Disc Dem

Disc Dem

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.