rural areas so that the limited resources in rural communities can be utilized to the maximum benefit of all rural residents.

Mr Moosa stated that there is room for improvement of the Bill and noted that amendments will be made. He stated that some objections to the Bill are raised in the interest of maintaining inequality and inequity in South Africa. He encouraged all committee members to propose amendments that they consider appropriate.

The chair, Mr Carrim, stated that the opposition had been unfair in alleging that the ANC had not considered the input provided by opposition parties and the public. The chair held that the ANC had been open to new ideas throughout the policy formulation process. He noted that many people’s views were not represented in the testimony before the committee, stating that most South Africans do not have access to cell phones or faxes. The chair concluded by remarking that many visitors to South Africa consider the local government section of the constitution, chapter 7, to be the most interesting and important part of the democratic dispensation provided for in the constitution.

Mr Smith of the IFP stated that it remained his opinion that the public input process on the local government White and Green Papers served largely to legitimize the government’s prior decision to require all metropolitan areas to develop a megacity government.

Mr Watson of the NP asked if there was still scope for negotiation on increasing the options available in metropolitan areas.

Mr Eglin of the DP argued that the powers of MLCs should be specified in the legislation so that they could not be revoked by the city council or by the national government.

Mr Moosa responded that the department envisioned that in metropolitan areas, the city council would draft a founding charter that specifies the power of MLCs.

Mr Moosa stated that the parties seemed to be drawing nearer and should continue discussing contentious areas of the Bill.

The chair adjourned the meeting at 11h00.


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