Disc Dem

Disc Dem

Monday, 23 November 2015

Party, Party, Party

Too many politicians, regardless of which side of the political divide, have the idea that their parties come first and the country last. President Jacob Zuma was just the unlucky one who expressed it in unsophisticated terms. If this were not the case, opposition politicians would have been able to change the political landscape of this country long ago, especially with the vulnerability of the ruling party over the past decade. Instead, they spent time building toy kingdoms, where each is some sort of king or queen.”
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane - Civil society vital to counter madness – BDLive 18th November 2015

I could not agree more with this sentiment. In local government, I  also believe that the primary fault lies with the dual candidacy, proportional representation party list system, which promotes and perpetuates cadre deployment and political elitism over constituency accountability. A system where the Party comes first and constituents, invariably, come last.

The numbers tell us that the party-based politics of local government has become a viper’s nest of cadre deployment and political patronage.

Resulting from the 2011 Local Government Elections:
  • There are 4235 Ward Councillors and 4159 Proportional Councillors in SA's 234 combined Local and Metro Councils[1]
  • Political control was only uncertain in 14 of the 234 Councils[2]
  • 44 Proportional Councillors held the balance of political control in those 14 Councils[3]

It is therefore safe to say that a mere 1.06% of proportional councillors had influence over the balance of power in a paltry 6% of local councils. The remaining 4115 proportional councillors added no value to the process, effectively rendering them surplus to requirements.  Surplus to our requirements as municipal taxpayers, that is.

The cost of proportional councillors is around R1.5 billion per year in salaries alone.  Never mind the high cost of providing the support infrastructure that goes with them, and the ongoing pension and medical benefits that will live with us long after they have made enough money to leave the political stage.

We really do not need these people in our local councils, so why are they there?  The answer is quite simple.  It is a very easy mechanism for party bosses to reward the party faithful with sheltered employment at our expense, while at the same time ensuring that their unwavering loyalty to the party comes before constituency accountability.  We do not choose these individuals, their party does, and if that is not the epitome of cadre deployment and political patronage then I will struggle to understand what is.

As a result, local government is in a mess. Municipal infrastructures, even in the so-called better run DA councils are crumbling because decisions on infrastructure maintenance are being made by unaccountable politicians.  Instead of having a properly devised technical approach to planned maintenance or infrastructure development, councillors in virtually all municipalities are deciding which infrastructure to renew, repair, or maintain based solely upon political agendas, or personal enrichment objectives.

In 2016 there are likely to be more unaccountable councillors than ever, once the Municipal Demarcation Board has finished redrawing Ward and Municipal boundaries.   Even without this, the latest salary increases of between 5.5% and 6% for local government politicians will immediately add another minimum of R250m to the local government political wage bill.[4]

Based on all of the above, I can think of no rational argument to retain proportional representation at this level of governance.  It is an ineffective and expensive mechanism that should be abolished prior to 2016 elections, or we will be stuck with another 5 years of unwarranted and unnecessary expense.  The money can be better spent on delivering adequate services, and uplifting the living standards of poorer communities, rather than lining the pockets of political parasites.

Unfortunately we need national government politicians to pass a Constitutional amendment that is contrary to their own self-interest, so don’t hold your breath. 

Unless we find ways to join hands as communities, rich and poor alike, to voice our dissatisfaction with the present political dispensation, then we deserve the governance, or lack thereof, that we get.

[1] District Councils have been excluded as we only vote for 40% of the Councillors, 60% are Party appointees
[2] Three in KZN (KZN233/242/265), ten in W.Cape (WC011/022/026/034/041/042/045/047/051/052), & one in N.Cape (NC065)
[3] Two of the 14 Councils (WC041/052) would require an unlikely coalition between the ANC & DA involving 6 Proportional Councillors, making totals of 12 Councils and 38 Proportional Councillors a more realistic assessment.
[4] It is interesting to note that in an election year they award themselves inflation-based increases, but no doubt they will return to form with above-inflation increases once the election is over.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Rubicon 2016

Politicians are doing a good job of pointing fingers everywhere but towards themselves in their search to fund the #FeesMustFall higher education budget shortfall. Yet the political arena is where the money can most easily be found. Not only by denying politicians their luxury vehicles and other extravagances, but also by taking a hard look at the systems that have brought us to this potentially Rubicon moment.

