Spheres of government : contributions to sustainable service delivery

23 Nov 2011

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, provides for the establishment of three spheres of government, constituted as national, provincial and local. These spheres are distinctive, interdependent and interrelated. The three spheres have to exercise their powers and functions in such a manner that their policies and executive actions can be effectively co-ordinated to facilitate efficient service delivery. Although various intergovernmental forums have been established, some services appear to be fragmented and communities do not receive the services as promised in manifestos and defined in policy statements. The issue requiring attention is whether the composition of the three spheres and the allocation of functions as contained in schedules 4 and 5 of the Constitution, 1996, promote effective service delivery by especially the provincial and local spheres of government. The policy statements in legislation and white papers only represent the intentions of government regarding the services to be provided. However, considering the annual Division of Revenue Act and the reports of the Auditor-General, the raison d’être and the operational actions of the three spheres need to be reconsidered. The justification of the devolution of governmental powers and functions to regional and subregional units is not questioned. However, the implementation of the policy as contained in the Constitution needs to be revisited. In the article arguments will focus on the challenges facing the provincial and local spheres of government to delineate their individual competencies; obtain sufficient funds to finance the functions allocate to them; and whether the policies they are required to give effect to are clearly defined. The interpretation of schedules 4 and 5 of the Constitution, 1996, as well as related policy documents regarding e.g. housing, health and social welfare have to be reconsidered to eliminate possible uncertainties. Specific attention will also be paid to the challenges faced as a result of an apparent tendency to centralise decision making and nationally controlling policies and executive actions. These tendencies are exemplified by the proposed 17th Amendment to the Constitution, 1996, concerning section 156 executive powers of municipalities and the proposed Public Administration Management Bill (the socalled single public service bill). Both of which seems to have been put on hold, but still poses a latent threat. It is argued that the continuation of provincial sphere of government in its current form should be re-evaluated and that the local sphere’s powers and functions as entrenched in the Constitution should be honoured, but that the funding formula of municipalities must be revised.