What's the fate of the provinces?

2009-10-29 00:00

WE shaped through massive struggles and adroit negotiations an innovative system of co-operative governance. But it was shaped in a particular context, as part of a negotiation process sensitive­ to a particular balance of forces in our country at the time and the need to secure stability and consolidate our infant democracy. And if it was a highly consultative process, it was also rushed.

But are we in the same context as we were between 1994 and 1996? Are we under the same pressures? Do we need a more objective foundation for our system that is based more on our long-term needs and less on the need to strike immediate political compromises? Which features of our co-operative governance system should endure and which are contingent, having been shaped largely to meet the needs of a different context? We need a debate about this. A huge public debate.

We need to examine carefully our co-operative governance system to see what is working. There are features of the system that may well be mainly the outcome of the need to strike certain balances in the 1994-1996 period that are not necessary any more. Yet they contribute to making the system complex and inefficient.

It’s clear that the system of co-operative governance is not working effectively. There is a need for greater co-ordination and cohesion between and across the three spheres of government, and also between the government and the people.

We are seeking to shape a developmental state that meets our specific needs as a country. We need to improve service delivery and development considerably. We are under greater pressure than ever before. We simply have to review our co-operative governance system and ensure that it is more efficient and effective, and more development-oriented.

Our huge capacity and resource constraints also require us to review our co-operative governance system. We face, moreover, a major economic crisis flowing from the global financial and economic crisis. To withstand the crisis better and manage the global terrain effec­tively, we need a stronger, more effective state. We need to review our governance system to take account of fundamental shifts in the global and domestic economic and political terrain.

There are more than enough reasons for us to review our system of co-operative governance. But it’s not as if we will make changes lightly or without the fullest consultation with the public. These are not just empty words. After all, there are vested interests deep within the African National Congress and the broader alliance in the current system of co-operative governance — and their support will have to be won if there are any significant changes to the system. Just think of the response of our premiers and members of provincial legislatures if we did away with the provincial system. Or district councillors, should we want to dispense with districts.

At this stage, there is no sign that the co-operative governance system that is at the heart of our Constitution is going to be dismantled. It’s a change in the form of the co-operative governance system that is likely. There are features of the system that have to change to take into account changing conditions and needs. There are practical, not ideological, imperatives for a review of the system. The review of the system is not dictated by abstract ideas of a strong monolithic centralised “commandist” state. Nor by a desire to crush the Democratic Alliance Western Cape or Cape Metro governments. Anyway, the government review of the co-operative governance system was initiated before the DA assumed power in the Cape Metro and the Western Cape government.

And it’s not just about co-ordination between the spheres of government, but also within the spheres. While co-ordination between nat­ional departments has improved, it is just not effective. And unless there is much greater co-ordination within the national sphere, it will be difficult to ensure greater co-ordination across the three spheres of government, and between government and the people.

It is mainly to facilitate effective co-operative governance and a productive developmental state that government departments were reorganised and the posts of National Planning Minister and Monitoring and Evaluation Minister were created, and, crucially, loc­ated in the presidency. It is towards­ these goals too that our department has been reconstituted as a Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs from the old Department of Provincial and Local Government. This is not just a name change. We have, indeed, a new expanded mandate. And a crucial part of this is to work with the Ministers of Planning, and Monitoring and Evaluation to ensure greater co-ordination, not just across the three spheres of government, but within the spheres, not least within national government.

Of course, it’s no secret that the ANC didn’t want provinces before 1994 and gave in on this as a compromise. But the provinces are here now. They are 15 years old. But the interests entrenched in them — power, turf, material, identity — are almost as old as time itself. It will not be easy to dislodge the provinces. The ANC has, in any case, not made any decision to dissolve the provinces. There is certainly no Polokwane resolution to this effect. But the ANC took a decision to have a summit on the provincial and local government system. Cabinet is also to consider a Policy Review Paper on the co­operative governance system. The debate has barely begun.

It seems unlikely that the provinces will disappear in the near future­. More likely is a possible reform­ of the provincial system in the interests of service delivery and development. But it’s important to keep an open mind. There are at least some broad possibilities.

• The nine provinces could be retained with essentially the same powers and functions, even if they were refined and integrated into a more cohesive co-operative governance system.

• The nine provinces could be retained but with substantially reduced (or, unlikely though it may be, increased) powers and functions.

• The number of provinces could be reduced. There could be various forms of this, including reducing the number of provinces, with essentially the same powers and functions, even if they were refined and integrated into a more cohesive co-operative governance system. Or the number of provinces could be reduced with substantially reduced (or, unlikely though it may be, increased) powers and functions. Provinces could just be merged using the existing boundaries or new boundaries could be determined for all provinces. And the form that the boundaries take could be accompanied by different possibilities of powers and functions.

• Provinces, whatever their number, could be retained simply as administrative units.

• Provinces could be phased out over time.

Of course, there are various permutations of the above possibilities. And there may be other possibilities too. We need to debate the options rigorously.

But, clearly we cannot consider these options without reviewing the local government system, which is seriously challenged. Local­ government has to be considerably more effective. The two-tier model of district and local municipalities and other key features of the local government system have to be reviewed.

Basically, we need a far more effective­ co-operative governance system. Ultimately, the more we entrench an effective co-operative governance system, the more we will build the developmental state, and the more we build the developmental state, the more we will entrench­ effective co-operative governance. There is a mutually reinforcing­ relationship between effective co-operative governance and a developmental state.

• Yunus Carrim is the Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. This is an edited version of a recent speech.

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