Power: provincial versus municipal
Recent service-delivery protests in the Midvaal Local Municipality, where residents have been protesting about access to land and housing delivery for some time, have brought into sharp focus the value of a cordial and supportive relationship between local and provincial spheres of government. What complicates matters in our case is the difference in political affiliation between those who are in charge of the two administrations.
It is a matter of both legislative and constitutional reality that municipalities have been bestowed with certain powers and responsibilities in relation to their mandates on service delivery. Some of these powers and mandates reside concurrently with the provincial government, which has an enduring responsibility to support municipalities in their fulfilment and delivery. Precisely because municipalities are at the coalface of service delivery, it is imperative for both provincial and national government to empower and support municipalities to fulfil their obligations to citizens.
We have advanced the argument in the past that we need to rethink carefully whether South Africa needs provinces as a sphere of government. Where legislation and policy are an exclusive competence of national government and the provision of basic services such as water, electricity and infrastructure maintenance are at the door of municipalities, why overburden the structure of government by maintaining provinces as a sphere of government.
Perhaps we need to learn valuable lessons from countries such as Kenya, which has adopted what it calls a devolution strategy for government. Through this strategy, the authorities have deliberately created systems to empower local government with adequate resources and skills to enable them to deliver services to the people. In turn, the local representatives in these structures have now been re-energised to fulfil their mandate without the constraints of concurrent power. Such concurrent power, occasioned by the unnecessary existence of the provincial sphere of government, stifles the capacity of local government to perform optimally.
As the Midvaal municipality, we are proud of our service delivery record on all matters that are within our exclusive mandate and competence. We have, however, been constrained by concurrent power with provinces to fulfil certain expectations and service delivery needs of our local people.
The Housing Act of 1997 says municipalities must, as part of their “integrated development planning, take all reasonable and necessary steps within the framework of national and provincial housing legislation and policy” to, inter alia, ensure that “the inhabitants of their areas of jurisdiction have access to adequate housing on a progressive basis” and to “initiate, plan, coordinate, facilitate, promote and enable appropriate housing development”.
This provision, however, still requires the provincial government to provide us with the necessary support. As long as the structure of government remains as it is, we need to remind each other about our respective roles as prescribed by the Constitution of the republic.
This august system of laws enjoins the three spheres of government to work together to achieve the common goals of preserving the unity of the state, democratic and clean governance, accountability, stability and progress in the manner in which they perform their functions.
Despite our own misgivings regarding the continued existence of provinces as a sphere of government, we have an abiding duty to respect those constitutional imperatives.
In this responsibility, recognition has to be made that none of the spheres should dictate to or instruct another to comply with or perform certain functions outside its given mandate, but must attempt to cooperate in a spirit of mutual existence and camaraderie.
This brings us to another important principle of cooperative government and intergovernmental relations which also enjoins our counterparts in the Gauteng provincial government to cooperate constructively. The Constitution requires that, when a dispute or misunderstanding arises, the parties should try to sort matters out amicably in a spirit of openness and cooperation. Instead of ignoring our genuine calls for intervention, the provincial office needs to use the dispute resolution mechanism created for such to achieve the goals of cooperative government and intergovernmental relations.
As the Midvaal municipality, we remain forever open to engagement and deliberation in the quest for efficient service delivery, irrespective of our political views.
Does SA need provinces as a sphere of government?
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