Though the ANC has previously made moves to devolve power away from municipalities towards the national government, one suggestion buried deep in one of the discussion documents seeks to move power in the opposite direction, in the areas of housing and transport regulation. It’s a change so significant that it would necessitate a constitutional amendment. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
In its “Legislature and Governance” discussion document, the ANC has asked its commissions to take a close look at the functioning of provinces, with a view to change the system to allow for more flexibility. The document bemoans the “one size fits all” approach that the government has tended to have with municipalities, and wants to replace it with a more flexible system that will allow national and provincial governments to interfere to a greater degree in needier municipalities, and to a lesser degree in the wealthier ones.
The document says, “Although great strides have been made in extending access to services, there is a need to fast-track delivery. Given the different landscapes within which municipalities operate, the division of powers and functions need to take these differences into account. Although each and every municipality is unique and will require different service delivery responses, there are two broad categories within which municipalities fall namely, (a) metros and large cities; and (b) smaller and more rural municipalities.
The document continues: “There has been a deliberate increase in the amount of differentiation in the local government system in recent years. However, there is still significant scope for the possibility of further differentiation in a number of areas.”
The document then makes several recommendations:
Further devolution of functions to cities – full accreditation for the housing function and the transport regulatory function. Both of these functions are necessary for cities to be able to plan properly, integrate urban environments and change the apartheid spatial patterns of development they have inherited.
Infrastructure funding for cities and rural municipalities – Cities have very different infrastructure needs and planning capacities to rural municipalities. Cities require more integrated infrastructure funding whereas other municipalities require more guidance and assistance with their infrastructure.
Differentiated capacity interventions – Different municipalities have very different levels of capacity and so it makes sense to provide very different forms of capacity support in different municipalities. The type of capacity support appropriate for metros in planning their built environments will be very different to the type of capacity interventions that are appropriate in rural municipalities.
The document also recommends that certain municipalities be given special revenue-raising powers. It doesn’t say what those special powers might be, only that they will be given to municipalities that struggle to make revenue by normal means.
Because housing is a national and provincial prerogative, it could mean that the ANC is mulling a constitutional amendment. However, this could turn out to be something of an own goal for the ANC, should it pass into law. Municipalities are consistently ranked as the least capable in terms of delivering services, and housing has been a relative success precisely because it has been the problem of more capable provincial and national government. Rural municipalities would definitely struggle with delivering housing at the same level of service as national and provincial governments have.
However, ANC head of policy Jeff Radebe said at the second day’s press briefing that the ANC wasn’t contemplating constitutional changes for now. He was responding to a question about President Jacob Zuma’s call for a more radical approach in economic transformation, but his answer made it seem like constitutional change was off the table for all discussions.
“We have no intentions on the part of the ANC to change the Constitution at this point,” Radebe said.
In 2009, the ANC began to discuss a 17th constitutional amendment bill, which would grant national government a far greater say in how municipalities are run. The Democratic Alliance, which governs the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape, were very unhappy with this proposal. Its leader, Helen Zille, said the ANC was trying to gain control of municipalities it had lost in elections.
The co-operative governance minister at the time, Sicelo Shiceka, made it clear that the point of this proposed constitutional amendment was to bring the entire country in line with the national government.
Discussions are likely to centre on the proposed job-seeker grant. In his opening speech on Tuesday, Zuma said, “I am one of those who spoke of a need for some subsidy to be introduced. The question we are asking here is how can we create a bridge between the youth coming out of our universities and those who are employed?”
Delegates must debate what form the grant, which was suggested by the ANC Youth League and the National Youth Development Agency, must take.
Radebe pointed out that the grant isn’t meant to be the controversial youth wage subsidy being introduced via the back door.
“The job-seekers’ grant is not a replacement of the youth wage subsidy,” Radebe said.
The main opponent of the youth wage subsidy is Cosatu. The union federation’s general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi declined to opine on the new grant, saying, “I don't know what that is: I still need to find out the details.”
Cosatu has called for an integrated programme for youth that will include sport activities, training and development programmes.
Delegates will continue deliberations on Thursday, with different commission heads meeting at regular intervals with the media to brief them on what the outcomes of the debates are. DM
Photo: ANC's Jackson Mthembu, Jeff Radebe and Jessie Duarte (Greg Nicolson)