There is an alternative to problematic coalitions between political parties, which often have significantly different views and political goals, and it is already allowed by law.
Michael Evans, Partner and Head of Public Law at Webber Wentzel, explains: “In numerous municipalities, including five of the metropolitan municipalities, no party was able to achieve more than 50% of the vote, sparking intense and potentially heated negotiation regarding to potential coalition governments at the local level.
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Shortly after the election, Evans noted: “With the district attorney [Democratic Alliance] having already said that it will not enter into a coalition with the ANC [African National Congress] or EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters], some municipalities may not be able to conclude the coalition agreements necessary to guarantee adequate governance ”.
His prediction was accurate. The shenanigans between political parties and the chaos of the first council meetings in various cities, towns, metropolitan municipalities and districts seemed worse than usual.
“However, coalitions are completely unnecessary,” says Evans.
It indicates that the Law on Municipal Structures of Local Government provides for two types of government at the municipal level.
Winner takes all
The first system of government is the one that has been used by almost all the municipalities of the country during the last two decades: the executive mayoral system.
It is a system in which the executive mayor is extremely powerful.
In many ways, the executive mayor has more power at the local level than a prime minister at the provincial level or the president at the national level.
“It’s therefore a winner-take-all system,” says Evans. “Consequently, when it comes to coalition negotiations, a great debate will be needed about who will serve as the executive mayor and how the powers of the executive mayor will be limited to taking into account the other parties in the coalition.” .
The executive mayoral system has proven to be highly politicized, with many municipalities focusing more on issues of political debate and conflict than on their obligation to participate in the provision of services, especially with regard to electricity, water, waste and, to some extent, housing. .
However, the Municipal Structures Law offers an alternative system of government that is much more oriented towards cooperation between political parties and the provision of services. This is the collective executive system.
In terms of this system, the mayor is not an executive mayor and largely plays a ceremonial role.
Power is not in the hands of the mayor, but in the hands of the executive committee.
The law establishes that the executive committee must be composed in such a way that the parties and interests represented on the council are represented on the executive committee in substantially the same proportion.
A council can decide on an alternative mechanism, but that mechanism must still meet the requirements of Section 160 (8) of the Constitution which stipulates that the different parties must be “equitably represented” on the executive committee, Evans explains.
He believes that the collective executive system will inevitably trigger a more cooperative approach when it comes to service delivery issues.
How does it work
“All the major parties on a council will be represented on the executive committee,” says Evans. “They will meet regularly and will be forced to work together. That helps depoliticize the council and allows collective leadership to focus on service delivery, which should be an undisputed agenda for all political parties.
“In the hanging councils there will no longer be a government party or opposition seats because the main parties will all be represented in the leadership structure.
“If the collective executive system is adopted, then it will be unnecessary for political parties to enter into complex and controversial coalition agreements,” he adds.
Thus, for example, if a party obtained 40% of the votes, another 30%, another 20% and another 10%, an executive committee of 10 people would be represented on a 4, 3, 2, 1 basis by those parties. main. (assuming they adopt a strict proportional model).
Evans’s arguments make sense, if a problem that may arise can be avoided: that of simply moving the animosity and political strife from the council chambers to the executive committee meeting rooms.
In theory, a proportional executive committee can give representation to everyone in the city. The main executive system does not do this due to its “winner takes all” nature.
When you don’t need a coalition
When a party obtains an absolute majority, such as the DA in Cape Town and the ANC in Bloemfontein, the executive mayor can only (and often will) appoint members of his own party to the mayoral committee: one as a lieutenant of mayor, another as spokesperson and like others as full-time directors and chairmen of executive committees.
The winning party also has a lot of influence in the selection of senior officials of the municipality, such as a municipal administrator and directors of different departments.
Any proposal presented by the winning party and each of its decisions will be ratified in council, and any proposal from the opposition parties easily rejected.
In short, a party that won 52% of the vote has full control of long-term development plans and annual budgets, leaving 48% of the city’s residents without a voice.
This is good news for voters who support the policies and priorities of the dominant party, but frustrating if your party is one that cannot partner with someone to take control.
Evans points out that a proportional executive committee system will reduce the influence of small parties that garnered limited support in elections but may become kings in coalition negotiations.
It is often the case that a small party that obtained less than 10% of the votes in an area can make demands for important positions within a council when negotiating with a party that needs these votes to gain control.
In Knysna, for example, a councilor from the Knysna Independent Movement (KIM) was elected deputy mayor to ensure that the two KIM councilors celebrated with the DA, who won eight of the 21 seats in the elections.
This is still not enough to rule the chicken coop in Knysna, which has 21 seats. The ANC won seven seats in the elections and apparently got the ear of the Patriotic Alliance with two seats. Besorgde Plaaslike Inwoners (BPI) and the EFF each got one seat, but those two seats could become decisive decision makers.
There are similar situations in SA. Another example is in Gauteng, where negotiations between the parties did not produce strong coalitions.
The new ActionSA, led by Herman Mashaba, performed well in its first election, garnered important votes, and wants a strong voice on councils where votes are necessary to ensure control. The same can be said for Freedom Front Plus (FF +), which won a few additional seats on various councils.
Unfortunately, money plays a big role.
Ruling party councilors get all full-time jobs, can serve as committee chairs, and receive the large salaries that accompany these positions.
The ruling party can also appoint the mayor, the deputy mayor, and the president. In the case of coalitions, individuals will be hell-bent on trying to land one of these jobs, because these positions carry high salaries and attractive benefits.
The salary differences between positions are huge. A full-time councilor in the ruling party earns more than double the salary of a part-time councilor (who may be a member of the ruling party but did not get a permanent position, as well as all councilors in opposition seats).
An example of the maximum limits of remuneration of the legislated councilors says it all.
The full-time mayor of a grade 5 municipality earns just over 1 million rand per year, while the deputy mayor and speaker can receive 805,000 rand. A full-time councilor and a member of the mayoral committee earn 755,000 rand. A part-time councilor has to get by on R 318,000 a year.
Full-time councilors also get more benefits and all kinds of extra assignments.
Perhaps the idea of a collective executive system would also help to solve the problem of fighting and bargaining for executive positions, as they are determined by the outcome of the elections.
Evans says municipalities and provincial governments should carefully consider moving from an executive system of mayors to a collective executive system.
“No change in the law is required. It simply requires a determination of the provincial ministers responsible for local government.
Listen to Fifi Peters’ interview with Ratings Afrika CEO Charl Kocks (or read the transcript here):