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.

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