The government’s decision to use the municipal demarcation board to restructure unviable municipalities has its shortcomings.
These include litigation and protests, especially ahead of the elections.
This was revealed by the board’s outgoing chairperson Jane Thupana during a media briefing at their offices in Highveld, Centurion, on Thursday.
Thupana was addressing the media ahead of the board’s 20th celebrations to be hosted in the form of a two-day conference at Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg on Friday next week.
About 450 delegates comprising members of executive councils (MECs), officials, academics and politicians are expected to attend the conference.
They will make inputs to inform the review of local government legislation and architecture on whether or not all local municipalities should fall under district municipalities, among other issues.
Thupana’s term and that of the board comes to an end next month.
“Some of our greatest challenges emanate from the apparent inability of several municipalities to deliver on their constitutional obligations with regards to service delivery. Often at times after having used different available means to address the challenges, government would approach the board proposing the restructuring of municipal boundaries as an alternative instrument to enhance efficiency and effective service delivery. This kind of an intervention also has its shortcomings, which may include litigation and protests, particularly if the redeterminations take place too close to elections,” Thupana said.
She said major lessons were learnt by her organisation from stakeholders, in particular the public, over the years.
These were captured in the demarcation legislative review process currently under consideration by government.
She cited as an example that the frequent changes to municipal and ward boundaries were regarded as disruptive to the planning and service delivery efforts by municipalities.
Other lessons include that the board’s public participation process was inadequate and needed to be enhanced and that courts, as the only review mechanism to challenge their decisions, were inaccessible to ordinary members of the public.
“These kinds of feedback demonstrates that our people are now conscious of their democratic rights and are able to raise their concerns and challenge the status quo – and that can only be a positive signal for our maturing democracy,” she said.
Thupana said despite limited resources the board had established a research and knowledge management unit to inform demarcation decisions and to be equipped for its advisory role.
She also said their mandate was often misunderstood by communities, even some MECs, and that theirs was not to be involved in political matters in municipalities.
Theirs was to:
• Determine and re-determine municipal boundaries;
• Delimit wards to facilitate local government elections;
• Perform municipal capacity assessments to inform board decisions when determining or re-determining municipal boundaries, or when requested, to ascertain whether or not municipalities have capacity to fulfil their constitutional obligations and therefore advise MECs responsible for local government on the allocation of powers and functions between district and local municipalities; and
• Render advisory services on any other matter related to its mandate.
Chief executive of the board, Muthotho Sigidi, said the board would not rule out the possibility of resumption of protests related to demarcation decisions ahead of the national elections in May. “That possibility exists,” Sigidi said.