Herman Mashaba: Time to rise above petty party politics

How are we, as a City, supposed to effectively and accurately plan and budget, when we do not know who is even in our city, asks Herman Mashaba.

Following months of frustration and obfuscation from numerous ministers and state law enforcement agencies, it would appear that a multi-party Parliament stands as the City of Joburg's second-last resort in assisting to resolve issues which threaten to bring chaos to South Africa's economic hub.

The last resort will be the courts – but I hope that is a terrain we will not have to traverse any time soon. This is largely because the issues which I have now elevated to Parliament have become issues of national importance as a result of recent events.

In any case, our laws make provisions for disputes between different spheres of government to be settled amicably. The courts, as we've come to know, are wary to entertain disputes between different spheres of government – unless dispute resolution mechanisms contained in law have proven ineffectual.

In the case of my decision to write to Parliament's Portfolio Committees for Home Affairs as well as Justice and Correctional Services, after numerous failed attempts to engage five home affairs ministers and various leaders of South Africa's national criminal justice system, it would appear that these dispute resolution mechanisms are in fact ineffectual.

But this shouldn't be the case.

Our Constitution – through the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act – instructs the three spheres of government to work together, where necessary, for the betterment of the lives of our people.

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Through this act, the authors of our Constitution must have had a vision of a South African state that is supportive of interaction and co-operation among the three spheres of government on a continuous basis.

This is seen in the provision of a set of principles to direct the manner and quality of those interactions.

Therefore, co-operative governance and intergovernmental relations both recognise the interdependence of the three spheres of government in South Africa, placing heavy responsibility upon each to respect the other's powers and functions.

Unfortunately, politicians take advantage of this constitutional provision by claiming barriers between local, provincial and national government spheres – even where none exist.

The result is that these spheres of government often operate in silos.

These politicians never forget to tell each other to back off or resort to acting without any sense of urgency when the other makes fairly reasonable demands about important matters, such as repeated pleas by the City of Joburg, to the NPA, to prosecute winnable criminal matters brought to their attention by us.

What these politicians and senior bureaucrats need to understand is that the distinctiveness of the various spheres of government in South Africa refers to the legislative and executive autonomy of each sphere.

The framework I am relying on to advance my argument was clearly intended to foster frequent collaboration between local, provincial and national spheres of government – not give powerful politicians and bureaucrats license to regard each sphere as their own fiefdom.

The law in fact requires these spheres of government to empower each other.

This has the effect of ensuring that any stumbling blocks encountered are easily dealt with, allowing the work of government to continue to the betterment of the lives of all South Africans.

So when I refer to the interrelatedness of the three spheres of government, I am actually referring to the responsibility placed on us to co-operate with one another and to avoid political gamesmanship.

Why am I raising such an issue, you may be asking yourself?

Firstly, I do so to demonstrate how, more often than not, the spirit of collaboration, as espoused in the Constitution via the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act, has not always been acted upon, causing the City of Joburg to take extraordinary measures to get things moving on issues of common interest.

It is without doubt that the challenge of illegal immigration in Johannesburg has reached crisis levels and my calls for intervention from the department and the ministers of home affairs have fallen on deaf ears. The issue of migration is one that cannot be dealt with at municipal level comprehensively, instead it requires the willing participation of the national government, which participation has not been forthcoming.

It is abundantly clear that I made every attempt to engage with all five previous ministers. I did so in the spirit of cooperative governance as espoused in the constitution, and said spirit requires that the different spheres of government work together in good faith for the betterment of the people of South Africa. These values, as advocated in the Constitution, appear not to be ones that the ministers share.

How are we, as a City, supposed to effectively and accurately plan and budget, when we do not know who is even in our city?

The City's health department is one such victim of this inability to plan and budget accurately.

A report by the health department outlining their struggle to cope with the additional pressure brought about by undocumented migrants, highlighted that between 15-39% of patients accessing health care from the City's clinics were undocumented migrants.

That is why I have decided to write to the home affairs portfolio committee, to brief its members on the dysfunctional state of that department.

Likewise with the portfolio committee for justice, I have sought to provide a briefing on a number of winnable cases we have forwarded to the police and the NPA but which have since been withdrawn.

A case in point is a matter relating to fraud and corruption at the Eldorado Park and Hopefield power substations, where R88m was paid to the contractor for work that had allegedly been completed, in 28 separate payments between July 2015 and December 2016.

However, during an inspection, it was discovered that little to no work had been done. It was also discovered that the contractor who won the tender to build and upgrade the substations relied on a fraudulent bank guarantee to secure the contract.

This investigation, which was undertaken by the City's Group Forensic and Investigating Services (GFIS), was supported by a forensic report and despite this, the matter was withdrawn in court.

In all these cases, we've displayed maximum patience with the relevant departments and law enforcement agencies but have been rewarded with obfuscation.

We now look to a multi-party Parliament to wade through the fog of political gamesmanship and ensure that the departments of home affairs and justice do their jobs, as required by law.

While it may not be desirable to involve the courts in matters that should, by law, be resolved politically and in an amicable fashion, the City of Joburg reserves its rights and will not hesitate to seek recourse in court especially if it that action results in the vast improvement of the conditions of our residents.

Litigation by the City against another sphere of government is especially undesirable given that there will have to be collaboration at some point in the near future on other matters of common interest. However, undesirability of court action must be weighed against repeated inaction by national government departments and agencies who do not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the matters that the City of Joburg has brought to their attention.

In this regard, if Parliament fails to deal decisively and satisfactorily with our requests, we will have no choice but to approach the courts.

- Mashaba is the Executive Mayor of the City of Joburg.

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