Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
VAN DER WALDT, Gerrit. Co-operative government and municipal service delivery: realities and challenges. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.3, pp. 366-381. ISSN 0041-4751.
In the contemporary international discourse about the role of Government in society general consensus prevails that the state's role should primarily focus on facilitating the "common good". Within a particular ideological framework a government designs systems and instruments of governance providing essential services to society. South Africa can be characterised as a multi-party democracy displaying characteristics of both unitary and federal systems. The state has relatively autonomous provinces and municipalities, a relatively independent judiciary, and a governing framework in which the supremacy of the Constitution is recognised. In a heterogeneous and diverse society such as South Africa, with features of a complex system, it is to be preferred that decentralisation, devolution and delegation of power and authority to lower spheres of government take place. Decentralisation involves the transfer offiscal, political and administrative responsibilities from higher levels to lower levels of government. The typical political argument for decentralisation revolves around power sharing, improved participation in political processes and increased levels of accountability and responsiveness to local issues. South Africa's political and economic reflection on the role of government in society and the degree of decentralisation resulted in a system of co-operative government. The principles of co-operative government and intergovernmental relations are entrenched in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108 of 1996 (Chapter 3, Article 40 (1)). These principles are based on the application of authority and powers. It should be done in such a manner that the geographical, functional and institutional integrity of other spheres of government are not affected. The three spheres of government, namely local, provincial and national, are distinctive, interdependent and interrelated. The Constitution (Article 41 (1)) requires that the three spheres co-operate in mutual trust and in good faith. They should practise this co-operation through good mutual relations to assist and support each other. The unified nature of the state is clearly entrenched in the Constitution as the supreme authority of the country. However, with regard to additional provisions in the Constitution, it is clear that other factors may interfere with the distinctiveness of the spheres. This obviously hampers the respective spheres' ability to meet their constitutional obligations. Intergovernmental relations not only refer to all the complex and interdependent bilateral and multilateral relations between the different spheres of government, but also include the fiscal and administrative processes through which resources are allocated between the respective spheres of government. Through the allocation of resources Government is able to prioritise needs, formulate policy, and render services to promote the general welfare of society. The success of such a system is largely dependent on the clear division of responsibilities and accountability between all three spheres of government. In this article the system of co-operative governance in South Africa is analysed, with specific reference to the degree of support rendered to municipalities in order to improve service delivery. The local sphere of government is currently suffering from unprecedented levels of service delivery failures and the question is rightly asked as to how collaborative government acts in support of municipal service delivery. When should provinces, for example, intervene in the affairs of municipalities and what mechanisms are in place to foster co-operation? In terms of the Constiution, the provincial and national spheres should be supportive to municipalities, the latter being the level of government that people experience directly. However, current realities place serious question marks behind the level of support that municipalities receive. There seems to be a growing divide between the developmental mandate of municipalities provided by the Constitution and the realities of service delivery. The article also examines the underlying challenges in the system of co-operative government and explores socio-political and economic variables that could influence the future of local government. The article expounds the inherent tension between the relative autonomy of municipalities on the one hand, and the principles of co-operative governance, on the other.
Keywords : co-operative government; intergovernmental relations; local government; municipalities; system of government; service-delivery; municipal service-delivery; provincial government.