5. April 2009

Draft REDS Bill 'Threatens Local Autonomy'

Cape Town — The government's plan to deal with infrastructure backlogs in struggling municipalities has met with resistance from opposition parties concerned about the erosion of local government powers.
The controversy burst into the open at the weekend when Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille condemned the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill as opening the door to centralisation and abuse of power by the African National Congress (ANC).
Zille said the draft bill, to establish regional electricity distributors (REDS) nationwide, went beyond its original purpose and was framed so broadly as to threaten local autonomy.
But Department of Minerals and Energy deputy director- general Nelisiwe Magubane dismissed Zille's reaction as rather "hysterical", and said there were sound reasons for wanting a constitutional amendment to allow for cross-border infrastructural development, such as building dams and electricity substations.
Some municipalities did not have the financial resources for this infrastructural work, and there was no legislation allowing for cross-border assistance.
Magubane said the initial draft was only about the creation of REDS but was thought too narrow. It was decided to broaden it to ensure national interests were considered in provision of essential services. But the constitutional amendment would be an enabling provision only, and would require national legislation to be effective.
The draft bill was to be tabled with the Cabinet yesterday.
The draft bill states "national legislation may limit the executive authority of municipalities in respect of local government matters" as listed in part B of schedule four of the constitution and part B of schedule five. These schedules include most municipal functions.
The draft bill states that the only justification for the limitation of municipal powers would be if municipal boundaries and executive authority "negatively impedes "regional efficiencies and economies of scale".
Municipalities would be forced to participate in institutional arrangements, including the transfer of assets which were devised to achieve this objective. (BusinessDay)

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