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The delegation of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) comprising its Chairperson, Ms Thandi Modise, the House Chairperson of Committees, Mr Archibold Nyambi, and one of its House Chairpersons, Ms Masefako Dikgale, had a consultative breakfast with the executive members of South African Local Government Association (Salga), which was a precursor to the NCOP’s Mid-Term Review Session currently under way at Parliament.  

The deliberations of this consultative breakfast reflected on how to remodel the Local Government Week, one of the NCOP’s flagship programmes that seeks to foster good governance and enhanced local government potential to deliver services.

This engagement also highlighted measures that could be implemented to ensure that NCOP carries out its inter-governmental mandate of conducting oversight over the local government more effectively and efficiently.

A mandate that cannot be realised without a cooperative relationship between the NCOP and Salga, remarked Mr Nyambi.

“Salga is our critical partner because it is at the coalface of service delivery, which forms part of the broader scope of the mandate of the NCOP. It is good to have these interactions with it from time to time to see how we can improve our relations.”

But most importantly, these engagements help us to share what you view as critical challenges in our cooperation, he said.

As NCOP, we have noted your concern for not having a vote on Bills affecting local government, he said. “Our Constitution is silent on this matter, but if we see that it needs to be addressed, we have to address it because no one would, except us.”

Among other things, the view of the Chairperson of the NCOP is that it cannot be business as usual in this year’s Local Government Week, she said. “It is up to us to deal with issues affecting the efficiency of local government. If there are any Bills that need to be amended to achieve that, we need to do so for no our will do so on our behalf.”

The President of Salga, Mr Parks Tau, concurred that the lessons learnt on how the NCOP and Salga could improve their cooperation should form part of the upcoming Local Government Week. “This engagement gives us an opportunity to ponder the extent to which our cooperation has been impactful – and affords us an opportunity to identify areas of improvement.”

That is necessary to ensure that this engagement is primed to raise issues that will form part of our parliamentary and societal discourse, he said.

But also as Salga, we need to explore how we can better support our delegation to the NCOP, he said. “We need to think and to have a conversation with the NCOP to see how we can improve on that.”  

This engagement is long overdue, as NCOP we have been interrogating our role in the inter-governmental sphere and how best to execute it, said the Chairperson of the NCOP.

“We have been interrogating ourselves as to what improvements are need on our part to ensure that we straddle these spheres, but we do so effectively. Because to do so without the ability to navigate them positively defeat the purpose entrusted to the NCOP by our Constitution.”     

We are also grateful that we seem to assert our legislative authority as the NCOP without fear or favour, she said. “As NCOP, we no longer approve Bills that have been passed by the National Assembly without scrutiny or without considering our constitutional mandate. We seem to have awoken to the fact that we are here to represent provinces and local government and whatever we do should assist them in furthering the ideals of service delivery than the other way round.”

Reflecting on the water crisis, she remarked, we should be asking ourselves as the NCOP, if government has spent millions on water infrastructure why water has not reached places where it is most needed such as rural areas? “Water crisis is not a new thing. There are many rural areas in this country that have been experiencing the water problem for years. If anything, this crisis has demonstrated that we need to prioritise issues because this crisis should have long been the NCOP’s business.”

But also we need to listen to the leaders of local government more and more closely. Not only that, we also need to give them space to report and reflect, to ensure that we are a deliberate force that seeks to address the needs of the people on the ground, she said.  

To improve the efficiency of our cooperation with Salga, we have engaged political scientists to critique it and to see how best it can be improved, she said. “We have engaged Prof Shadrack Gutto and Mr Ralph Mathekga to give us an objective view on how to improve our cooperation with Salga. It is hoped that what will come out of that process will help to enhance how we interface with each other in executing our mandates.”   

By Abel Mputing
6 February 2018