Start by asking, do we really need so many politicians? Both the emotional and practical answers are that we do not. Local Government in particular is overburdened by a political overhead that makes municipalities generally dysfunctional and in many instances, blatantly corrupt.

Under our mixed constituency/proportional representation local government electoral system, the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) is tasked with ensuring that every Ward within a single municipality has approximately the same number of registered voters. This action completely voids the purpose of using a proportional system.  Only where there is a need to balance votes cast by widely differing constituency populations, spread over a wide geographic area, does Proportional Representation come into its own. Courtesy of the MDB, this does not apply to municipal elections in South Africa.  [1]

The numbers in this case are not difficult to follow: 
9984 Local, Metro and District councillors cost taxpayers around R3.2billion annually in salaries; of these, 4782 are proportional councillors, costing around R1.5billion in salaries alone.

We could dispense with Proportional Representative Councillors, whom the MDB have effectively reduced to the status of Ghost Workers, and immediately save R1.5billion in direct costs.  Add to this all the indirect infrastructure and support costs, including long-term pension and medical liabilities to be saved and the #FeesMustFall shortfall will most likely be taken care of.

Not only will we save a huge amount in unnecessary expenses but, by returning to a purely constituency-based system, councillors will have a direct line of accountability to the electorate. In addition, making councillors accountable to the voters will almost certainly have a significant impact on curbing current levels of corruption and mismanagement.  Savings to be made in this area are inestimable, but all indicators are that it will run into the tens of billions of Rands, which will go a long way towards funding totally free higher education for economically disadvantaged students.

Two birds with one stone. Significant money saved and accountability returned.

The obvious roadblock to this political realignment will no doubt be put up by the politicians themselves.  The status quo suits them as it keeps power and accountability in their own hands. 

There is no doubt in the minds of most commentators that the electoral system needs to be reformed, and quickly.  As it stands, if we do not act to change the local government system before the 2016 elections, then we will have to face up to at least another five years of municipal ineptitude and corruption.  Another five years of above inflation increases in municipal tariffs coupled with declining service levels.  In that same five years, many of our students will have qualified and will be in the workplace suffering along with us.  They have secured their short-term future through #FeesMustFall.  We owe it to them and ourselves to secure the longer term future through electoral system change. Now #PropRepMustFall.

[1] If you have the patience to work through the numbers and theory that prove PR is ineffectual, take a look at my previous posts.

Friday, 30 October 2015

EFF Steals a March on #FeesMustFall

The EFF has proven that a week in politics is a long, long time. In a masterstroke of political opportunism they have stolen a march, both literally and figuratively, on the #FeesMustFall campaign with a vitriolic and fundamentally racist call to disenfranchise the entire white population. Student activists will hopefully recognise this for what it is, just another political entity with an unrealistic agenda making impossible promises. The real problem does not lie with white people, but with a political system that is unaccountable to the electorate, and undeniably corrupt. Taking money away from rich (read white) people in such an unaccountable and corrupt environment will only result in even greater profits for Breitling, Gucci, Mercedes Benz and Chivas Regal. 

The reality is that the reaction of all political parties to the #FeesMustFall student protests has taken the lid off the can of worms that our political system has become.  It is painfully transparent that South African politics today is solely about politicians and their parties (again, both literally and figuratively speaking), with none of them having any real regard for the needs and aspirations of the people.  This was underscored by the Parliamentary vote, supported by the DA and other opposition parties, to carry on with their daily shenanigans regardless of the student protest unfolding outside Parliament.  The EFF employed their usual response of throwing the toys out of their cot until they were dragged kicking and screaming from the “Headmaster’s” presence.  Only when the DA’s Maimane woke up to an opportunity to score political points did he suggest that President Zuma & Minister Nzimande go outside to address the students – too little, too late.

