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WATCH HERE: Gauteng Legislature discusses the Municipal Systems Amendment Bill

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The Gauteng Provincial Legislature’s Portfolio Committee on CoGTA and Human Settlements hosted a virtual roundtable discussion on the Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill [B2B-2019] (Sec 76) in order to provide a platform where stakeholders and members of the public could make an input on the Bill.  Facilitated by Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on  CoGTA and Human Settlements, Kedibone Diale, the discussion provided perspectives from various subject experts on the Bill. 

The issues that kept emerging in the discussion, which continued for about three hours, concerned the professionalisation of the municipal sector, in particular its managers: how they are appointed, trained and retained or dismissed. Another contentious issue is that municipal staff may not hold political office, but many involved in the webinar debate believe that this may be impossible to achieve, and may even be unconstitutional. 

The webinar was kicked off by Diale, who introduced and acknowledged the various panellists, stakeholders and speakers. She said one of the reasons for the webinar was that in 2016 the Local Government Act was challenged in the Higher Court in Pretoria in a dispute between SAMWU (South African Municipal Workers Union) and the then minister of CoGTA (Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs); the matter then went to the Constitutional Court. The court found that the Bill, tagged as a Section 75 Bill (an ordinary bill), should have been designated as a Section 76 Bill (a Bill affecting the provinces) because of the important role provinces play regarding municipalities.

The Local Government Municipal Systems Amendment Bill concerns the appointment of municipal managers (MMs) and managers directly accountable to MMs; to determine timeframes within which performance agreements of MMs and managers directly accountable to municipal managers must be concluded; to make further provision for the evaluation of the performance of MMs and managers directly accountable to MMs; to bar MMs and managers directly accountable to MMs from holding political office in political parties; to regulate the employment of municipal employees who have been dismissed and to provide for the Minister to make regulations relating to the duties, remuneration, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment of MMs and managers directly accountable to them.

Under-expenditure is an issue affecting most municipalities, as are fraud and corruption, said Diale. Labour disputes are using up money designated for service delivery. Local government is supposed to promote sustainable development and create employment. The round table discussion is held to encourage robust debate on the way forward.

The first presentation was made by Hamilton Moroape of the Gauteng Department of CoGTA. He said that the Bill, which largely concerns the appointment of senior managers, has been amended to make local government more sound and MMs more accountable. CoGTA in the main supports the Bill, which will help to professionalise local government, and attract qualified staff with the right skills. Politics and administration must be kept separate to prevent blurring of lines and to maintain stability. Municipalities perform according to how leaders perform, so performance expectations must be clarified. Issues that must be clarified concern acting periods of MMs, appointment reports, concurrence with MECs and in particular, consequences, regarding fulfilling duties and making full reports. Qualifications should not count as much as the competency of senior managers.

The next presentation was made by a national CoGTA representative, who said MECs and ministers must respond timeously to appointment decisions. No municipal staff may hold political office; they have 12 months to comply. Appointment of MMs may only take place after consultation with officials at many levels.

Diale then pointed out that there was attendance from many local government representatives at the webinar and provided some of their names.

 Dr Samuel Koma of the University of Pretoria (UP) focused on Section 54A and the appointment of MMs. He outlined four cases: a MM who lacked the relevant experience; one was reappointed without proper process; one had her salary reduced. The Bill regulates the process of appointments, which must be done with greater responsibility, and staff must not “wear two hats” by being linked to political parties.

Dr Onkgopotse Madumo of UP covered how the Bill is strengthening the appointment of senior municipal officials and making them more accountable. However there is still some vagueness concerning what the requisite experience and qualifications are for these positions. Is the prohibition of holding political office constitutional, asked Madumo? He also questioned the length of the employment contracts of MMs.

Sello Marokane of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) said his organisation has been extensively involved since 2016 in the process of the amendment of the Bill, and presented their final submission. SALGA was instrumental in the decision to exclude all municipal employees from being affiliated to political parties. The issue of concurrence concerning appointment of MMs was once again raised; municipalities can determine the length of MMs’ contracts to their own discretion. SALGA supports the Bill in general, said Marokane.

Corruption Watch’s Kavisha Pillay said the organisation had received several whistle-blower reports from the municipal level. The principles of public participation and transparency are not included in the Bill, but they should be, as local government should encourage community involvement in matters of local government, and especially, who is appointed to run them. This would result in the best people being put in the relevant positions; transparency will strengthen the appointment process. Corruption Watch believes that if anyone has been criminally convicted for financial misconduct, they should be permanently banned from further employment in the public sphere.

David Maimela welcomed the Bill and said it will lead to better outcomes. The professionalism of the public service must be deepened and sharpened. He spoke about a “single public service” and the concept of a “unitary state”. Which layer of bureaucracy should be opened to political deployment, he asked? The answer to this question has more to do with competency than political affiliation, he said.

Professor Tito Khalo welcomed the amendments to the Act that professionalise and depoliticise the public service. MM appointments must be advertised nationally, but what about head-hunting, will this not result in better appointments, he asked? He suggested that the exemption period for re-employment of five years be extended to 10 years for those who have been convicted for fraud or financial misconduct; there should be a “black book” where their names are recorded.

Professor Natasja Holtzhausen of UP said accountability in local government is essential — it is unacceptable that those who have been caught stealing from the public purse leave their jobs and then just pop up somewhere else. Dr Reginald Legoabe pointed out that research has shown that most service delivery protests concern basic infrastructure issues such as sanitation or water that municipalities are ill-equipped to deliver, due to a migration of experienced officials from the sector. They have largely been replaced by inexperienced, younger staff who have failed to perform. MMs and technical staff must be chosen based not just on qualifications, but experience — and compliance with the amendments to the Act.

Comments and concerns from the audience then came in, some concerning waiver periods, others on the exclusion of municipal staff from belonging to political parties. One person said that a pipeline of skills must be clearly conceived from start to finish and implemented to achieve professionalisation. A PAC representative said his party is in favour of the Bill, as it will help to professionalise the sector. A question was raised concerning how the depoliticising of the sector will take place, without trampling on constitutional rights? There was scepticism about depoliticising the bureaucracy of the state, and some believe it is impossible to achieve.

To watch the webinar, click below:

Visit www.gpl.gov.za ; follow @GPLegislature on Twitter; or like Gauteng Provincial Legislature page on Facebook.

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