South Africa: NCOP Charged With Mandate of Three-Tiered Governance

The parliamentary precinct in Cape Town couldn't be further away from the hurly burly of provincial government, and that has little to do with distance measured in kilometres. National Parliament is where legislation about service delivery is debated and if necessary amended; local government is where it is delivered - or should be.

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) therefore should not be regarded as Parliament's other Chamber, or worse, its second Chamber, although it also debates and votes on legislation as does the National Assembly (NA). The NCOP plays a critical further role that is often barely acknowledged or understood.

It represents legislatures at provincial and local level, effectively giving citizens who are at the coalface of service delivery a voice in the national Parliament. The NCOP makes the principle of South Africa's constitutionally determined three-tiered government into a reality and conducts the parliamentary duty of oversight at local and provincial level.

The NCOP is the only parliamentary institution in which the three levels of governance are represented together. Members of the NCOP are seated not according to party, as in the NA, but by province. To represent the third tier of government, local government, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), sits in the NCOP.

This makes the NCOP's rarely publicised sessions and regular outreach projects, such as Taking Parliament to the People, particularly significant. It bears the constitutional mandate of cooperative, multi-level governance, and the challenge of bringing local governance matters into the national domain.

'We are here to represent provinces and local government and whatever we do should assist them in furthering the ideals of service delivery.' -- Thandi Modise, NCOP Chair

At a high-powered breakfast held earlier this year, NCOP Chairperson, Thandi Modise said, "We have been interrogating ourselves as to what improvements are needed on our part to ensure that we straddle these spheres [of government]". And we need to do so effectively, she emphasised, because failure would "defeat the purpose entrusted to the NCOP by our Constitution".

Significantly, she also said at that meeting: "As NCOP, we no longer approve Bills that have been passed by the National Assembly without scrutiny or without considering our constitutional mandate. We seem to have awoken to the fact that we are here to represent provinces and local government and whatever we do should assist them in furthering the ideals of service delivery [rather] than the other way round."

It is in this context that it is worth considering an announcement made earlier this year that the NCOP's 2018 Local Government Week was not going to be business as usual. At the meeting in February a promise was made that this time it was going to be remodelled. Held early in May, and now done and dusted, this is a good time to examine just how effectively the NCOP carries out its inter-governmental mandate.

It certainly made a good start with its choice of theme, "Land use: Towards integrated and spatial planning". The NCOP's 6th annual Local Government Week programme aimed at national reflection on issues affecting local government to improve the lives of South Africans through accelerated service delivery. Areas of discussion include integrated planning, the provision of services and fiscal allocation for the development of local government.

Modise's opening speech was unusual, not only because she normally speaks off the cuff and this one looked to be carefully written, but because she went beyond the usual acknowledgement of the consequences of apartheid and colonialism and the resultant triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment. What was added was a challenge for a fresh look at inter-governmental relations in the context of inevitable and growing urban predominance.

She said our ugly history and "its enduring physical outcomes remain with us today until we do something and will continue to be a reminder to future generations of a past that should never have been. (Own emphasis.)

The significance of Modise's speech was that she did not stop at "the key challenges inherited from the colonial and apartheid eras" but went on to acknowledge that "Unfortunately, these inherited challenges, have, over the years, been compounded by other emerging local challenges, such as rapid urbanisation and the associated demographic changes; the increased demand for local service delivery and accompanying increased social discontent, unrest and contestation; the persistence of vested interests; financial austerity, fiscal constraints and the slow pace of social and economic transformation."

She did not go as far as to directly attribute any of the above social ills to failure on the part of the ANC government - nor was there any mention of the consequences of the billions drained from the fiscus by corruption at local government level - but it was a thoughtful and provocative speech that admitted quite frankly that municipalities are not coping with the reality of redressing apartheid's legacy of spatial injustice.

Her speech came across as an honest admission that South Africa has failed in many way to meet its obligations. She reminded participants that the National Development Plan (NDP) had to be more than words on paper "without meaning to our people".

The NDP challenges us "to rethink the urban to face the future challenges," she said, and to "grapple with this task and deal intelligently with social exclusion, environmental threats, economic inefficiencies, logistical bottlenecks, urban insecurity, decaying infrastructure and the impacts of new technologies."

"We must therefore use the opportunity to address some of the fundamental constraints hampering local government so that the sector has a more stable, sound and equitable policy, legislative and fiscal framework to deliver on the developmental mandate."

The speech was a blunt reminder that urbanisation is inevitable and increasing, that Africa may have relatively fewer urban residents but that its urbanization rates are today higher than anywhere else and that by 2050, 80% of South Africans will live in urban areas. What will this mean for the challenges already facing municipal government?

It set the tone for the three-day workshop, which considered the problem of rising municipal debt, recognising that it was a major stumbling block to municipal viability. Currently, municipalities are owed more than R138 billion by government departments, businesses and households. Delegates emphasised the need to establish district debt collection agencies to aid municipalities in collecting debt and early detection systems to enable monitoring and timely intervention through section 139 and section 154 of the Constitution.

This makes for an interesting constitutional dilemma. Section 154 of the Constitution states that national and provincial governments must support and strengthen the capacity of municipalities to manage their own affairs, while Section 139 states that the provincial government has a mandate to intervene to assist distressed municipalities. The question was whether this was the best route to development. "Do we call it intervention or interference?" was one of the main questions posed at Local Government Week.

It was recommended that a common national Municipal Support and Intervention Framework be developed and implemented across the country in municipalities requiring assistance. This would require the finalisation of the Monitoring and Intervention Bill.

Regarding land use, it was recommended that the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, higher education institutions and the South African Council for Planners establish a collaborative relationship to build capacity within municipalities to acquire, manage and govern land use. The general challenge identified was that planning for land use in municipalities was hindered by lack of skilled town planners, especially in rural municipalities. It was generally agreed that the role of traditional leaders in implementing the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) must be strengthened as they are critical stakeholders.

The urgent need for a water and sanitation master plan was also identified and it was agreed that stakeholders such as the Water Research Commission and higher education institutions must be approached to share innovations aimed at dealing with the sanitation challenge in municipalities. The current shortage of water meant government's plan to eradicate the bucket toilet system and improve sanitation in many communities was failing, the gathering conceded.

Delegates raised the problem of communities living next to big dams and other water sources but remaining unable to access this privately owned water, and called for an end to this kind of discrimination through improved integrated spatial planning in the future.

Modise reminded the delegates of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal 11: "Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable". She also referred to the African Union Agenda 2063 key objectives to "provide opportunities for all Africans to have decent and affordable housing in clean, secure and well planned environments".

Modise said, "Today we continue to face major settlement challenges as a country, which include the stubborn persistence of urban sprawl, racial and social separation and segregation, the erosion of settlement infrastructure and services, growing social exclusion, increasing crime, sluggish and jobless economic growth and the dwindling ecosystem services.

"This has had knock-on effects which has led to a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor and contributed to unemployment and poverty persisting with a concomitant impact on all aspects of the quality of life for the majority of South Africans who battle to make a daily living. South African cities and towns are among the most polarised in the world, with stark disparities in the living conditions between suburbs, townships and informal settlements. These divisions are underpinned by substantial gaps in income, health, education and crime level."

Modise went on to say, "Human beings have always been motivated to move about in search of better land, better resources and better opportunities. Mobility is mankind's oldest and most successful poverty fighter ... We need to look at mobility as bettering lives rather than depriving lives like in the past."

Moira Levy

Information sourced from website of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa.

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Author: Moira Levy

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