Disc Dem

Disc Dem

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Political Cost of Local Government is no longer Affordable

Our electoral system has been the subject of much discussion and debate with many people favouring a mixed constituency/proportional representation model. 

The mixed model is already used for Local Government elections in South Africa, but not for National Assembly elections.  However, looking at the numbers from previous Local Government elections, it is easy to conclude that Proportional Representation does not achieve its intended purpose, and is not affordable at local government level. 

The political cost of local government is far higher than its contribution to service delivery warrants, not only relative to the actual cost of paying too many politicians, but also to the indirect costs of corruption, attributable to the lack of accountability engendered by the patronage-based closed party list system. 

So, why doesn't our electoral system  work as was constitutionally intended? First of all, "one man, one vote” is a myth. It is worth repeating that we actually get three votes in local government elections if we are not with a Metro Council.  One constituency (Ward) vote for the individual candidate of choice, one Local Council PR party vote, and one District Council PR party vote. Metro Councils have one constituency (Ward) vote and one PR party vote.

Half the seats in local and metro councils result from direct constituency votes, and half are allocated from the PR votes.  So far, so good, but the value of proportional representation is only realised if constituencies have widely varying numbers of eligible voters, and are geographically widespread.[*]

As required by Schedule 1 of the Municipal Structures Act of 1988, the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) ensures that this does not happen.  The total number of councillors (Ward + PR) for a municipality are determined by each Provincial MEC for Local Government. This determination is then used by the MDB to calculate the number of Wards by dividing the total number of councillors for the municipality by two. 

The target number of registered voters per Ward is then calculated by dividing the total number of registered voters in the municipality by the number of Wards. The result of this calculation is used by the MDB for the physical configuration of Ward boundaries to ensure that every Ward has more or less the same number of registered voters.  

The maths involved are not complex, in fact it is a simple case of 1 + 1 = 2. 

As our electorate tends to be politically unsophisticated,  1 Ward vote + 1 Proportional vote will generally = 2 votes for the same party. 

Assuming that, as is generally the case, everyone casts their two votes in the same direction, and all Wards have more or less the same number of voters, then all we have created is a “winner takes all” outcome using two votes instead of one, with an end-result of appointing two councillors where actually one would suffice.

It is argued that proportional representation gives smaller parties the opportunity to participate and be heard but, in reality, minority parties have no influence on decision-making where a majority of seats is held by a single party.  In addition, there are many other avenues for participation that do not involve having to pay an ineffective, unnecessary councillor.

Proportional representation benefits minority parties only when a deadlock occurs between major parties, and a coalition is needed in order to govern.  

All that such coalition politics succeeds in doing is to put control of governance into the hands of a minority – sound familiar?  A classic example of this is the Laingsburg Municipality where the ANC and DA were tied on both Ward and Proportional seats, the balance of power being held by COPE with a single proportional seat, gained with the princely total of 556 votes.[†] 

In summary, the need for proportional representation at local government level is largely negated by the spatial design of Wards within each municipality, compounded by the generally low level of political sophistication of the electorate. 

Apart from not fulfilling any practical purpose, the system also provides an incubator for corruption  by removing accountability to the electorate. Candidates only need their party to place them high enough on their closed PR list to be appointed as a Councillor, regardless of their failure as a Ward candidate at the polls. Who knows what deals are done to secure these places? 

Aside from theoretical and generally idealistic arguments regarding the pro’s and con’s of proportional representation at Local Government level, a purely practical standpoint is that we simply cannot afford to keep paying so many politicians before even one cent is spent on service delivery.  

Analyses of previous local government elections have categorically proven that proportional seats make no difference to the majority standing of parties in any municipality countrywide (See http://bit.ly/1M6PNXf. So why persevere with such an idealistic system that is so clearly inappropriate, ineffective, unduly expensive and, most likely, corrupt?

* A classic example can be found in analysing the last UK national elections. With no proportional representation system, the UKIP party with around 13% of votes won only one seat. The Scottish National Party, with less than 5% of votes, is now the third largest party in Parliament with 56 seats, owing solely to their regional popularity in Scotland.   The UKIP party had national appeal, whereas the SNP was only regionally attractive, so the UKIP party lost out to a combination of variable constituency populations, and the geographically widespread distribution of their supporters.

