Tag Archive | COGTA

By-passing Parliament at one’s peril

….editorial,  30 May 2020

Regulations mania hits South Africa …..

Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest political and parliamentary figure of the last century, said that if you make 10,000 regulations you destroy all respect for the law.  Take a look at South Africa where far too many conflicting and nonsensical regulations are espoused on a weekly basis, some of them with only a loose and highly doubtful connection to the law, the Disaster Management Act, under which they are gazetted.

What started with good intent in the rush to halt the spread of Covid 19, ‘flatten the curve’ and buy time to build medical supply lines and PPE reserves, has turned into a regularised pattern of government by dictate.  We are in danger of getting used to the idea of government finding a way around the people’s Parliament just because 400 people can’t gather together in the light of social distancing, in itself another regulation.

This shortcut to governance has to be stopped before it becomes regularised in any way.  In the process of searching for a way to speed up what at times can be a cumbersome system of democratic checks and balances, the country has invented an immensely powerful and what could well be an illegal intervention named, by somebody unknown, as the National Coronavirus Command Council.

Rules in bulk

After only a month of the president’s announcement of the declaration of the national state of disaster, more than 50 sets of Covid-19 related regulations, directives, notices and directions have been published nationwide in its name.    Lawyers and business chambers are struggling to keep up with it all.

The problem now being faced is two-fold.  Firstly, the high-sounding and most unfortunately militarised name of “Command Council” represents an entity not recognised in the Constitution, or anywhere in the statute book.   It is purely an invention of a clique within the governing party as an instrument to administer a law cobbled together in a few months called the Disaster Management Act.

Somehow, without the knowledge of Parliament, a handpicked number cabinet ministers, chosen one has to assume by persons residing at Luthuli House, has granted executive functions and powers to a pick of between 8 and 19 cabinet ministers (the number varies) who meet at undisclosed places and take national decisions.

The same unknown group has ignored some thirty to forty other cabinet ministers for reasons unstated to form this command unit and there we have it, a new grouping administering a whole country by regulation.  It is so important that we do not get used to this alien concept as a substitute for ordinary democracy, whether or not it has a body a scientific expertise advising it or not.

Power point

On the subject of powers, the Constitution is quite clear – all cabinet ministers are accountable “collectively and individually to Parliament”.   But to repeat, this caveat is made nonsense of when a cabinet cabal, including the Deputy President, start making government policy affecting citizens’ rights without even a parliamentary nod.

Granted, that originally there was a need for speed and given the fact that Covid 19 is a disaster of global proportions, it was understandable that hastily convened and rushed virtual parliamentary portfolio committee meetings tried vainly to “debate” the issues that might arise as a result of implementing the Disaster Management Bill.    In fact, they did remarkably well in the circumstances and South Africa became the first country to try and handle parliamentary debate electronically in the light of lockdown.

Law by laptop

Virtual meetings make any meaningful debate nearly impossible at the best of times. They are designed more for briefings than for discussion.  In the understandable rush, the buttons pressing the “ayes” became the norm in the short time allowed. The Disaster Management Act (DMA) is the result and is now history.

Now, the buttons are being pressed by Dr Nkosazana-Zuma, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), the department which the DMA empowered, most assuming that COGTA would be more of a spokesperson for the system to be adopted.

Governance by regs

However, “risk-adjusted strategy regulations” were published in a flash by COGTA in the light of the disaster (not emergency) powers with a statement that read, “The Cabinet minister responsible for cooperative governance and traditional affairs upon the recommendation of the cabinet member responsible for health and in consultation with cabinet, declare which of the following alert levels apply, and the extent to which they apply at a national, provincial, metropolitan or district level.” It all sounded like we had things in hand.

In the UK or Commonwealth countries, this process would have amounted to making Dr Nkosazana-Zuma prime minister and Dr Zweli Mkhize her deputy prime minister.  Nevertheless, Parliament in SA  soon fell outside of the inner circle when it came to oversight. Parliament deals with legislation not regulation.

What sticks to the wall

After a week or so,  it became more than noticeable that many of the regulations just did not link up and appeared randomly unconnected. The cooked chicken problem, no flip flops and absurd choices on who could and could not work.   Looking at it from a parliamentary aspect, to create temporary hospitals and to ban liquor and cigarette sales, and then cancel one factor but not the other, seemed not only a stretch under the same law but also a legal anachronism.

Worse, just the act of banning liquor sales and thus damaging the tourism and hospitality industry possibly forever is unlikely to pass any “justification analysis” constitutionally.    Most of the public comments called for in the form of  business submissions are now accumulating in government offices or parliamentary boxes and certainly unlikely ever be seen by Dr Nkosazana Zuma.   She is known for having no appetite for this sort of thing, as was discovered by the African Union.

