Local Government: Municipal Structures Bill: deliberations

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

06 September 1998
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
7 September 1998
LOCAL GOVERNMENT: MUNICIPAL STRUCTURES BILL [B68-98]

SUMMARY
This meeting opened with a contentious discussion of whether to vote on the constitutional amendments being considered by the committee. After the committee decided to postpone the meeting, the chair briefly discussed the status of the Council of Traditional Leaders Bill. Then the third part of the meeting began: a clause-by clause discussion of the Local Government: Municipal Structures Bill (B68-98) led by Dr. Olver, assistant director-general in the Department of Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development. The committee covered clauses two through six before adjournment.

DETAILED MINUTES
Amendments to the Constitution
The committee chair, Mr. Yunus Carrim of the ANC, called the meeting to order and stated that Mr. Watty Watson of the National Party had requested that the vote on the constitutional amendments before the committee be delayed until Wednesday, 9 September. The chair expressed his reluctance to postpone the vote since voting had already been delayed from Friday, 4 September, at the behest of the National Party.

Mr. Watson stated that he required approval of certain key NP structures in order to vote for the amendments, and he had not been able to secure approval over the weekend. He believed he could obtain approval given additional time.

The chair asked if members of the press were present. Noting that they were, he remarked that he would have to choose his words carefully. He then asked for comments from the other opposition parties. Mr. Colin Eglin of the Democratic Party stated that he believed a 24-hour delay was appropriate. Mr. Peter Smith of the IFP expressed support for a 48 hour delay. A representative of the PAC asked that the date be set firmly.

Ms. Verwoerd of the ANC observed that while the National Party had condemned the ANC recently for blocking progress on key legislation, in this committee the NP was responsible for obstruction.

The chair stated that the ANC was willing to engage in discussion with any party that offered objections to the content of the amendments or other bills before the committee. The chair accepted the NP’s request to postpone the vote on the amendments until Wednesday because Mr. Watson affirmed that the National Party’s reservations about the amendments had to do with content.

Council of Traditional Leaders Bill
The chair then discussed the status of the Council of Traditional Leaders Bill. He stated that the ANC did not see strong arguments for or against the Bill. He said the ANC would likely vote for the Bill if one minor change was made. The vote was scheduled for Wednesday. The NP stated that it would definitely vote for the Bill.

Local Government: Municipal Structures Bill.
After settling these procedural matters, the chair asked Dr. Olver of the Department of Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development to lead a discussion on the first clauses of the Local Government: Municipal Structures Bill.

Discussion began with clause 2. Professor du Toit of the ANC suggested relaxing the criteria for Category A municipalities, providing greater flexibility to the minister. Mr. Smith stated that the IFP sees the criteria set out in the clause as too broad and suggested using population size and density figures instead to differentiate Category A municipalities from Category B and C municipalities. Mr. Eglin expressed reservation over the term ‘conurbation.’

Dr. Olver responded that a ‘conurbation’ is widely understood to be ‘an agglomeration of cities’ that have become economically integrated over time. Dr. Olver stated that the problem with loosening criteria was that several secondary cities such as Pietermaritzburg, East London, and Port Elizabeth may attempt to become Category A municipalities. The Department, he said, recommends retaining fairly strict requirements for Category A. Use of population size and density as criteria was not appropriate, he said, because the areas within which these would be measured would be difficult to define.

The chair expressed concern that if some of South Africa’s secondary cities became Category A municipalities, the rural municipalities around them would be unable to function properly because they would lack the links with and support of the urban areas envisioned as their mainstays.

Mr. Eglin suggested inserting a clause allowing for the minister responsible to review the categorization of municipalities occasionally to determine if their categorization remains correct.

When asked why he was remaining silent, Mr. Watson said that the NP wished clause 2 to be rewritten to allow for a double-tier system of government in Category A municipalities.

The chair asked the department and Professor du Toit to discuss the wording in clause 2 to ensure that it reflects the committee’s desire to allow the minister some flexibility in making decisions on categorization.

Mr. Smith stated that the IFP opposed the Bill’s assignment of final responsibility for categorization to the minister. The IFP believes that these decisions should be made by the provinces.

Dr. Olver stated that the Department believed that the categorization decisions were more a national matter than a provincial matter since the decisions require consistency nationwide and involve the areas that generate most of the country’s GDP.

Prof. du Toit asked if the way that Category B and C municipalities are defined in the clause 3 of the Bill (as areas which do not qualify as Category A municipalities) was constitutional. The Department’s legal counsel offered the opinion that this classification was necessary and constitutional.

The chair stated that the ANC believes the Bill is on "reasonably solid" constitutional ground so that no more objections should be raised to the Bill’s constitutionality. The differences that remain to be worked out, he said, are political. Constitutional questions will be decided by the constitutional court.

Mr. Smith stated that the provisions in clause 4(2) requiring consultation are not constitutionally necessary. Mr. Smith asked what ‘consultation’ involves, querying whether it affords the consulted parties power over the decision-making process or is simply an empty gesture.

Dr. Olver stated the consultation did not confer decision-making authority on the parties consulted, but did give an opportunity to important parties to bring additional information and facts to the attention of the minister, and to make arguments that may influence the minister’s decision.

Prof. du Toit suggested that SALGA be included as one of the parties that must be consulted. Dr. Olver noted that this was being considered in an amendment.

Mr. Watson stated that the NP opposed inclusion of SALGA because its input would likely override the input offered by the provincial local government associations. Mr. Eglin stated that SALGA’s expertise was in operation of local government and did not have the national perspective necessary to contribute effectively to the categorization process. On behalf of the DP, Mr. Smith opposed the addition of SALGA, remarking that SALGA often adopts positions that exclude minority views.

The chair adjourned the meeting at 13h00, stating that clause-by-clause discussion would continue Tuesday, 8 September at 09h00.

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