Disc Dem

Disc Dem

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Job Thieves

Ashleigh Furlong of the GroundUp organisation has highlighted the plight of the unemployed in Cape Town in her article Waiting for work, day after day after day”[1], yet behind all the public rhetoric about our struggling economy and the need to create more jobs, our political leaders are hiding a very large secret. Their secret is that they actually have it within their power to create 30,000 entry-level job opportunities paying around R50k per year.

Where will the money come from?
Our local government electoral system has a proportional representation component which, due to legislative defects, is essentially redundant.  I have covered this subject from many different angles, and the evidence is conclusive that proportional representation serves only to provide sheltered employment for the party faithful, while having no effect on political control within any municipality bar one.

In addition, the vast majority of proportional representatives are only part-time councillors, so their salaries of over R200k per year at the lowest local council level and of over R440K per year at metro council level, are generous in the extreme.  That is a lot of money for a part-time job, where the only challenge is to turn up from time-to-time in order to vote the way you are told by the party caucus.

Cape Town alone has 110 pointless proportional councillors who cost taxpayers around R48.5m, or the equivalent of 970 entry-level permanent jobs. Not a bad trade in my view, taking out 110 politicians for the benefit of 970 “real” people.

Nationally we could rid ourselves of 4158 pointless PR political positions which will free up around R1.5 billion per year that can be used to create as many as 30,000 proper jobs, or at the very least fill some of the frozen operational posts in municipalities.  Not taking out these pointless political positions is tantamount to stealing jobs from the poorest of our people in order to perpetuate a political fraud of the first order.

Can it be that easy?
It can be changed quite easily, but the problem is that political parties rely on the proportional representation party list system not only to reward their followers, but to also cement party loyalty firmly ahead of constituency accountability.  They are therefore not going to willingly give up access to their supplementary payroll provided from the public purse.  Nor are they going to willingly relinquish the level of control over their adherents that the PR party list system gives them.

As it is only the politicians who can change the system, we have a challenge the equivalent of which is persuading turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Where to now?
First of all, let us start by asking party leaders to justify why they would even want to keep 4158 completely pointless part-time jobs in preference to uplifting 30,000 other people through permanent employment. That alone should elicit some interesting responses.   Civil society organisations that are concerned with the plight of unemployed people should be asked to bring pressure to bear, and society in general should also be asked whether we want to keep a redundant clause in the constitution, or whether we would prefer to see more people gainfully employed.

It will not make a major dent in the overall 8.2 million unemployed, but if it is not addressed politicians will remain guilty of stealing another 5 years worth of jobs from the most needy of our people, and we will be complicit in that theft by virtue of our silence.

[1] Follow the link www.groundup.org.za or http://bit.ly/1RZHyzo to go directly to the article.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Disproportional Representation

The Good Governance Africa (GGA) organisation’s latest journal[1] contains a special focus report on the quality of local government in South Africa, which includes their municipal performance index for all 234 local and metro councils. It makes very interesting reading in that it confirms, among other things, that the majority of people have lost faith in the ability of their local councillors to properly represent them.

The journal also alludes to a lack of constituency accountability as being a factor in the disconnection between politicians and their voters when it says “....a legislative defect protects constituency-based town councillors from real accountability to their electorates. The electoral system at the local government level is hybrid, and includes an element of constituency-related activities as well as proportional representation. They then go on later to say “However, once elected, councillors are beholden to the whims of the party that nominated them. A political party can recall a councillor if it is displeased with that person for some reason.”

I am now going to try to unpack the “legislative defect”.  First of all, contrary to what politicians say, you do not vote for “the candidate of your choice”. You actually vote for the candidate of their choice, namely a politician who has been selected by other politicians to stand in your ward. We have no say in the selection process, and in many instances we have no idea what their qualifications are, or where they were parachuted in from by their party.  The constituency ward vote is therefore Hobson’s Choice[2].  In essence, nothing more than a party vote which leaves the ward councillor “beholden to the whims of the party that nominated them”, rather than beholden to their voting constituents.  Strike 1 against constituency accountability.

The proportional representation vote goes towards padding a council with additional politicians based solely upon their party affiliation.  Proportional councillors are therefore entirely dependent upon their parties for a high enough position on the party list to be assured of a seat in council.

Proportional councillors have no “constituency-related activities” and are therefore even more “beholden to the whims of the party that nominated them”.  In addition, a ward candidate who loses their constituency election can still be appointed a councillor because of the dual candidacy nature of the proportional party list. How democratic is that? The generally accepted terms for this political practice are cronyism or cadre deployment. Strike 2 against constituency accountability.

Even though we may have voted for the ward councillor, “a political party can recall a councillor if it is displeased with that person for some reason”. Without any further reference to the electorate, the party rules supreme.  Heaven forbid that your councillor actually represents your interests when those interests are in conflict with the party caucus. It does not happen very often, because councillors know they will suffer sanctions.  Strike 3 against constituency accountability.

This unacceptable “3 strikes” outcome is actually caused by a number of compounding legislative defects.

Defect 1 Our Constitution dictates the use of proportional representation in local government, but does not specifically preclude a ward candidate from also being a proportional candidate. Political parties frequently use this legislative defect to appoint losing ward candidates as proportional councillors. This is a deliberate and premeditated circumvention of the will of the voters, which further serves to entrench the power of a party over all their councillors.

Defect 2 The Municipal Structures Act No 117 of 1998 eliminates the need for proportional representation as envisaged in the Constitution. This Act stipulates that “The Demarcation Board must delimit a municipality into wards, each having approximately the same number of voters.” The Board, in conjunction with the Independent Electoral Commission, diligently conspires to execute this requirement. If you accept the premise that a ward vote is just a party vote in disguise, it stands to reason that, in the majority of instances, a voter’s proportional vote will go the same way as their ward vote. This being true, two votes for the same party across wards of equal size will result in the same outcome as having only a single ward vote. 

In the vast majority of councils the PR vote therefore serves only to fulfill a constitutional requirement, and has no bearing on the outcome of political control. In fact, there are only nine coalitions among the 234 local and metro councils.  Of these nine, there is only one council where political control would change if PR was eliminated.  This essentially translates into having 4158 proportional councillors for the sake of one anomalous municipality that has only five wards and four proportional councillors of its own.

If you are still not convinced that the system needs to change then look at the difference in numbers between the top 20 and bottom 20 municipalities on the performance index.

The top 20 have a total of 450 councillors of which 233 are ward councillors and 217 are proportional councillors.

The bottom 20 have a total of 920 councillors of which 463 are ward councillors and 457 are proportional councillors.  The other striking statistic to come out of the bottom 20 municipalities is that they are all held by the ANC with overwhelming majorities.  In fact, at 281 the ANC have more proportional seats in these municipalities than the total of 197 ward and proportional seats of all the other parties combined. At a cost of around R122m proportional representation in these municipalities is unaffordable, completely pointless, and in comparison with the top 20 suggests that more actually provides less.

If you are still not convinced, then you must be a politician. The rest of us have learned a couple of things: first of all, that all the power lies with party leaders and none with the electorate, which proves Mark Twain’s point that “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it”; and second, that we must stop “the insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”.

We really need to divert all our energy towards fixing the defective legislation, which should also rid us of a satisfactory number of defective politicians.  #PRMUSTFALL

[1] The GGA report can be found at www.gga.org or follow this link http://bit.ly/1WYPTqV to go directly to the report itself.
[2] Hobson’s Choice – the choice of taking either that which is offered, or nothing.