Student protesters also saw through the naked political opportunism of the EFF and DA, who were rightly sent packing when they tried to insert themselves into the limelight under the pretext of being main protagonists of the students cause. 

But is it really only about higher fees? Some commentators have suggested that #FeesMustFall is an outward expression of a deeper dissatisfaction that our students have with overall prevailing political and social mores. They have seen through the BS of political promises across-the-board, and are no longer prepared to just accept it.

So why do we, supposedly more mature and experienced people, continue to accept the BS dished out to us by politicians of all persuasions? We have suffered above-inflation increases in our municipal costs year in and year out, and crazy increases in the price of electricity, yet we do nothing. E-tolls stirred some out of our normal apathy, yet the "marches against corruption" have barely raised a ripple of concern among the political classes.  Parliament has turned into a toddler’s sandbox, and municipalities are a disaster. We accept sub-standard service delivery from DA run entities because they are deemed to be "better" than the ANC alternative. The whole political system is rotten to the core. Political parties have subverted the constitution to their own selfish ends, and the people are forgotten.  

What more proof is needed than the latest budget speech, where a huge chunk of our money will be used to pay the bloated public service sector above-inflation increases on top of already unjustifiably high salaries? Jobs that may actually deliver services are frozen, yet the Municipal Demarcation Board is busy creating more political positions for councillors by increasing the number of Wards for the 2016 local government elections. None of which will remain unfilled.  Not forgetting that local councillors are lobbying to be paid the same obscene amount as our ineffectual and corrupt parliamentarians.

This is one of the very few times that I wish I were a student, with enough comprehension of the political landscape to understand that nothing less than a complete overhaul of the political system will provide me with the long-term future I desire and deserve.  Once the BCom/BSc etc is done and dusted, the reality of living with taxes, mortgages and bills sets in.  Our risk threshold gets lower, and our disappointments turn into apathy.  I meet so many people of my generation that say “I agree, but you can’t change it”.  This attitude will eventually creep into present day student protesters unless they recognise the danger now, and channel their energies into making a real difference to their long-term future.  My own future is mostly behind me but I will help them to realise theirs, if I can. The longer-term message is that the current crop of politicians has caused our problems, but a newer breed of politicians can solve them.  The short-term message is that if we do not demand change before the 2016  local government elections, then we will face another combined 8 years of same-old, same-old.  Five years of too many councillors and not enough workers and another 3 years of the parliamentary sandbox.

The ANC, DA and EFF in their current guise are not the answer. They are all too entrenched in the prevailing system of cadre deployment to make the quantum leap from self-interest to community development.  None of them wants accountability to be introduced.  If they did, they would have already suggested that Constitutional changes be made to the electoral system. Look behind the symptom that is embodied in #FeesMustFall, and you will see that all our problems stem from political elitism founded in a lack of accountability.

We need to demand the changes that will bring accountability back to our political landscape, and we need our young people to lead the charge.   My message to our future leaders is that your #FeesMustFall campaign, while admirable and successful is, to quote Winston Churchill, not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Political Cost of Local Government is no longer Affordable

Our electoral system has been the subject of much discussion and debate with many people favouring a mixed constituency/proportional representation model. 

The mixed model is already used for Local Government elections in South Africa, but not for National Assembly elections.  However, looking at the numbers from previous Local Government elections, it is easy to conclude that Proportional Representation does not achieve its intended purpose, and is not affordable at local government level. 

The political cost of local government is far higher than its contribution to service delivery warrants, not only relative to the actual cost of paying too many politicians, but also to the indirect costs of corruption, attributable to the lack of accountability engendered by the patronage-based closed party list system. 

So, why doesn't our electoral system  work as was constitutionally intended? First of all, "one man, one vote” is a myth. It is worth repeating that we actually get three votes in local government elections if we are not with a Metro Council.  One constituency (Ward) vote for the individual candidate of choice, one Local Council PR party vote, and one District Council PR party vote. Metro Councils have one constituency (Ward) vote and one PR party vote.

