21 April 2009 – The South African cabinet has approved plans to amendment the Constitution, a move which will give national government new and extended powers of intervention at the local government level, it was revealed last week.
Government spokesperson Themba Maseko said this move was to “facilitate service delivery and to achieve regional efficiencies and economies of scale at local government level”, such as the long awaited implementation of the regional electricity distributors (REDS).
Government has been working to remove the responsibility of electricity distribution away from municipalities and centralize it within a number of electricity distributors. One of the arguments in favour of the REDS is that income from the sale of electricity would actually be spent on maintenance and refurbishment of electricity infrastructure, instead of being used to cross subsidise other municipal services.
However, just ahead of the 2009 elections, this move is being seen by some political parties as a move to limit power of local councils that are not run by the ANC.
“National government, as an elected government, determines policy priorities for the country as a whole,” said Maseko.
“It has become very clear that, in certain instances, national government takes policy positions, and those policy positions are not implemented properly and effectively in many parts of the country.
“This amendment makes it possible for national government to say this is the policy direction we’re taking, it is for the following reasons, and it would then have the power to actually intervene and take powers away from a local government structure.”