LIFO

Now many of the regulations are causing serious “unintended consequences” in application, such as schooling, resulting in a law gone rogue.  A further well publicised example has been where regulations allow religious gatherings whereas most major religions did not call for them, nor will exercise them. Gatherings include funerals for the dead but not a healthy game of bowls for the elderly. Most have no idea of who consulted who on outcomes, representing more muddled thinking by a body which records no minutes and meets in secret.

South Africa has invented a most dangerous mechanism where everybody just relies on the Presidency to eventually “put things right” when the panic is over.  To do this, President Ramaphosa, in the light of a forthcoming ANC conference, will have to dissolve this mechanism somehow and terminate its powers. This politically powerful entity is led by a person who contested with him the position of president and who split the governing party in half doing this.

Its going to be a bumpy ride.

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Pravin tackles COGTA intervention at local level

 COGTA getting somewhere with municipalities…..

pravin gordhan MTBSIt is quite apparent why the seemingly impossible task of integrating local, provincial and national government service has been given to minister Pravin Gordhan of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (COGTA). He seems quite determined that all provinces and municipalities have to deliver on their constitutional mandate.

His department of cooperative governance (DCOG) recently updated Parliament on the current situation, led by some opening remarks by the minister himself.   He went straight to the nub of the issue by stating that section 139 of the Constitution provided for intervention by the relevant provincial executive if a municipality could not or did not fulfil an executive obligation.

First steps

Whilst the Local Government Reform Act, passed in 2014, has helped considerably by refining local electoral areas nationally down to 137, whilst 95 municipal districts have been designated in most cases to correspond with electoral areas. Thus, more representative structures have been established although some suspected at the time this was an election ploy.

Stabilisation of local government was the key, said minister Pravin to parliamentarians, and the process of “Back to Basics”, one of the 16 SIP strategic items on the list of the National Development Plan, was the basis of the department’s 2015/6 annual performance plan. This to ensure municipalities performed in their dealings with local government at the coal face.

Minister Pravin said, “Local government plays a key role in determining whether people live with dignity and whether they are able to access economic opportunities, consequently contributing to the overall development of the country”.    Part of COGTA’s mandate, he said, was to understand and support the development of intergovernmental relations in all three tiers of government.

New Bill to make third tier accountable

vusi madonaselaVusi Madonsela, DG of DCOGTA, advised that they were “aiming to build accountability for performance in local government systems by setting and enforcing clear performance standards by March 2019. To this end a new Intergovernmental Monitoring, Support and Intervention (IMSI) Bill would be processed through Parliament.

The performance of municipal public accounts committees (MPAC’s) therefore in all “dysfunctional municipalities as well as municipalities with adverse and disclaimer opinions would be monitored and enforced”, he said.

Changing attitudes to debt

Madonsela also said, “The culture of payment for services would be encouraged nationally with campaigns” and part of DOCG’s task was to improve the ability of at least 60 municipalities to collect outstanding debt. He named other targets such as to strengthen anti-corruption measures by 2019 and to have achieved a full local government anti corruption tribunal systems working.

He also said DCOG would start with 12 districts to develop integrated development plans and eight cities and towns would also be supported and monitored in developing long term strategies and proper spatial development programmes.

Skills always the problem

Opposition members called on COGTA for better performance by local government training SETAs. Many institutions were conducting training programmes for councillors but in the process had found that many councillors literally have no skills or formal education. Madonsela responded by saying there were now regulations being passed to weed out unqualified persons and those with false CVs.

Minister Pravin agreed that some of the factors that led to dysfunctional local government structures included political instability and problems with service delivery and institutional management inability.  Councillors were nominated and appointed by their political parties, he said, and “perhaps it should be a conversation amongst MPs on how councillors should be appointed.”

Back to “Back to Basics”

The net result at the moment, said minister Gordhan, that one in three municipalities, according to a study conducted nationwide, were failing and the success of the “Back to Basics Programme” would now depend on inter-government transfers to bring in skills and changing the employment criteria to economic, tax and financial viability experience.

He concluded that his department was getting tough where municipalities had broken the law and some of the answers may lie in strengthening district municipalities with specialists and merging some municipalities.   Another option was to abolish local municipalities completely and in their stead, start again with district management areas but he did not elaborate on this.
Other articles in this category or as background
Municipal free basic services slow – ParlyReportSA
Local government skills totally lacking – ParlyReport
Electricity connections not making targets – ParlyReportSA

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