Disc Dem

Disc Dem

Monday, 23 November 2015

Party, Party, Party

Too many politicians, regardless of which side of the political divide, have the idea that their parties come first and the country last. President Jacob Zuma was just the unlucky one who expressed it in unsophisticated terms. If this were not the case, opposition politicians would have been able to change the political landscape of this country long ago, especially with the vulnerability of the ruling party over the past decade. Instead, they spent time building toy kingdoms, where each is some sort of king or queen.”
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane - Civil society vital to counter madness – BDLive 18th November 2015

I could not agree more with this sentiment. In local government, I  also believe that the primary fault lies with the dual candidacy, proportional representation party list system, which promotes and perpetuates cadre deployment and political elitism over constituency accountability. A system where the Party comes first and constituents, invariably, come last.

The numbers tell us that the party-based politics of local government has become a viper’s nest of cadre deployment and political patronage.

Resulting from the 2011 Local Government Elections:
  • There are 4235 Ward Councillors and 4159 Proportional Councillors in SA's 234 combined Local and Metro Councils[1]
  • Political control was only uncertain in 14 of the 234 Councils[2]
  • 44 Proportional Councillors held the balance of political control in those 14 Councils[3]

It is therefore safe to say that a mere 1.06% of proportional councillors had influence over the balance of power in a paltry 6% of local councils. The remaining 4115 proportional councillors added no value to the process, effectively rendering them surplus to requirements.  Surplus to our requirements as municipal taxpayers, that is.

The cost of proportional councillors is around R1.5 billion per year in salaries alone.  Never mind the high cost of providing the support infrastructure that goes with them, and the ongoing pension and medical benefits that will live with us long after they have made enough money to leave the political stage.

We really do not need these people in our local councils, so why are they there?  The answer is quite simple.  It is a very easy mechanism for party bosses to reward the party faithful with sheltered employment at our expense, while at the same time ensuring that their unwavering loyalty to the party comes before constituency accountability.  We do not choose these individuals, their party does, and if that is not the epitome of cadre deployment and political patronage then I will struggle to understand what is.

As a result, local government is in a mess. Municipal infrastructures, even in the so-called better run DA councils are crumbling because decisions on infrastructure maintenance are being made by unaccountable politicians.  Instead of having a properly devised technical approach to planned maintenance or infrastructure development, councillors in virtually all municipalities are deciding which infrastructure to renew, repair, or maintain based solely upon political agendas, or personal enrichment objectives.

In 2016 there are likely to be more unaccountable councillors than ever, once the Municipal Demarcation Board has finished redrawing Ward and Municipal boundaries.   Even without this, the latest salary increases of between 5.5% and 6% for local government politicians will immediately add another minimum of R250m to the local government political wage bill.[4]

Based on all of the above, I can think of no rational argument to retain proportional representation at this level of governance.  It is an ineffective and expensive mechanism that should be abolished prior to 2016 elections, or we will be stuck with another 5 years of unwarranted and unnecessary expense.  The money can be better spent on delivering adequate services, and uplifting the living standards of poorer communities, rather than lining the pockets of political parasites.

Unfortunately we need national government politicians to pass a Constitutional amendment that is contrary to their own self-interest, so don’t hold your breath. 

Unless we find ways to join hands as communities, rich and poor alike, to voice our dissatisfaction with the present political dispensation, then we deserve the governance, or lack thereof, that we get.

[1] District Councils have been excluded as we only vote for 40% of the Councillors, 60% are Party appointees
[2] Three in KZN (KZN233/242/265), ten in W.Cape (WC011/022/026/034/041/042/045/047/051/052), & one in N.Cape (NC065)
[3] Two of the 14 Councils (WC041/052) would require an unlikely coalition between the ANC & DA involving 6 Proportional Councillors, making totals of 12 Councils and 38 Proportional Councillors a more realistic assessment.
[4] It is interesting to note that in an election year they award themselves inflation-based increases, but no doubt they will return to form with above-inflation increases once the election is over.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Rubicon 2016

Politicians are doing a good job of pointing fingers everywhere but towards themselves in their search to fund the #FeesMustFall higher education budget shortfall. Yet the political arena is where the money can most easily be found. Not only by denying politicians their luxury vehicles and other extravagances, but also by taking a hard look at the systems that have brought us to this potentially Rubicon moment.

Start by asking, do we really need so many politicians? Both the emotional and practical answers are that we do not. Local Government in particular is overburdened by a political overhead that makes municipalities generally dysfunctional and in many instances, blatantly corrupt.

Under our mixed constituency/proportional representation local government electoral system, the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) is tasked with ensuring that every Ward within a single municipality has approximately the same number of registered voters. This action completely voids the purpose of using a proportional system.  Only where there is a need to balance votes cast by widely differing constituency populations, spread over a wide geographic area, does Proportional Representation come into its own. Courtesy of the MDB, this does not apply to municipal elections in South Africa.  [1]

The numbers in this case are not difficult to follow: 
9984 Local, Metro and District councillors cost taxpayers around R3.2billion annually in salaries; of these, 4782 are proportional councillors, costing around R1.5billion in salaries alone.

We could dispense with Proportional Representative Councillors, whom the MDB have effectively reduced to the status of Ghost Workers, and immediately save R1.5billion in direct costs.  Add to this all the indirect infrastructure and support costs, including long-term pension and medical liabilities to be saved and the #FeesMustFall shortfall will most likely be taken care of.

Not only will we save a huge amount in unnecessary expenses but, by returning to a purely constituency-based system, councillors will have a direct line of accountability to the electorate. In addition, making councillors accountable to the voters will almost certainly have a significant impact on curbing current levels of corruption and mismanagement.  Savings to be made in this area are inestimable, but all indicators are that it will run into the tens of billions of Rands, which will go a long way towards funding totally free higher education for economically disadvantaged students.

Two birds with one stone. Significant money saved and accountability returned.

The obvious roadblock to this political realignment will no doubt be put up by the politicians themselves.  The status quo suits them as it keeps power and accountability in their own hands. 

There is no doubt in the minds of most commentators that the electoral system needs to be reformed, and quickly.  As it stands, if we do not act to change the local government system before the 2016 elections, then we will have to face up to at least another five years of municipal ineptitude and corruption.  Another five years of above inflation increases in municipal tariffs coupled with declining service levels.  In that same five years, many of our students will have qualified and will be in the workplace suffering along with us.  They have secured their short-term future through #FeesMustFall.  We owe it to them and ourselves to secure the longer term future through electoral system change. Now #PropRepMustFall.

[1] If you have the patience to work through the numbers and theory that prove PR is ineffectual, take a look at my previous posts.