Despite much that is positive in the transformation of local government, the IFP believes that present government policy is often ideologically driven, is not affordable or viable, and that it fails to adequately provide for a vibrant system of local government which satisfies the needs and aspirations of all South Africans.
Purpose of local government
Local government has a major role to play in the governmental system of South Africa. It is responsible for the delivery of a wide array of services such as the provision of infrastructure and for promotion of local economic development, as well as for the promotion of local democracy. It is, moreover, responsible for funding most of its activities from its own sources. It must be recognised however, that there are limits to what local government can do, and attempts to inflate its role above that which is realistic is counter-productive. Not only does it undermine the faith in the local government system, but it also supports unrealistic expectations, and underpins poor resource allocation.
Types of local government
The Constitution of South Africa requires that national government determine the types of local government which may be established in, and by, the provinces. The IFP believes that this should be a provincial competence, but beyond that, they believe in there being a sufficient number of local government types to satisfy the imperatives of efficiency, redistribution, democracy and genuine choice. The IFP rejects the notion of institutional uniformity throughout the country since there are differences between and within provinces which should legitimately be reflected in local government models.
In metropolitan areas, provision should thus be made for a range of local government types; from weak to strong metro government (with corresponding strong to weak local councils or substructures), or even no metro government at all. Provinces should select, from this range, the type or types most appropriate to their metropolitan area or areas. The IFP is opposed to the establishment of so-called “mega-cities”.
The form of local government in non-metropolitan areas must account for the co-existence of traditional communities, commercial agriculture and a wide range of urban settlements, and requires different types of municipalities. Given the relative dearth of resources outside of most metropolitan areas, a two-tier system is the most suitable. The IFP believe however, that the autonomy of local councils should reflect their administrative capacity, subject to the region or district remaining at all times responsible for regional planning and development.
Traditional authorities should be entitled to exercise the local government powers and functions which have been delegated to them by their communities. Provinces should be permitted to ensure that traditional communities vote directly for regional/district councils.
Local government and other spheres of government
No sphere of government is autonomous, and this applies equally to local government. Local government is subject to the powers of national government which, in turn, regulates every significant, and indeed, many insignificant aspects of its operation. Since the present national government appears to be fixated by uniformity and inclines towards the frequent prevention of local choice, in certain key respects the status of local government has improved more in name than substance. The IFP believes in promoting local choice where appropriate, which connotes the right of elected representatives to genuinely govern. The ballot box, rather than big brother, should provide the ultimate corrective to bad governance.
The IFP believe that the South African Constitution was deliberately drafted to emasculate provinces, and this is particularly pronounced with respect to local government. Moreover, the IFP is concerned that local government sometimes competes with, undermines and attempts, at times, to supplant the role of provincial government. Since in many respects, local government requires hands-on co-ordination, the IFP believes the constitution should be amended to grant provinces, which are far closer to the problems of local government than the national government, far more discretion than presently exists with respect to policy formulation on, and executive oversight of, local government.
Viability of municipalities is crucial to the success of the local government system. There is little point in creating institutions and granting them expansive powers and functions if they are unlikely to be able to exercise those powers or fulfil those functions.
Since finance is a key component of viability, municipalities should, by definition, be financially sound or have the potential to become so within a realistic period. This suggests the capacity to generate revenue, to develop and adhere to budgets, and to pursue sound financial management practices.
Viability also implies that institutions of local government are capable of delivery, which entails professional staffing, strategic planning and adequate physical resources. If not, then delivery should take place by other means, such as via provincial governments or single or multi-purpose delivery institutions, or through acknowledging that certain types of local government will have limited powers and functions in comparison with others.
Finally, viability also denotes institutions of local government which are acceptable and accountable to the people. A co-operative rather than antagonistic approach towards traditional authorities would contribute towards this endeavour, given that a very large percentage of our population lives in traditional areas.
The largely self-financing basis of viable local government should be retained, with every effort made to enhance the financial capacity of weaker municipalities through promoting the development of their tax bases. For all municipalities, this includes extending the rates base to previously unrated urban areas and securing payment for services.
It should be recognised however, that in many areas there is often very limited revenue generating potential. Local government’s entitlement to an equitable share of national revenue must therefore take existing resources into account, and grants from national government should be made to those municipalities most in need of assistance. Such grants however, should be made through the provinces since they are best placed to disburse funds, and to determine priorities.
Great care should be taken to ensure that municipalities are not handed functions, by national or provincial government, for which funding is not available. Unfunded mandates are irresponsible and are unfair to municipalities and their taxpayers.
The principle of redistribution via a single tax base is necessary, and remains an important justification of a two-tier system. However, the existing distribution of certain taxes (such as RSC levies) needs to be reviewed, both in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. Though provision may be made for additional sources of revenue (such as a fuel levy), it is extremely important that the burden on taxpayers is minimised.
Improving the efficiency of local government
South Africa cannot afford a system of local government which fails to maximise the benefits of the country’s limited resources.
The IFP therefore believe that local government should not be permitted to become a bureaucratic burden on taxpayers. Local government should be “lean and mean”, and the costs to the taxpayers in terms of administration and remuneration of municipal councillors should represent a realistic ratio to its budget, tax base and services rendered. Municipalities should moreover refrain from viewing themselves as the only provider of services. Ideally, they should only perform those functions which the private sector cannot perform more cost effectively with comparable levels of service. At the very least, public sector/private sector partnerships should be pursued more vigorously. Local government should also be truly customer focused, with a greater orientation towards both public accountability and public service. Municipalities should be required to operate on more commercial lines, denoting budgeting in terms of strategic planning.