Half the seats in local and metro councils result from direct constituency votes, and half are allocated from the PR votes.  So far, so good, but the value of proportional representation is only realised if constituencies have widely varying numbers of eligible voters, and are geographically widespread.[*]

As required by Schedule 1 of the Municipal Structures Act of 1988, the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) ensures that this does not happen.  The total number of councillors (Ward + PR) for a municipality are determined by each Provincial MEC for Local Government. This determination is then used by the MDB to calculate the number of Wards by dividing the total number of councillors for the municipality by two. 

The target number of registered voters per Ward is then calculated by dividing the total number of registered voters in the municipality by the number of Wards. The result of this calculation is used by the MDB for the physical configuration of Ward boundaries to ensure that every Ward has more or less the same number of registered voters.  

The maths involved are not complex, in fact it is a simple case of 1 + 1 = 2. 

As our electorate tends to be politically unsophisticated,  1 Ward vote + 1 Proportional vote will generally = 2 votes for the same party. 

Assuming that, as is generally the case, everyone casts their two votes in the same direction, and all Wards have more or less the same number of voters, then all we have created is a “winner takes all” outcome using two votes instead of one, with an end-result of appointing two councillors where actually one would suffice.

It is argued that proportional representation gives smaller parties the opportunity to participate and be heard but, in reality, minority parties have no influence on decision-making where a majority of seats is held by a single party.  In addition, there are many other avenues for participation that do not involve having to pay an ineffective, unnecessary councillor.

Proportional representation benefits minority parties only when a deadlock occurs between major parties, and a coalition is needed in order to govern.  

All that such coalition politics succeeds in doing is to put control of governance into the hands of a minority – sound familiar?  A classic example of this is the Laingsburg Municipality where the ANC and DA were tied on both Ward and Proportional seats, the balance of power being held by COPE with a single proportional seat, gained with the princely total of 556 votes.[†] 

In summary, the need for proportional representation at local government level is largely negated by the spatial design of Wards within each municipality, compounded by the generally low level of political sophistication of the electorate. 

Apart from not fulfilling any practical purpose, the system also provides an incubator for corruption  by removing accountability to the electorate. Candidates only need their party to place them high enough on their closed PR list to be appointed as a Councillor, regardless of their failure as a Ward candidate at the polls. Who knows what deals are done to secure these places? 

Aside from theoretical and generally idealistic arguments regarding the pro’s and con’s of proportional representation at Local Government level, a purely practical standpoint is that we simply cannot afford to keep paying so many politicians before even one cent is spent on service delivery.  

Analyses of previous local government elections have categorically proven that proportional seats make no difference to the majority standing of parties in any municipality countrywide (See http://bit.ly/1M6PNXf. So why persevere with such an idealistic system that is so clearly inappropriate, ineffective, unduly expensive and, most likely, corrupt?

* A classic example can be found in analysing the last UK national elections. With no proportional representation system, the UKIP party with around 13% of votes won only one seat. The Scottish National Party, with less than 5% of votes, is now the third largest party in Parliament with 56 seats, owing solely to their regional popularity in Scotland.   The UKIP party had national appeal, whereas the SNP was only regionally attractive, so the UKIP party lost out to a combination of variable constituency populations, and the geographically widespread distribution of their supporters.

[†] An interesting thought on this is that without proportional representation, the DA and ANC would have been deadlocked, so would be forced to work together to keep their municipality functioning. Perhaps, if given a chance, pragmatism and compromise could beat the norm of confrontational politics?

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Proportionally Disconnected

At the last local government elections the ANC won an outright majority of Ward Councillors in 189 out of 226 Local Councils (84%), excluding the 8 Metro Councils and 44 District Councils which are stories on their own.

These 189 Councils provided 2779 Ward seats for the ANC, which was over 8 times the combined total of 345 Ward seats won by all other parties, and 1.7 times the 1609 combined Ward and Proportional seats of all other parties. In 69 of them, the ANC actually won every single Ward – a complete whitewash of the opposition.

Even though they had absolute control of the 189 Councils with Ward Councillors alone, our electoral system provided the ANC with an additional 1775 proportional representation seats. 

