Municipal changes will boost delivery

With local government elections set for next year, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Pravin Gordhan discusses the importance of reforming municipal structure to ensure optimal governance and service delivery.

elections articleSouth Africans queue to vote in the 2014 national elections. (Image: The Presidency)

Pravin Gordhan Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Pravin Gordhan

South Africans are no doubt looking forward to the local government elections next year. They are an important because municipalities form the first line of contact between citizens and government.

Since 1994 our nation has undergone many changes. But for all our success we are still plagued by issues from our past.

Among them is the need to review governance structures, including municipal structures. There are municipalities that struggle to deliver services because of insufficient revenue and inadequate governance.

The Back-to-Basics programme analysed municipalities across the country and found about a third to be dysfunctional. This was determined by measuring economic and financial viability, tax sustainability and dependence on inter-governmental transfers.

Measures to address these challenges are aimed at ensuring sustainability and viability. The measures include direct interventions in cases where laws have been flouted or municipalities lack the capacity to deliver services. They also include strengthening district municipalities so that they deliver services. In certain cases there is a need to disestablish and amalgamate local municipalities to improve governance and functionality.

The eagle-eyed would by now have noticed that the changes tend to coincide with municipal elections. There is a small window to make changes between local government election cycles. Having consulted all MECs responsible for local government in the provinces, the Ministry for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs requested the Municipal Demarcation Board in terms of section 22(2) of the Local Government: Municipal Demarcation Act of 1998 to determine/re-determine the boundaries of various municipalities based on assessments conducted by the Department of Cooperative Governance.

There were 25 specific requests in respect of seven provinces, with a total of 61 municipalities affected. There are also another 15 municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal where the request to the Board requires adjustments to municipal boundaries to align traditional rural communities.

Historically, these changes have been met with only limited opposition. The process is open and transparent and any proposed change must pass legislative muster.

Proposed changes are first scrutinised by the Board, which is an independent body that derives its mandate from the Constitution, the Municipal Demarcation Act, and the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act of 1998.

In 1993, provincial boundaries were formed using the erstwhile magisterial districts and 843 municipalities were created. This was not sustainable as municipal areas were based on skewed settlement patterns, great spatial separations and disparities between towns, townships and urban areas.

After the 2000 municipal elections, the number of municipalities was reduced to 284. There were also 16 cross-boundary municipalities that were created affecting five provinces.

After a further review in 2006 the number of municipalities was reduced from 284 to 283. Further change was implemented in 2011 when 283 municipalities were reduced to 278.

The proposal to establish 267 municipalities post the 2016 municipal elections demonstrates the continuous evolution of our system of local government, and should be seen within the context to build a capable state. It should be seen as the first phase towards addressing non-viable municipalities.

The latest round of proposed demarcations will, no doubt, illicit strong responses from various quarters. Robust debate is part of our democracy and is welcomed. Nonetheless, we believe that the proposed changes will lead to better governance and stronger functioning municipalities.

These changes are part of our Back-to-Basics approach to serve communities better. It prioritises the delivery of basic services, good governance, sound financial management and building capabilities.

The Board will determine whether the identified municipalities meet the objectives of demarcation, and the factors that must be taken into account when the boundaries are determined. In considering the request by the Minister, certain legislated requirements will be followed.

It must publish a notice in a newspaper circulating in the area concerned stating the intention to consider the matter and to also invite written representations from the public within a specified period, which may not be shorter than 21 days.

After this, the Board must consider all submissions, and may hold a public meeting, or conduct a formal investigation, or do both.

Thereafter, it must publish its determination or redetermination of a municipal boundary in the relevant Provincial Gazette, and any person aggrieved by a determination of a municipal boundary may within 30 days of publication of that determination submit objections in writing to the Board. Objections are then considered, and the Board must either confirm, vary or withdraw its determination. After having complied with the above requirements, the Board then publishes its decision in the relevant Provincial Gazette.

It is clear that the determination of municipal boundaries may only be undertaken by the Board, an independent institution which finds its origins in the Constitution. No politician, including myself, may determine boundaries.

This article was first published in the Sowetan on 24 March 2015.