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Setting Boundaries

The Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) is an independent authority charged with determining municipal boundaries. As such, the MDB is a vital component of local government’s mandate to deliver services to citizens effectively and efficiently, writes Shantalie Hewavisenti.
Image: SALGA’s Executive Director of Municipal Finance Simphiwe Dzengwa Image: SALGA’s Executive Director of Municipal Finance Simphiwe Dzengwa

The Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) is mandated to declare district management areas, to delimit wards for local elections, and to assess the capacity of municipalities to perform their functions. The MDB aims to work alongside key stakeholders, such as SALGA, to find the best way to use their resources to empower municipalities, in order for them to fulfil their constitutional obligations, promote accountability and improve the effectiveness and sustainability of service delivery within sound boundaries.

The Demarcation Process

The highly anticipated conclusion of the boundary determination and redetermination process, which took place last year, was a particularly significant occasion as it marked the end of various external and internal challenges faced by the MDB. The process began at the start of the year, when the former minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Pravin Gordhan, requested that the MDB consider the determination and redetermination of the boundaries for certain municipalities.

The purpose of this request was to make struggling municipalities more sustainable and financially viable moving forward, especially since there was a sizable gap between the municipalities that were performing their duties well and those that were continuing to fall short, this became a necessity. The proposals put forward by Gordhan constituted 34 cases and affected 90 municipalities throughout South Africa.

Over the course of last year, the MDB took great strides in order to achieve their mission. According to SALGA’s Executive Director of Municipal Finance Simphiwe Dzengwa, who’s also on the board of the MDB, the process of determining municipal boundaries was twofold. The first round of hearings culminated in August, when the MDB handed over the first batch of wards to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). In this round, some boundaries and amalgamations of municipalities were accepted, following extensive analysis and testing, while a number of them were rejected. This resulted in a secondary round of hearings that involved greater public participation.

A number of public consultations were held throughout the country, and these allowed the public to actively participate in the process of ward delimitation by exercising their views and influence before the MDB made any final decisions. Dzengwa says the MDB advertised the hearings on the radio and within relevant newspaper publications to ensure that all interested stakeholders were aware of the process. The stakeholders with a vested interest in the process of boundary demarcation included a variety of different community groups, political parties, labour unions and municipal policymakers.

The Relationship Between SALGA And The MDB

SALGA played an important role in providing a bridge between the MDB and the municipalities, and allowed the communities to become fully informed about the proposed changes to the municipal boundaries and what this would mean for them on the ground. Following months of robust discussion and the consideration of various objections, the MDB came up with pleasing alternatives, and much of this success was down to SALGA’s work as the umbrella body representing the views of concerns of municipal stakeholders.

In addition to being a key stakeholder, Dzengwa says SALGA played an important part in the policy and boundaries committee of the MDB. ‘It was through certain structures that have been set up by the organisation that SALGA was suitably equipped to take up the public’s concerns about the amalgamation of municipalities to MDB,’ he says. He goes on to highlight how it was thanks to SALGA’s lobbying that municipalities received the Demarcation Transition Grant of R139-million in the 2015/16 budget. These funds are intended to help municipalities prepare for their amalgamation, integrate policies and ensure the stability of the new administrations.

Looking Towards The Future

With regards to the demarcation process, MDB Chairperson Jane Thupana says: ‘It has indeed been a journey characterized by challenges, anxieties and a lot of lessons learned, as the Board got to participate at even closer range with communities. It is now up to the IEC and MECs responsible for local government to perform their functions in terms of Section 23 of the Demarcation Act and Sections 12 and 18 of the Municipal Structures Act.

From this statement it is clear that the period following these changes to the municipal boundaries and subsequent changes to the structures of government will require SALGA to take a leading role in assisting municipalities ease into the new operating environment.

With regards to the new municipalities, SALGA will need to continue to deliver support and capacity building. The organisation will also be instrumental in implementing various training programmes, to ensure that councillors and municipal staff have a sound understanding of the frameworks, legislation and policies within which they shall operate.

‘Continued collaboration between SALGA and the MDB will be required in the near future to ensure that the demarcation outcomes are well executed and managed,’ says Dzengwa. ‘It is also envisaged that SALGA will play a role in helping to identify the limitations of the Demarcation Act, ensuring these are adequately addressed in Parliament, where necessary. Finally, SALGA will work alongside the MDB to carry out capacity assessments to ensure that municipalities are functioning adequately and are financially viable.’

To conclude, the recent launch of the 2016 Local Municipal Elections in January marked the formal end of a yearlong process executed by the MDB. It is clear that the process of assessing the capacity of municipalities and delimiting wards in preparation for the elections has been a complicated process, which required reconciling various stakeholder interests.

The MDB, with the assistance of SALGA, went to great lengths to ensure that the public was fully involved in the demarcation process, and also fully informed when it came to the implications of these changes. The emphasis put on the importance of public involvement will certainly play a role in the success of this operation. However, while the formal proceedings of the MDB have now been finalised, the organisation’s work and collaboration with SALGA will need to be maintained in order to ensure that the solid foundations laid during the last year continue to be built upon, ensuring that municipalities remain stable through this transition and that they are able to function more successfully in the future.

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