The question on whether South Africa should abolish provinces and district municipalities, and allocate more resources to local government for effective service delivery, was tabled for debate in the National Assembly (NA) recently, through a motion, by African People’s Convention (APC’s) Member of Parliament (MP) and Scopa Chairperson, Mr Themba Godi, writes Sakhile Mokoena.

Opening the discussion on the topic: “The Relevance an Effectiveness of Provinces and District Municipalities in our System of Government”, Mr Godi questioned the existence of a middle structure between the national and local government, and argued that there is not substantial reason for such a structure.

“There can and has never been a coherent and convincing conceptual argument about why between the national and local government there should be two other levels – provincial and district,” he said.

Mr Godi argued that with the scrapping of provinces and district municipalities, billions of rands would be freed to address urgent and genuine needs such as free education, salaries of pre-school teachers, home-based care-givers, development of rural areas and many other things.

“They have proven themselves to be havens of corruption and inefficiency. They have an unnecessary drain on the fiscus, a bottleneck to service delivery and development. Nothing so far can mitigate for their continued existence, we therefore make a call to the House (NA) and the people of our country, that let’s find a common perspective that provinces and district municipalities be scrapped,” said Mr Godi.

He called for a two-tier system – national and strong empowered local government – saying this would release both human and material resources to strengthen local government and service delivery to the people, rather than it being swallowed by the bureaucracy instead of developmental projects.

“Provinces are a political scandal that entrenches tribalism and regionalism. They are fundamentally not far removed from the logic of the homeland system.

“Yes a few people might lose some political titles but it is the people who will benefit, their lives improved, realising in material terms the promise of freedom,” said Mr Godi.

Members of Parliament from the different parties represented in the National Assembly held different views on whether the current structure of governance should be reviewed or not.

Mr Godi’s call for the scrapping of provinces and district municipalities was supported by the United Democratic Movement, with Mr Bantu Holomisa labelling them “glorified homelands”.

Making reference to the negotiation process leading to democracy, he said from the beginning the preferred system of government by the majority during negotiations was a unitary state, with strong and capacitated central and local government.

“The introduction of provinces was a compromise to accommodate fears of the minority groups and this has proven to be ineffective and a place to disperse patronage,” said Mr Holomisa.

Similarly, he added, the district municipalities are just a buffer zone with no clear-cut service delivery objectives except in some cases, being responsible for the coordination of the provision of water and sanitation.

They too, like the provinces, do not have their own constituencies and revenue base and are dependent on the national and local fiscus and statutory grants.

“What we have done so far has been to create glorified homelands, bigger in size, but with the same body and shape, that mirrors tribal, racial and ethnic character,” he said.

African National Congress (ANC) Member of Parliament, Mr Amos Masondo, defended the existence and relevance of district municipalities, saying they were providing a solution to the question of underdeveloped rural areas.

“The position of district municipalities has evolved from a vaguely articulated institution into a fairly matured structure meant to leverage development from a dialectical link with local municipalities.

“District municipalities have also been seen by many analysts and experts as providing a solution to the question of underdeveloped rural areas,” said Mr Masondo.

However, he did not show much confidence in the current structure of provincial governments, adding that the roles and responsibilities of Provincial Legislatures need to be reviewed.

“In the broader context we should consider having fewer provinces, lesser districts and more local municipalities with a focus on development, we in the ANC have always argued that government should be brought closer to the people and there is a need to fight poverty, bloated administration, ethnic conflict and corruption,” he said.

Totally disputing the motion, Mr Solly Malatsi of the Democratic Alliance (DA) warned his colleagues in the National Assembly that any proposal to abolish provinces was a threat to the right of citizens to choose governments of their choice.

“Any move that seeks to question the future of provinces like this motion threatens the democratic right of South Africans to choose governments of their choice.

“Simply because the ANC has governed badly in provinces from Limpopo to Eastern Cape, is not a legitimate reason to argue for the reduction of local governments. The reality is that there is nothing wrong with our provinces and municipalities. That can be fixed by good governance as the DA has demonstrated where we govern,” argued Mr Malatsi.

Another party that argued in support of the motion was the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with its MP Ms Ntombovuyo Mente saying provinces have not added any value to service delivery.

“With reflection of more than 20 years’ experience, all evidence clearly shows that provinces have not added any meaningful value to service delivery and we are concerned as the EFF about the division of revenue formula which gives more money to provinces than municipalities.

She called provinces “a glorified administration that costs taxpayers billions while local government is poorly funded”.

Prof Themba Msimang of the Inkatha Freedom Party said there were too many municipalities and suggested a reduction in this instance. “A reduction, but never a cessation and centralisation of power. Decentralisation of power is not only an effective check and balance against abuse of power but also ensures that provincial, district and community needs are identified and met,” he said.

National Freedom Party MP, Prof Nhlanhlakayise Khubisa, reasoned that both provinces and district municipalities were relevant in South Africa’s system of government and should be retained.

He said the aim of our three-tiered system of governance is to bring government closer to local communities, to bring service delivery closer to the electorate.

“In our view, provinces and district municipalities have a pivotal role to play in creating an enabling environment for core basic services and infrastructure development. In as much as they are relevant and necessary in our system of government, we cannot deny that they are not as efficient as had been envisaged when our Constitution was drafted,” said Prof Khubisa.

Mr Mosiuoa Lekota of the Congress of the People was worried about the size of government which he said was bloated and less effective.

“We shouldn’t have allowed government to become bigger but smaller and more effective, to allow more resources to go to the delivery of services. Let us confront the reality, we allowed government to expand (today 70 ministers and deputy ministers) – instead of reducing we increase money paying people who are not directly responsible for service delivery,” he said, adding that there was still an opportunity to correct the situation.

Mandla Galo of the African Independent Congress (AIC) said the parachuting of district municipalities in the arena of government has been cumbersome, effectively duplicating the co-functions of local municipalities – district municipalities being highly burdensome to the national fiscus.

 “The AIC is calling for the reduction of provinces to a sizeable, fiscal-driven margin to save taxpayers’ money from the predators and microbes of the state.