Is local government resourced to fulfil its mandate?

Community Law Centre’s researcher, Phindile Ntliziywana presented a paper at a roundtable organised by the South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) Parliamentary Liaison Office on 03 June 2015 in Cape Town. The roundtable was centred around discussions on local government, effective delivery and the devolution of power and the principle of subsidiarity.

The presentation by Ntliziywana sought to answer the question whether municipalities can do it, focussing on capacity constraints bedevilling local government. He shared his insights on the history of the capacity issues prevalent at local government, indicating the fact that during the transition there was ambivalence towards skills.

He said the fact that modern skills in South Africa were introduced as part of the ideological and technological apparatus of colonial domination and was later used by apartheid as a tool to exclude other races. As a result, come 1994, the ANC led Government of National Unity was confronted by a situation where skills had a human face. Skills were therefore associated with whiteness and in order to balance the equation, certain apartheid laws that excluded Africans from the mainstream of skills development were excluded. That left a lacuna which is the direct result of the current skills shortages.

He also discussed the panic response by national government, mainly, COGTA and National Treasury which amounted to duplication as they both sought to regulate human resource practices in municipalities. This panic response now threatens to suffocate municipalities as there are many “must” with which to comply. These ‘must’ constitute trip-wires which threaten the rule of law and compromise municipalities’ ability or impede on their right to exercise their powers or preform their functions. He called for future coordination between the two departments and the possible alignment of the Regulations that regulate HR practices. A single, coherent competency framework could do the trick.

Fr. Egan of the Jesuit Institute also unpacked the philosophical and theoretical basis of the principle of subsidiarity and Nishendra Moodley of PDG looked at the principle of subsidiarity in the context of the constitutional allocation of powers between local, district, provincial and national, among others.

The roundtable sought to answer the following questions: Is local government adequately empowered and resourced to fulfil its broad and extremely important mandate? How is local government located and treated within the tiers of government? How can the principle of subsidiarity be applied to governance within South Africa?

The audience at the roundtable was officials from government, NGOs, civil society, church.