Municipal Structures Bill: discussion

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

22 October 1998
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
23 October 1998
MUNICIPAL STRUCTURES BILL [B68-98]: DISCUSSION

Documents handed out:
Amendments for consideration (Municipal Structures Bill): 23 October 1998

SUMMARY
This meeting was the culmination of more than four months of debate and discussion in this committee on the Local Government: Municipal Structures Bill (B68-98). Several final amendments were discussed, then a quorum was assembled. After the committee voted, members of the ANC and each of the opposition parties stated their perspectives and positions on the Bill and on the committee’s process of considering it.

DETAILED MINUTES
The meeting began with a discussion of several minor amendments. The amendment that required the most attention was a proposed change to clause 81(3), which concerns the involvement of traditional authorities in local government decisions that affect the areas under the authorities. The Bill stated that the local government must "consult" all relevant traditional authorities before taking a decision affecting their areas. An ANC MP expressed the concern that the term ‘consult’ was too binding, stating that local governments could be paralyzed if they are required to wait for input from traditional authorities. The IFP and the NP supported the use of the term ‘consult.’ On the advice of the ANC’s Professor D. du Toit, the committee decided to replace the term ‘must consult’ with the phrase "must give the traditional authority the opportunity to express a view on the matter."

Once this issue was settled, the chairperson, Y. Carrim of the ANC, asked the committee’s whip to assemble the ANC members needed to amass a quorum. Then the chairperson proposed a procedure for voting on the Bill. Because it has been amended so many times, he suggested a departure from the norm of voting clause-by-clause on the Bill as amended. Instead, he proposed that the Bill be voted on as an amended, consolidated unit by a single yes-or-no vote. The committee agreed unanimously to accept this procedure. The committee then voted on the Bill by a show of hands. All members of the ANC voted for the Bill. All members of the IFP and NP voted against it. The lone DP representative was not eligible to vote. The Bill passed.

Following passage of the Bill, the chairperson offered the opposition parties an opportunity to express their views on the legislation. P. Smith of the IFP stated that the Bill was "the most undesirable piece of legislation this committee has considered." He said that the IFP would launch a challenge to the Bill in the Constitutional Court. He expressed concern that each of the five bills that were being passed in Parliament were likely to face challenges in the Constitutional Court. He stated his view that the ANC had insufficient respect for the Constitution. He thanked the chairperson for accommodating input and the officials from the Department of Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development for working long hours throughout the process of considering the Bill.

W. Watson of the NP stated that he shared most of Mr. Smith’s views. He stated the NP’s position that much of the Bill was unconstitutional and would be struck down by the Constitutional Court, necessitating more work in the committee to redraft the Bill. Mr. Watson said that the NP approved of the way that the debate was handled in the committee.

The DP representative stated that the DP was "strenuously opposed to this piece of legislation" and believed the Bill was fundamentally unconstitutional. He said that the DP considered the Bill unnecessarily intrusive into the affairs of local government and civil society. He stated that the legislation was so flawed that it would be virtually impossible to implement even if most of the clauses were to be judged constitutional.

The chairperson then offered members of the ANC the opportunity to make brief closing remarks regarding the Bill. Professor du Toit described the lengthy process of considering the Bill, involving many amendments and hundreds of hours, as a good example of how Parliament should work. He acknowledged the right of the opposition parties to raise objections to the Bill in the Constitutional Court. Another ANC MP stated that she felt confident that the Court would find the Bill fully constitutional.

M. Verwoerd of the ANC stated that the legacies of apartheid are felt most acutely at local level. She stated that local government was the sphere of government that had not yet been transformed and democratized fully. She said that the Bill expresses the vision of the ANC for transformation of local government.

Representatives of the IFP and the NP asserted that their parties also supported transformation.

The chairperson began his closing remarks by observing that all parties agree on the need for transformation, but they differ significantly on the scope and pace necessary. He stated that the opposition parties would eventually have to accept the ANC’s vision for transformation in local government. He expected that any changes that might be required by the Constitutional Court would be minor and said that all future amendments to the Bill will be made within the framework established by the White Paper on Local Government.

The chairperson characterized the process of considering the Bill as "highly consultative." He stated that the persistence of the opposition’s objections to the Bill and the high quality of many of its inputs was appreciated by the committee leadership and the ANC. He said that the ANC did not agree with all the suggestions offered, but the ANC does respect them. He stated that the ANC study group on local government had met for long hours to address many issues raised by the opposition. He said that many of the concerns expressed by the opposition parties, and particularly by Mr. Smith of the IFP, would be incorporated during implementation of the Bill during the next two years.

The chairperson thanked the committee and adjourned the meeting.




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