Proposed bill

2009-04-18 00:00

Cabinet has made the first move towards legislation that will empower the central government to intervene in the affairs of local authorities. Much must be done before the proposal will become law, the first step being to amend the Constitution, but the Democratic Alliance has immediately set about alerting voters to the problematic aspects of the change.

In principle the idea has some merit. South Africa does not have a federal constitution, and, while local authorities have jurisdiction over local affairs, it is desirable that national policies should be applied consistently at every level of government. One concern cited by the proponents of the bill is electricity distribution, and this is obviously a matter of major importance where local deviations from national policy are seriously disruptive. Nor can it be denied that many municipalities have proved incapable of managing their affairs or maintaining service delivery, and central government cannot be expected repeatedly to rescue delinquent local authorities without some capacity for proactive intervention.

Unfortunately the proposed bill grants much wider powers than are strictly necessary, and the ANC has earned a reputation both for centralising as much control as possible and for putting the interests of the party above those of the state. The political opposition has good reason to fear that once the ruling party has acquired these powers it will proceed to abuse them, and here is yet another reason for voters to deny the ANC the two-thirds majority it needs to amend the Constitution at will.

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