The result of this gift from the system to the ANC was that their proportional seat allocation alone exceeded the 1609 combined total of ALL seats for ALL other parties. Not forgetting that the other parties were also “gifted” 1264 or 3.7 times more seats than they actually won, which made not even the smallest ripple in the pond of ANC dominance.

So what was gained by adding a total of 3039 proportional seats to 84% of our local councils? The simple answer is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! But read on......

The DA won an outright majority of Ward Councillors in 18 of the 226 Local Councils (8%) These 18 Councils provided 167 Ward seats for the DA, against the 74 Ward seats won by all other parties.  Once again, our electoral system provided the DA with an additional 86 proportional seats, while at the same time providing other parties with a combined additional 137 proportional seats.  Did the proportional allocations change anything at all? Answer, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! 

We now have 3244 completely pointless and unproductive proportional seats allocated across 92% of Local Councils, but read on.....

Other parties, such as the Inkatha Freedom Party and National Freedom Party in KZN also had their successes, but suffice it to say that over the remaining 19 Local Councils (8%), our electoral system rewarded political parties with a combined total of 190 additional proportional seats over and above the 203 Ward seats actually won by them.

What these numbers tell us is patently obvious. Political parties have been blithely scamming the electorate for the last 20 years, without even a blink of shame.  They know very well that proportional seats make no difference to the balance of power. They also know very well that proportional seat allocations, from party lists, are the only mechanism they have for rewarding the party faithful with overpaid sheltered employment, at the expense of the public purse.

Now I’m getting really angry, not only because of the political manipulation surrounding the whole process of local government, but also because we, the electorate have allowed this fundamentally corrupt system to continue for so long. 

Political parties will argue that proportional representation at local government level is written into the Constitution, which it is. But they are also fully aware that Local Councils are struggling to deliver basic services under the weight of salaries for councillors and officials, so why have they made no effort to amend the Constitutional clause relating to local government elections?

Again the answer is obvious.  If proportional representation is canned at local government level then 3,452 party faithful politicians will be out of a job, and then what is the party leadership going to do with them?  They can’t employ them all, and many of them are in any event unemployable. It is a predicament that they want to avoid, and one that we need to make unavoidable.

The benefits for the electorate to force this issue are many.  First of all we will save around R1 billion in pointless salaries that can be used for service delivery. The main benefit, though, is that it will bring much needed accountability back to a constituency level.  We will vote them in, and we will vote them out again if they do not perform. With no political party override as presently provided for by the dual candidacy proportional party list system, Ward Councillors will have to up their constituency-based game.

In my next post I will cover the situation with Metro Councils, although I think the outcome will be much the same, just on a larger scale.  District Councils are something else altogether and will take a little longer to dissect, but watch this space!

In the mean time, let’s work on getting changes made to this despicable political system that puts the employment of unnecessary politicians ahead of service delivery and constituency accountability.

In conclusion, the best argument against proportional representation is a five minute conversation with your local councillor (with apologies to Winston Churchill).
Just completed the Metro Council analysis, with results as I thought.  The ANC won absolute control of 7 Metro Councils with 416 Ward seats which was 2.3 times more than the 182 Ward seats won by all other parties.  Proportional seats numbering 305 for the ANC and 291 for all other parties combined were awarded.

The DA won absolute control of 1 Metro with 78 Ward seats which was 2.4 times more than the 33 Ward seats won by all other parties. Proportional seats numbering 57 for the DA and 53 for all other parties combined were awarded.

This analysis has added another 706 pointless proportional representatives at an additional cost of around R340m

