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A Word from Parliament

With the 2016 National Budget Speech on everyone’s lips, Nomawethu Xali shares what the South African Local Government Association is doing to bring about positive change in the sector.
SALGA Chairperson Thabo Manyoni. SALGA Chairperson Thabo Manyoni.

Earlier this year, SALGA took part in the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, where President Jacob Zuma delivered his 2016 State of the Nation Address. The organisation subsequently participated in the debate on the President’s address, held on 16-17 February, where SALGA was represented by Chairperson Councillor Thabo Manyoni and Deputy Chairperson Councillor Mpho Nawa.

During the debate, SALGA reiterated that there have been many changes in local government since the development of and commitment to the Back to Basics approach. Evidence of this can be seen in the number of municipalities who have moved out of the so-called red zone. SALGA also reminded the joint sitting that 5 December 2015 marked 15 years of democratic and developmental local government, a journey characterised by huge opportunities, as well as challenges.

SALGA called for local government’s role in development to be appreciated, arguing that the country’s local government system is significantly advanced when compared to other local governments on the continent. In addition, SALGA committed to sensitise local government’s political leadership on the President’s call to reduce wasteful expenditure. In his response to the debate, the President welcomed SALGA’s commitment to the cost-saving drive.

Following Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s 2016 National Budget Speech, SALGA engaged with the Standing Committee on Appropriations on the Budget Speech, as well as on the 2016 Division of Revenue Bill (DoRB), on 2 March 2016.

SALGA noted that the Budget Speech painted a picture of decreasing GDP growth, due to global and domestic factors, as well as a decline in allocations to local government in the DoRB, compared to what was initially projected in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement of October 2015. SALGA argued for the protection of allocations to poor and rural municipalities, calling for urgent consideration of the study on the cost of services that Minister Gordhan referred to in the Budget Speech, in order to ensure that some of its findings are implemented in the equitable-share review process.

The organisation also expressed concern over the serious decline of the Municipal Systems Improvement Grant over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework period (from R251 million in 2015/16 to R84 million in 2016/17). SALGA noted the Municipal Demarcation Grant of R297 million with appreciation, despite the amount falling far shorter than projected, and welcomed the provision for a once-off gratuity of outgoing councillors, including the process of resolving the issue of unfunded/underfunded mandates.

There is clearly a need for additional revenue, and SALGA has suggested ways for local government to alleviate this need, for example: local business tax; surcharge on vehicle licence fees and financial instruments, including borrowings (loans) and the bond market, in the context of ‘pool financing’ between and among stronger municipalities, with Gauteng City Region being a prime example. The issue of a national collection agency was raised in order to effectively deal with debt collection for municipalities.

The organisation also used the platform to call on the committee to intervene in the untenable business practices of Eskom, such as billing after 15 days with prime plus 5% interest, and the public utility’s refusal to sign service-delivery agreements with municipalities.

Outside of Parliament

On 17 March, SALGA participated in the debate on Human Rights Day, under the theme: ‘Working together to ensure resilience to drought and achieving sustainable access to water’. At this debate, SALGA highlighted the contribution of local government in advancing human rights and the dignity of citizens.

As SALGA pointed out, the current drought in some provinces is a threat to the hard work and success of local government in contributing to citizens’ basic right to water and food security.

SALGA called on the water sector to work together to ensure a shift from drought-crisis management to risk management, as well as the prevention and reduction of the impacts of drought. In addition, there is a need to devise appropriate policies and programmes to deal with drought threats in future. SALGA urged the Department of Water and Sanitation to support municipalities in their efforts to provide access to clean water.

The organisation has also been active at the public hearings, jointly conducted by the Portfolio and Select Committees on Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), on the Traditional and Khoi-San Traditional Leadership Bill. Furthermore, SALGA engaged with the Select Committee of CoGTA on the support provided to municipalities in the Free State province during the 2013/14 financial year.

Continuing to represent and lobby for the interests of local government across different parliamentary platforms, SALGA will be participating in the upcoming debates on various policy budget votes.

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