Provincial Powers Bill ‘will not have any real practical effect for anyone’

Public hearings on the Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill are under way. Picture: Cindy Waxa

Public hearings on the Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill are under way. Picture: Cindy Waxa

Published Feb 2, 2024


Cape Town - Experts have shared mixed reactions to the DA’s proposed Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill as it had its first round of public hearings in the province.

The bill seeks to devolve certain powers from the national government to the province, such as transport and policing.

The DA believes that the national government is unable or unwilling to deliver services to the people of the Western Cape, or to exercise its constitutional powers and responsibilities to promote the rights and interests of the residents.

This bill has so far been rejected by the ANC and the EFF, who have accusing the DA of trying to bring back apartheid.

Martin van Staden, the Free Market Foundation’s head of policy, said the bill was nothing more than a formality that signalled the DA’s political commitment and “intention” to decentralise power.

He said it did not do much other than confirm the existing entitlements of the provincial legislature and government and meekly plead for the central government to assign it more powers.

“This is inadequate given the federal structure envisaged by the national Constitution. The Western Cape should adopt a significantly more federalist posture and start doing anything it conceivably may do under the Constitution, which includes its own provincial police force and building its own port,” said Van Staden.

He said that as it stands, this bill, if adopted, “will not have any real practical effect for anyone except that it has, and hopefully will continue to, encourage a public discourse around federalism and decentralisation”.

“It is likely this normalisation of federal discourse that worries the ANC and others who are ideologically committed to central control, rather than anything concrete in the bill itself,” said Van Staden.

Adjunct Professor Alex van den Heever of the Wits School of Governance said that the bill itself did not allocate any powers; it mainly established itself as a framework.

“The Budget is effectively a national control budget; the provincial equitable share of the Budget on allocation of conditional grants goes to the province, and there’s a municipal equitable share allocation.

“But cities such as Cape Town Metro are growing at a very significant rate. Its capital atomism budget is larger than the Johannesburg capital budget, which has largely been squabbled and outspent, but in the Western Cape the population is the same as in Joburg, so it is clear that the economy is generating economic growth, which generates revenue through taxes at the local government level.

“It’s quite possible for many of these functions to be located in the city, and the rest is about the legislative framework,” said Van den Heever.

“I don’t see any problem around it; in many countries around the world there’s an array of functions and distributions between a national, provincial, and local government.

“It’s something that needs to change on an ongoing basis in any society. What we have seen is that certain national functions have failed catastrophically across the country, and this is a problem as sometimes they are over-centralised.”

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Cape Argus