Friday, 24 July 2015

Disconnected Priorities

Mark Twain said, ”there are lies, damned lies, and statistics”, but there is an overwhelming body of evidence that demonstrates the present system of local government is fatally flawed and, unless fundamental changes are made, failure to deliver meaningful services at grass-roots level will be the main catalyst for the failed state that South Africa is presently destined to become.  Overreacting? I think not as, according to the Auditor General, in the 2013/14 municipal financial year, out of the 319 audits completed; 
·       22 municipalities and 8 municipal entities achieved clean audits. (9%)
·       138 municipalities received financially unqualified opinions with findings. This means that they accounted accurately for the financial transactions they have carried out. However, the ’with findings’ aspect indicates some potentially dodgy deals (41%)
·       84 Municipalities received ‘qualified’ audit opinions. This means that they were unable to adequately and accurately account for all the financial transactions and activities they conducted, and that the financial statements they presented were therefore unreliable. (25%)
·       8 municipalities received adverse audit opinions. In basic terms, this means that they did not feel accountable for the way in which they plundered the coffers. (2%)
·       59 municipalities received disclaimed audit opinions. These municipalities were unable to provide any evidence regarding the fair presentation of financial statements. In other words, anything could have happened to the financial resources entrusted to the municipality, and the auditor cannot express an opinion of any sort on whether the financial statements can be relied upon. (18%)
·       R695m was spent by municipalities on consultants (external service providers) to assist with the preparation of financial statements. This is over and above the fixed cost of those who are directly employed by municipalities to fulfill financial management and reporting responsibilities.  It is not rocket science to work out that around 81%, or R563m of that was (statistically) a waste of money.
·       R11.6 billion in irregular expenditure was incurred by municipalities as a result of “a significant breakdown in controls”.  R8 billion of this amount represents goods and services that were received but under dubious procurement practices, and for the balance of R3.6 billion there is no proof at all that the goods and services were ever received.
So, now we know that 50% of municipalities have no clue where our money is going, 41% know where it’s going but not necessarily how it is getting there, and only a paltry 9% know where it is going AND how it got there. 
It is interesting to note, however, that all a “clean” audit means is that designated procedures have been followed and there is a verifiable paper trail. Not that the money has been spent wisely.  A prime example is expenditures on new luxury vehicles for senior politicians.  Are they entitled to them under published regulations? – yes; have they followed procurement procedures? – yes; have they been approved in council? – yes; do they buy the vehicles? – yes;  can the municipality afford it? – NO; do they get a clean audit? – YES, because everything was done by the book.  In other words, all a clean audit really means is that they can spend our money any way they like, as long as the paperwork is neat and tidy. I doubt very much that even one municipality would come out clean from an audit performed to the same standards required for private sector audits.
Municipal elections in 2016 will entrench this unaccountable idiocracy for another 5 years, unless we make a move to do something about it.  The present Mixed-Member Proportional Representation System incorporating closed dual-candidacy party lists, is where the problem with accountability starts. How so? For true accountability to the electorate, a candidate must be totally dependent upon the direct votes they receive from us at the polls.  They are not. A dual-candidacy list allows them a second bite of the cherry in that, if we don’t vote them in directly, the party appoints them anyway as a proportional councillor.  All this serves to do is encourage candidates to brown-nose the party so that they are high enough on the list to become a councillor, no matter what our feelings are on the matter.
If we must keep proportional representation at this lowest tier of government, which is debatable, then I believe there should be two separate lists; one for constituency candidates standing for direct election, and one for proportional candidates. This way, we at least know that our views on constituency candidates are honoured, and not stomped on by political parties.
In my next post, I will explore the numerical arguments against proportional representation at local government level.  Some of the ideological ideas against it were outlined in my previous post "Our Democracy is Disconnected".
As a final thought, should the August 19th March against Corruption include local marches on the offices of every municipality in the country? These marches organised to demand an end to the personal enrichment of municipal politicians at the expense of service delivery. How about it Mr Vavi?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Our Democracy is Disconnected

No, this is not just another rant at No1 and the never-ending tales of corruption and incompetence within National Government and their SOE’s.  The world and her brother (note the gender superiority) have a view on those issues, and quite frankly, along with the Greek/Eurozone tragedy, I am suffering from an opinion overload.

Also, top-down change, which most are baying for, will most likely not happen for at least 4 years. i.e. until the next general election in 2019. Whereupon, barring a constitutional upheaval, No1 will be blue-lighting his way to Nkandla - and if anyone really believes that he will be gone beforehand, can you please send me a sample of what you are smoking?
Nor is this going to be a rant in favour of the DA, EFF, or any other acronym-enabled political party, far from it in fact.