[†] An interesting thought on this is that without proportional representation, the DA and ANC would have been deadlocked, so would be forced to work together to keep their municipality functioning. Perhaps, if given a chance, pragmatism and compromise could beat the norm of confrontational politics?

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Proportionally Disconnected

At the last local government elections the ANC won an outright majority of Ward Councillors in 189 out of 226 Local Councils (84%), excluding the 8 Metro Councils and 44 District Councils which are stories on their own.

These 189 Councils provided 2779 Ward seats for the ANC, which was over 8 times the combined total of 345 Ward seats won by all other parties, and 1.7 times the 1609 combined Ward and Proportional seats of all other parties. In 69 of them, the ANC actually won every single Ward – a complete whitewash of the opposition.

Even though they had absolute control of the 189 Councils with Ward Councillors alone, our electoral system provided the ANC with an additional 1775 proportional representation seats. 

The result of this gift from the system to the ANC was that their proportional seat allocation alone exceeded the 1609 combined total of ALL seats for ALL other parties. Not forgetting that the other parties were also “gifted” 1264 or 3.7 times more seats than they actually won, which made not even the smallest ripple in the pond of ANC dominance.

So what was gained by adding a total of 3039 proportional seats to 84% of our local councils? The simple answer is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! But read on......

The DA won an outright majority of Ward Councillors in 18 of the 226 Local Councils (8%) These 18 Councils provided 167 Ward seats for the DA, against the 74 Ward seats won by all other parties.  Once again, our electoral system provided the DA with an additional 86 proportional seats, while at the same time providing other parties with a combined additional 137 proportional seats.  Did the proportional allocations change anything at all? Answer, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! 

We now have 3244 completely pointless and unproductive proportional seats allocated across 92% of Local Councils, but read on.....

Other parties, such as the Inkatha Freedom Party and National Freedom Party in KZN also had their successes, but suffice it to say that over the remaining 19 Local Councils (8%), our electoral system rewarded political parties with a combined total of 190 additional proportional seats over and above the 203 Ward seats actually won by them.

What these numbers tell us is patently obvious. Political parties have been blithely scamming the electorate for the last 20 years, without even a blink of shame.  They know very well that proportional seats make no difference to the balance of power. They also know very well that proportional seat allocations, from party lists, are the only mechanism they have for rewarding the party faithful with overpaid sheltered employment, at the expense of the public purse.

Now I’m getting really angry, not only because of the political manipulation surrounding the whole process of local government, but also because we, the electorate have allowed this fundamentally corrupt system to continue for so long. 

Political parties will argue that proportional representation at local government level is written into the Constitution, which it is. But they are also fully aware that Local Councils are struggling to deliver basic services under the weight of salaries for councillors and officials, so why have they made no effort to amend the Constitutional clause relating to local government elections?

Again the answer is obvious.  If proportional representation is canned at local government level then 3,452 party faithful politicians will be out of a job, and then what is the party leadership going to do with them?  They can’t employ them all, and many of them are in any event unemployable. It is a predicament that they want to avoid, and one that we need to make unavoidable.

The benefits for the electorate to force this issue are many.  First of all we will save around R1 billion in pointless salaries that can be used for service delivery. The main benefit, though, is that it will bring much needed accountability back to a constituency level.  We will vote them in, and we will vote them out again if they do not perform. With no political party override as presently provided for by the dual candidacy proportional party list system, Ward Councillors will have to up their constituency-based game.

In my next post I will cover the situation with Metro Councils, although I think the outcome will be much the same, just on a larger scale.  District Councils are something else altogether and will take a little longer to dissect, but watch this space!

In the mean time, let’s work on getting changes made to this despicable political system that puts the employment of unnecessary politicians ahead of service delivery and constituency accountability.

In conclusion, the best argument against proportional representation is a five minute conversation with your local councillor (with apologies to Winston Churchill).
Just completed the Metro Council analysis, with results as I thought.  The ANC won absolute control of 7 Metro Councils with 416 Ward seats which was 2.3 times more than the 182 Ward seats won by all other parties.  Proportional seats numbering 305 for the ANC and 291 for all other parties combined were awarded.

The DA won absolute control of 1 Metro with 78 Ward seats which was 2.4 times more than the 33 Ward seats won by all other parties. Proportional seats numbering 57 for the DA and 53 for all other parties combined were awarded.

This analysis has added another 706 pointless proportional representatives at an additional cost of around R340m