So what am I going to rant about?

That under the present system of local government our democracy has become disconnected and transitioned into an idiocracy. Yeah, boring low level stuff, not half as challenging as deciding how Eskom or PRASA should be run, or whether Greece should stay in the EU but, before you skip out of here, take just a moment to hear about the saga of Oudtshoorn Municipality. Since 2013, the only thing party politicians in that town have achieved is to bicker their way into bankruptcy and administration. Remember that this affects all of us because, wherever we live, our tax money will be used towards the Oudtshoorn bailout – sympathy for Greece, anyone?  Oudtshoorn is but one of many municipalities that clearly demonstrate the same party political malaise which significantly detracts from service delivery.

So, where is the disconnect, and what are the fundamental problems with this idiocracy?

The Proportional Representation Party List System is the Root Cause of Problems
There is no accountability to the electorate. Councillors are only accountable to their political party, not the electorate.  Think about that for a moment. A candidate stands for Ward Councillor.  We, the voters, don’t like him or her, so we reject them at the polls. However, they are high enough on the party list to be appointed anyway as a proportional councillor. So, the party effectively overrides the decision of the electorate, which rather defeats the point of elections, and places a candidate’s loyalty firmly in the hands of the party.
The Political cost of Service Delivery is too high
All Municipalities are struggling to fund delivery of basic services, yet we are paying twice the number of councillors than there are electoral wards. Countrywide, salaries for councillors amount to some R3bn, with proportional councillors accounting for around R1.4bn.  Even though proportional representation at local government level is written into the constitution, the cost is not sustainable at the coalface of service delivery.  New York City, with a population of around 8.5m people has 51 city councillors.  My own municipality of George in the Western Cape, with a population of <200k people, will have 53 councillors after the 2016 elections. Johannesburg will have around 260 councillors for a population half the size of New York City.  All we are really doing in South Africa is subsidising a political party’s payroll at the expense of infrastructure maintenance and development. 70% of all municipalities are spending more than the recommended 30% of revenue on salaries for councillors and officials, with almost half of these spending above 40% of their revenue on salaries.
Skewed GovernanceSmall, insignificant, proportional representation parties can, and in a number of instances do, hold the balance of power with no elected Ward Councillors.  The result in those situations is that around 4% of the voting public hold the other 96% to ransom. 
Abuse. All political parties abuse the list system to favour the party faithful who, regardless of whether they are fit-for-purpose, are appointed as councillors.  Senior Municipal Officials are required to hold all manner of qualifications, yet there is no minimum qualification to become a councillor. Some councillors are functionally illiterate, and the majority are financially illiterate.  Financial illiteracy is the most harmful as there is no understanding of the longer-term, and potentially dire, consequences of their borrowing and spending decisions. This occurs because political parties have an agenda relating solely to the acquisition of power, with little or no regard for service delivery.  In addition, the political resources available at this level of government tend not to be the sharpest intellectual knives in the drawer.
As a result, there is an across-the-board dissatisfaction with levels of service delivery, even in the so-called better run municipalities. The upper and middle classes complain about crime and grime, potholed roads that play havoc with wheel rims and tyres, and how all the money is being spent on “the poor”.  The poor complain, in many cases justifiably, that they receive either limited or no basic delivery of services.  Divisions and resentments between the classes are fanned by the politicians, who thrive on such discord.
So, party politicians at local government level have served only to drive wedges between the different sectors of our communities, whilst enriching themselves, and at the same time being disconnected from those communities.
Whichever angle you look at, it makes no sense to perpetuate this very costly and corrupted form of democracy at local government level. No doubt the politicians will find some spurious justification for its continuance.  After all, where else are they going to find the money to compensate the party faithful?    It is time to fight back against the party political cabals that are quietly, but effectively bleeding our country dry.

I have some ideas on how to redress the balance between political privilege and accountability to the people at local government level, which I will share in my next post.  I am not young enough to still know it all, so I would also like to hear from you what you think must change, and how we can attack this insidious problem.